Land sacrifice

I thought readers might be interested in a contribution I made to a rather fractious thread on OM about wind farms.

The background is that I asked a pro-wind farmer for his estimate of the amount of land that would be used to supply one-sixth of the UK’s electricity. A Telegraph article a while ago suggested that an area the size of Wales would be needed. His suggestion (in the light of other commentators) was that it could be overstated by a factor of five. Here’s my reply:

Let’s assume that Prof MacKay’s assertions are too high by a factor of 5 and that the area needed to supply 16.7% of the UK’s power requirement is “only” 20% of the land area of Wales.

The recent UK National Ecosystem Assessment gives land usage figures for the UK. In the case of Wales, land use is as follows: mountains, moorlands and heaths 11.8%, semi natural grasslands 22.8%, farmland 40.9%, woodlands 13.4%, urban 4.2% (see page 60).

Therefore to supply one-sixth of the UK’s electricity through wind power (leaving aside its intermittency), it would require wind turbines to be built on an area five times the current size of urban usage in Wales or virtually the entire area of grasslands or 80% of its mountains/moorlands/woodland.

However, it would be unfair to load all our “renewable” energy generation requirements on Wales alone.

Let’s look at the UK as a whole. Here we have to understand that Scotland is very different as 43.6% of its area is mountains etc. (England has only 5.3%).

20% of the land area of Wales is 416,200 ha. The total amount of land devoted to urban development in the UK is 1,675,000 ha. Hence we would have to devote land area equivalent to one quarter of all the currently urbanised land to wind turbines.

If we were to raise this to meet 45%* of our needs, then it would be equivalent to slightly less than the entire urbanised area of England or the entire area of woodland in England or 60% of all the grassland in England.

That’s the size of the sacrifice in terms of land usage. Clearly, urban areas, farm land and woodland generally can’t be used for wind farms; it is not surprising that these developments are pushed into our undeveloped wild lands.

I want to leave aside all the arguments about whether wind power is viable and whether it will destabilise the National Grid; the size of the land sacrifice needed for wind power to contribute a significant proportion of our energy needs is absolutely HUGE. The key question that you, as a lover of our wild lands, need to ask yourself is: are you willing to sacrifice a substantial proportion of our hills to this project?

Some  will come back and say that we can use offshore wind farms. Even if half of the development was offshore, to satisfy 45% of our energy needs with wind power would require building onshore wind farms covering the equivalent of half the current urbanised land or all the mountains, moorlands and heaths in England. These wind farms will be built in the hills, because that’s where the undeveloped land is.

Is it so surprising that many of us passionately oppose wind farms and the despoilation of our wild lands? Many of us have come to the conclusion that nuclear, for all its drawbacks, is a better option as its land footprint is a fraction of that required by wind turbines.

If you are a lover of the outdoors and a supporter of wind farms, I hope you carefully consider the consequences of your position in the light of the figures I’ve given you. You may decide the sacrifice is worthwhile. In which case you may want to reconsider your “green” credentials as you will be supporting the biggest destruction of wild habitats this country has ever seen.

If you wish to comment on this post, please have the courtesy to keep remarks temperate. I’ve had my fill of rants and insults from OM.

Note: * 45% was a figure suggested as a level that wouldn’t cause problems for the National Grid.


48 thoughts on “Land sacrifice”

  1. Robin, I thought all your contributions to that infamous thread were an admirable model of restraint and rational reasoning. Interestingly enough the thread had been started by a contributor who was in favour of wind plants and was clearly intent on baiting opponents; equally interestingly, many of the OP’s points perfectly matched that of the pro-wind farms guy you addressed your remarks to!

    I have no doubt that in years to come people will look back at this period of time and wonder what kind of collective madness took hold of us. Mass hysteria has never been conducive to good outcomes. Wind is a failed technology on so many levels that only blind ideology can make it appear a sensible option.

