The persistent mythology of wind power

“Onshore Wind”, BiGGAR Report

Great way to spend an evening.  Last night over dinner I started reading this report, or at least the Executive Summary.  I feared that the other seventy pages of detail and statistics might have impinged on my digestion.  I note that the work was conducted by BiGGAR Economics for DECC and RenewableUK.  Pause for a moment and reflect.  What does it tell us about the impartiality of the report — and, indeed, the impartiality of DECC — when the report is co-commissioned by the wind industry?

I am particularly concerned about three aspects:

Emissions savings: The report is informed by the assumption that wind power, almost by definition, delivers CO2 emissions savings.  So far as I can see, there is no reference to recent reports (or the evidence from Germany) showing that when you look at the entire system emissions, wind turbines plus conventional back-up, the emissions savings are trivial or even zero.  See Professor Gordon Hughes here.

Cost of wind-generated electricity: The report seems to fall into the regular trap of most economic analyses of wind.  It looks at the cost per KW of electricity generated by a stand-alone wind turbine, and ignores the very substantial costs of back-up generation.  As you will be aware, gas back-up uses single-cycle generation, already much less efficient than modern combined cycle.  Intermittent running of the gas plant further reduces efficiency and drives up cost.  Professor Hughes (cited above) estimates that the capital cost of wind plus back-up is nine to ten times higher than an equivalent combined cycle gas plant.

“Green Jobs”: The report looks at the economic benefits of green jobs, even to the extent of considering local spending on bed-and-breakfast accommodation for installation workers.  But I can find no reference to repeated studies from several countries showing that each green job, by driving up energy costs and suppressing growth, costs several real jobs in the real economy.  See for example http://www.versoeconomics.com/verso-0311B.pdf

There is a good case to be made that wind power achieves little or no emissions savings; that it is much more expensive than generally reported; and that it is damaging UK employment.

I have written to DECC, urging them, in the interests of balance, to commission a report into these questions from a neutral organisation not committed to the wind industry.

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8 Responses to The persistent mythology of wind power

  1. I haven’t read this report Roger. But you say it looks at the cost of energy produced by a stand alone IWT? But, as we all know, these are very rarely built as stand alone. They are built instead in arrays. Every array that I have looked at onshore, has the IWT’s standing too close together. For optimum performance they should be distanced at least 10 to 15 rotor diameters apart in the prevailing wind direction, and five times across. Which for an 80 or 90 Diameter turbine would be at least 800 to 900 meters. But in England they are often, in my experience positioned less than half this. Particularly when they are trying to hit government targets, like the 50MW paper target needed to bypass local democracy using section 36 of the electricity act. (A target that technically they have not met, if the turbines are too close together, but only barely hit 50MW on manufacturers name plate rating, as their actual performance will be lower than this if they are experiencing turbulence.) So, to sum up, they should be considered as site specific arrays, and calculations done accordingly.

    • You make a good point about interference between turbines placed too close together. But that wasn’t my point. I was saying that they look at the cost of wind turbine(s) without back-up, when in real life the back-up is essential, and the cost is meaningless without the back-up. When you add back-up the cost is enormous and the emissions savings derisory.

      • Ah, I see. Yes, they are intended as ‘bolt on’ gas fuel saving devices only. Not energy providers. My main concern about this, is that the developers promote them to local communities, as if they are energy providers, even quoting their output in ‘houses supplied’ as if they are supplying power to houses. When really they are just an expensive and land hungry ‘add on’ to the gas power stations for the purpose of meeting political emission and renewable targets. The price we pay in Britain for not having a Department for Energy, but a ‘Department for Energy and changing the global Climate’ instead.
        It would help a lot, if this was better understood. Even to use the term ‘backup’ to describe the gas power stations is misleading, because it implies that the IWT’s are intended for a grander purpose themselves, than is the actual case.

  2. David Ramsbotham says:

    Are you disillusioned by rising electricity prices, over dependence on the “green” dream [especially uneconomical and inefficient wind farms] and the destruction of our countryside then please add your support to get the Government to have a serious debate on this issue at

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22958

    or by GOOGLING “E-PETITION 22958” and following the link.

    Please pass this message on to Councillors, members of your community and anyone else you know to persuade them to sign up too. If you are really concerned about wind turbines please write a letter promoting this petition to your local Newsletter and to the Editors of your local newspapers.

  3. nollyprott says:

    This is the real Green Agenda in the UK, wind farms are just a spin off stock market parasite investment scam to get everyone paying a Private Tax to the corporates and further inflate the cost of living and thus increasing the Financial Apartheid between rich and poor !

    http://nollyprott.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/green-holocaust-2/

  4. Can you/we “look at the cost of wind turbines” in any meaningful sense – if you do not ALSO look at (and add in) the huge sums of money needed to build new power transmission lines from far-flung Scottish islands, remote Scottish and Welsh hilltops, smarter grids etc. ?

    Whilst writing to DECC (who I believe are manipulating some figures issued in various publications in order to disguise the likely true future costs of massively subsidised but unreliable wind energy) could you also put in a plea ‘on high’ for Tim Yeo to be removed forthwith from Chairmanship of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee ?
    He sets agendas and decides who is allowed to speak …. and yet has a huge and arguably prejudicial interest in that he is President of the Renewable Energy Association and has ‘fingers in pies’ – also referred to as lucrative directorships re energy.

    His published views before the next important meeting – “Economics of Wind Power ” – Tuesday 10 July …. display a clear pre-established bias in a certain direction.
    We need and deserve an independent and principled Chairman with no pecuniary interests.

    • fenbeagleblog says:

      The fact that he has publicly suggested that communities should be bribed to accept industrial wind arrays is not in his favour either, assuming it wasn’t said in Jest.

  5. Pingback: Wind turbines, unsightly, expensive but are they also a health risk? | LifestyleReviews

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