Friends of the Earth: A Counter-Blast

Massive variation in wind output from a large area.
Not true that “the wind is always blowing somewhere

Recently a colleague in Eastern region wrote to Friends of the Earth (FoE) challenging their policy on wind turbines.  Richard Olive (a suitably green name) of FoE sent an extensive reply, and as UKIP Spokesman on Industry & Energy, I was invited to respond.  The FoE letter was such an archetypal list of environmental errors, follies and myths that I could not resist dealing with it, and it seemed worth publishing my response.  Olive’s comment in — well — olive.

“If you want to generate more power, would you prefer a nuclear power station blotting out your view, or a wind turbine?”.  No Richard.  The choice is not between a nuclear power station and a wind turbine.  The choice is between a nuclear power station and two thousand wind turbines.  And even then you’d need a gas-fired power station as well, for back-up.

2   “Clean Energy: They don’t emit greenhouse gases, nor produce radioactive wastes, nor dioxins, furans, PCBs, PAHs, mercury, cadmium, nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxides”.  They do however contain tons of “rare earths”, mainly mined in China, where their extraction is having a massive and devastating environmental impact over huge areas, causing extensive health problems and driving local people from their homes.  This is a real environmental disaster (not a hypothetical problem like Climate Change), yet FoE doesn’t seem to care.  Maybe because China is a long way away.

“When they come to the end of their useful lives they can be easily and cheaply dismantled and will hardly leave any sign of their existence”.  With 750 tons of concrete in the base, supporting the turbine?  OK, Richard, but I’d like to watch while you remove 750 tons of concrete “easily and cheaply”.  Go for it.  And cement manufacture is notoriously energy-intensive.  Tell, us, Richard, how much embedded CO2 in 750 tons of concrete?  Or haven’t you bothered to check it out?

4   “Feed In Tariffs and are available to ALL technologies which supply sustainable energy”.  Let’s not quibble about Richard’s use of the word “sustainable” — although renewable technologies are clearly unsustainable in either environmental or economic terms, whereas fossil fuels are sustainable for at least 200 years and probably much longer.  But the same subsidies are not available to nuclear, which is surely “sustainable” even in FoE terms — at least it’s effectively zero-emissions.

5   “The wind is always blowing somewhere”.  This is one of the great lies of the wind industry.  It’s just not true (see chart above).  You can take aggregate wind output from across large parts of Europe, or the whole of the UK, and find massive fluctuations.  On Dec 21st 2010, the whole UK wind fleet contributed 0.04% of UK energy consumption, according to the BBC.     Wind requires virtually 100% back-up, and the system of wind plus gas back-up has much the same emissions as gas alone.  Wind turbines don’t even save emissions.  Nor can you combine wind output over larger areas, because of the losses in up-rating to high voltage and in long-distance transmission.

6   “Wind turbines operate 70 to 80% of the time”.  This is deliberately misleading.  The relevant figure is that, on-shore, they typically produce around 25% of their rated output.

7  Richard tries to deny that FoE has receives many millions of pounds from the EU.  But in fact research from TaxPayers’ Alliance shows that they have received £7 million.  They pursue their damaging policies at our expense.

FoE policy is based not only on a false premise — anthropogenic global warming — but also on a deep ignorance of the facts.

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18 Responses to Friends of the Earth: A Counter-Blast

  1. Ilma630 says:


    On (3), you should also point out the thousands of ‘expired’ turbines in the USA that have been left in-situ to rot and rust away. They do not get removed! Also, all the roads and miles of maintenance vehicle transport necessary to access and service them, and because there are many of them scattered around, it’s inefficient dues to any lack of economy of scale, i.e. no one big plant in one place.

    On (4) can I get a feed-in-tariff should I bolt a generator onto my gas boiler? No, of course I can’t!

    On (5) we see overall wind levels dropping year-on-year across Europe. Even Fritz Vahrenholt, recent head of RWE Renewables admitted as much in his GWPF talk (I was there). This wind level drop was entirely predictable, as when the temperature rises, the difference between the poles and the tropics reduces, so generating less wind. Another of FoE’s signs of utter stupidity. FoE (& others) also go on about energy security, but the increased reliance on gas as a ‘spinning reserve’ increases our dependence on gas, and without our own supply (from shale), are more dependent on foreign suppliers, so reducing energy security.