    And as you say, that lover of the outdoors should be so combative in support of the despoliation of wild land for no purpose whatsoever other than an ‘in-your-face’ commitment to misguidedly ‘green’ objectives will also be a source of wonder for generations to come.

    The final straw is that the pro-wind walkers have also got the gall to accuse people like Chris Townsend of running scare-mongering anti-wind campaign. And often enough they make it sound like it is all the campaigners’ fault that turbines go up all over the place (I can think of at least four such people that ‘contributed’ to the OM thread and that made comments of this kind at the time of the Beauly-Denny outrage).

    The truth is that if everyone who takes to the hills (and there are hundred of thousands of us) had taken a unitary stance against wind, there would have been far fewer developments approved.

    I find it also interesting that whereas if you campaign for ‘climate change’ issues you get away with murder (think about those guys who vandalised a gas power station in England and were acquitted by the judge!!) and get tons of publicity on the BBC, if you campaign against wind you are marginalised. And yet, as you’ve said many times, the figures for wind do not add up, not matter how creative your accountancy.

    It is classic Orwellian territory indeed. And your voice, Robin, is that rare thing, a composed and dignified stance asking the pro-wind guys to come up with answers beyond their empty posturing in favour of ‘green’ energy. Well done.

  2. Nice one Robin. You are a brave man posting on OM, which really is a forum equivalent of a brawl in a grotty pub. Full of people on the prowl looking for a fight.

    1. I hate forums. People take the view they are entitled to be rude, obnoxious and offensive with impunity. It’s the same (ivory tower) mentality as that which they no doubt display in their cars when they are delayed by 2 seconds by another driver…

  3. not seen that thread Robin, kinda glad i didnt for blood pressure reasons 😉 OM can be a very volatile place.

    very very good breakdown on the land use figures, not seen it done so systematically before and it really brings it home.

    resistance to uncomfortable facts in the pro wind camp really shows beyond all doubt that the campaign against is gathering an increasing momentum, now all over the BBC, the mainstream press both broadsheet and tabloid – it shows what can be done, little by little, and pressure needs to be kept up.

    I think yr moderate approach is commendable, we don’t need to bait the ‘greens’, as frustrating as the contradictions in some arguments may be – in the end we will need to win them over.

    1. Thanks, David. I certainly don’t want to bait people. All I want is for those in favour of wind power to consider the consequences. The major one is that the industrialisation of a large chunk of our wild land is inevitable if wind power is to contribute meaningfully to our power needs. If people are happy with that, then it’s their democratic prerogative. However, if you want to conserve our wild places, then wind power cannot be anything other than a very minor part of our generation mix. It’s as simple as that.

  4. One of the easiest ways to be dismissed is to criticise a solution without offering another in its place. The sad thing is that without a lifestyle change, there is no solution to the impending energy crisis so whilst your arguments are coherent and factually accurate and rational, to simply offer them up without alternatives allows them to be dismissed easily with a “what choice do we have” response. Wind is not viable but it’s a vote winner and governments are masters is spinning the bad and discrediting the small voice of reason.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Maz. We need to dramatically change our lifestyles and energy/resource usage. Ordinary people need to be helped. I’ve looked into ways of reducing our energy footprint but have largely ended up be confused. Within the next few years we hope to move house. I hope to adapt our new house (whatever we buy) to a low energy house. I also think it wise to look into energy storage/back up as I’m convinced within ten years we will start to see power cuts as the lack of a coherent long term energy policy in the UK bites.

  5. Maz, with respect, the only impeding energy crisis is the one that is going to be caused by the likes of Alex Salmond. If France were to refuse to sell us their excess nuclear-produced electricity, then we’ll be truly stuffed. The hypocrisy of the pro-wind guys is that they accuse the anti-wind side of nymbysm, while it is they who are master-nymbyists because they say ‘no’ to nuclear in this country while exploiting the nuclear base in France.
    The point is: wind is not an alternative. It’s just window dressing. And we have perfectly viable ways to keep the lights going, new generation nuclear, safe, clean and reliable, and shale gas, which despite the scandalous scare-mongering from the pro-wind side (the fake stories about earthquakes and water table contamination, both proved false) is abundant and clean.

