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.
1 “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.
3 “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.