    On (6), and measurably reducing (see 5).

    On (7) there’s a good case even to argue that the EU paid FoE and others to lobby them for wind provision so the EU could say that they are responding to ‘the people’. FoE are utter fools to think they are in the driving seat, but are being used by the EU, but I think they know that and are colluding.

    FoE are more than deeply ignorant, they are dangerously and deliberately disingenuous.

  2. Ammonite says:

    You have just confirmed to me that I WILL be voting UKIP. An excellent post. I await with considerable interest when the speedy response is sent to UKIP from FoE. A most excellent reply and gives heart to those battling against the greenwash of wind energy and their myopic followers. Greenpeace and FoE ect should be made to stop having their cosy chats, and their undue influence over our representatives. They have no mandate to do this in my view. Could it be that those who are most likely to give the windfarm energy projects credibility are often part of the feeding frenzy for subsidy or other lucrative deals, for example hiving off forestry or getting access for other unpopular contentious applications?

  3. Tony says:

    A great rebuttal Roger, thanks.

    The blindness of those who don’t wish to see is staggering.

  4. And how many tonnes of concrete for a nuclear reactor? How many more tonnes in dealing with the waste? How many tonnes of rare earth for the nuclear reactor?

    Tell me how many scientific papers in peer reviewed journals support anthropogenic global warming and how many refute it?

    Turbines using tidal power is where we should be looking at. There are systems that use the tides to pump water up to where it can then be used for hydro power. It will take a long time till we slow the moon’s orbit down by using this power.

    I agree wind is not the answer. Better insulation and improved efficiency of domestic appliances makes more difference per pound spent than investing in green technologies or nuclear.

    • Ammonite says:

      What about rewarding those who keep their consumption below a certain level. This would never be acceptable because it is in their interests for us to use more energy. Of course the use of insulation and improved efficiency would create warmer more efficient homes and create many jobs locally. With no blight on arable land, destruction of uplands, invasive digging in peatland and shifting sandbanks. Then there is manufacturing, the public sector etc.

      The jobs lost because of rising energy prices must be huge, the profits of these transient companies are even larger. I once asked if the community could raise the sum poured into the system to match what is offered as Community Benefit and tell them to sling their collective hooks, but of course this was seen to be a bribe by the Regional Council and not for discussion.

    • David C says:

      Yes, generation and transmission of power takes massive investment in infrastructure. Alternatively, we can use “renewable and sustainable” energy sources and make an even larger investment in infrastructure. Only one problem with this approach – no net increase in usable energy results. And as for the idea of pumping water up to where it can be used for hydro power, perhaps you’d like to suggest a location for this for storage on an appropriate scale, within reasonable distance of where the power will be used. I think the Scottish glens are all needed for Salmond’s schemes.

    • Nuclear uses a whole lot of concrete. But I daresay it uses less than the 2000 x 750 tons you’d need for equivalent turbines — and then you’d need to build the gas-fired power station for back-up. And nuclear will give you massive baseload capacity for 60 years. On climate change — go read the literature. It’s there.

      Tidal power, like wind, is intermittent (though predictable). Pumped storage involves large inefficiencies and energy waste. The Severn Barrage would cost many times the price of a couple of nuclear generators. It would have a massive footprint which would damage a sensitive environment — and it’s still intermittent.

      • Scaredypants says:

        And what of the plan by GE Hitatchi to convert nuclear waste into fuel? Surely that will lay to rest people’s fears of nuclear ?( excuse me if that is mentiioned in the article as due to poor broadband- the screen keeps jumping around and sending me cross eyed!)

  5. 750 tonnes per turbine Roger?…Not on the Fens. A recent application by Scottish power required 30 meter deep piles (8 to a turbine) 1,810 tonnes. 55 tonnes of steel. plus 1,080 tonnes of concrete for the base. That’s 2,890 tonnes (1,204.24 cu.m) per turbine….(That’s nearly four times your claim.)

    Try to remove that lot Roger…..Well we know they won’t, as they won’t agree to more than 1 meter in depth.

  6. mikestallard says:

    Game, set and match, methinks!

  7. Pingback: The Guardian defends wind farms. Badly. | Roger Helmer MEP

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