    But the thing is: it is part of the Green mentality to punish us, they are the new Medieval church, they want visible ways to punish humanity, they enjoy destroying the hills, it gives them a kick, it provides one more way for them to tell us how many times a day we can flush out toilets, how many views we can retain unspoilt. They don’t want us to forget about them when we’re out in the hills. I’ve read people saying that they welcome wind plants because they show the advance of man even on the hills. What can you say to that?

    1. “the only impeding energy crisis is the one that is going to be caused by the likes of Alex Salmond” – Andy that’s simply not right I’m afraid. In 15 years years we lose 65% of our natural gas resources and will be reliant on the Russian government as they control the pipelines through eastern Europe. As much as the invasion of Georgia (the South Ossetia War in 2008) was satisfying for Putin personally, it was just as much about power as anything else. And this is only one aspect of our energy problems.

      We must, when advancing any argument offer viable alternatives in order to demonstrate impartiality and objectivity unless the lack of alternatives supports our argument – it does not here. Wind power is NOT viable (I said that) but without offering research into alternatives, that voice will be but a whisper…

      1. Maz, again, with respect, this was out in the Financial Times very recently:

        The argument that if we rely on gas we’ll be dependent on Putin is old hat, I’m afraid.

        Also, even assuming we *could* rely on wind, that would put us at the mercy of the Chinese, who have a near-monopoly on rare earth ore (an essential component of turbines). So I’m not sure that wind would relieve us of reliance on despots. It’d just shift it to a different kind of despot.

        In any case the FT shows that to say that in 15 years we’ll be with severely depleted gas reserves is simply not true.

  6. I fully agree with what you say, the innefficiency of wind power has been my point in most comments regarding the subject. That said I find myself in total agreement with Maz on this one, we can’t simply say no to wind power without dealing with the thorny issue of the alternatives.

    Of the currently available alternatives there’s Nuclear or Non Renewable energy, what may or may not be available in 20 years time is irrelevant. In the end we have to decide whether our commitment to the preservation of wild land is more important than our commitment to reducing the use of fossil fuels or whether we are prepared to accept the greater risk of Nuclear power.

  7. A bit tongue in cheeek, I suppose, but I thought that if changes in lifestyle are needed, then perhaps we should also have a long and hard look at out buying habits. I think it’s fair to say that we are all gear-freaks around here. I’m doing my monthly ‘re-fold your tents along different lines’ routine (I’ve got six of ’em…) and I was thinking: well, how much of my outdoor stuff could I do without, and how much of that stuff is oil-based? Flysheet, inner, primaloft, shell, Paramo, I think most of the stuff I wear (apart from merino) is synthetic, most of the stuff that goes into a tent, rucsac, sleeping mat, it’s all oil-based stuff. And I’ve got about six of everything I’m afraid.

    So if we are really committed to reducing consumption we should really book ourselves into an addiction clinic…

    And yet every year we resolve to buy less gear only to break our resolutions by March (at the latest!). I thought I would buy nowt new this year, and I got a tent, 2 rucsacks, two stoves, a pan and a mat. And it’s only June…

  8. That’s an excellent post, Robin.

    Maz: The alternatives are more modern nuclear plants and more use of gas. The FT article, Andy, was excellent and shows that there is plenty of time to develop the technology to an environmentally acceptable stage well within the time frame of the natural gas reserves being depleted.
    By then (in fact, in the relatively near future) domestic scale solar with two to three times the efficiency of present systems will be on stream, making a substantial contribution to domestic energy supplies. They will also have energy storage systems coupled in, making them a really useful addition to the energy mix.

  9. Andy – cannot read your FT article as it is for subscribers only. That said, my information comes from the Economist (last year) and from the US Council for Foreign Relations think tank so I’d be interested to see what the FT is saying. Both the Economist and the CFR were ad idem that Britain would have to import gas far more in 15 years time than it does now – as much as

    Here’s one article on Russia’s increased dominance – and the position as it was in 2009 by contrast here –

    This is what the Economist said about it in August 2009 –

    1. Sorry – must have pressed send in the middle of editing…

      I note now that I wrong in my recollection of what the Economist said – it was in fact 2015 that we start to face problems (that’s the August 2009 article). I cannot read the FT article – could someone email it to me at 34winchester -at- googlemail -dot- com? I am not saying we don’t have some time to further technology from different renewable energy resources – but we will always be reliant on someone.

      Around that time I was listening to a series of science podcasts where they referred to increased solar cell advancement where the cells had tiny ‘wires’ which vastly increased the surface area and consequently efficiency – here’s a reference –

      1. Personally, I think the way ahead will be micro generation though solar cells and wind turbines (small) on residences, storing electricity generated in batteries. I’ve read somewhere that within five years solar cells will be viable. One of the biggest challenges the UK faces is the lack of gas storage, which means in winter we are much more vulnerable to cuts in gas supply than Germany or France (now there’s a surprise).

  10. If you want to read the FT article, it’s enough to google for it and you’ll be able to read it!

    Google for “Europe told of potential shale gas bonanza”. The first hit will be the FT article. Click on the link and you’ll be able to read it.

  11. Now, Maz, still in the spirit of a good-humoured debate: you posed a question for Robin (and I suppose Alan). What are the alternatives to wind.

    The counter-argument is clear: nuclear and gas will do us very well for quite some time to come.

    And here’s the other thing that one must say against wind. It is commonly argued by the pro-wind lobby that wind is a temporary measure. It’s claimed that it is a mature technology, in fact, the only mature ‘renewable’ technology. I’d dispute that claim. The only thing which is mature about it is the well-established gravy train. Moreover, we are stuck with wind because Denmark and Germany had strategically placed officials at the heart of the EU that pushed for wind very very hard indeed to favour the Danish-German technology which is behind every wind turbine installed in Britain. There are other prototype designs for wind turbines that have simply been not developed because of the Danish-German stranglehold on the market. It’s funny that this aspect of wind politics has not been discussed at all!

    Anyway, the general point I wanted to make is that an atmosphere of urgency has been created, that we have to do something now or else… And when you’re under time pressure you make bad decisions. I have no doubt that there is a technology out there in the future that will solve most of our problems and we have enough resources now to buy ourselves time until that new technology is in place.

    But as Alan has said time and time again let’s not delude ourselves that the damage being done to the hills is reversible. It isn’t. Uplands habitats are being destroyed forever. The hundreds of miles of tracks will be impossibly expensive to restore and will remain there forever. Peatland is so fragile that the damage to watercourses (well-documented!) and the dumping of thousands of tonnes of concrete and dirt for foundations and tracks will take longer to recover than radioactive waste! People mentioned old mines and such like, but nothing, absolutely nothing that happened in the past can compare to the scale and scope of what is happening now. What is being dumped on the hills is unprecedented and we simply don’t know how long it will take for the hills to recover.

    What we know for certain is that it won’t be the landowners that will pay for the restoration, nor will it be the utility companies.

    If on the other hand the new technology behind the corner is some form of energy storage (hydrogen or whatever), then the hills will be lost forever anyway, because *if* wind were to become sustainable, then we’d be stuck with turbines forever, and on almost every hill.

    So the dilemma is there before us. If wind works, the hills are gone. If it doesn’t, they’re gone anyway because we’ll never have the resources to restore the damage done. Alan’s heroic efforts with the Monadhliath encapsulates the pain, the almost unbearable pain one feels.

    Read the last couple of pages of the ‘The Last Stalk’ chapter in ‘Isolation Shepherd’. Lady Stirling has just killed her last stag. She knows the changes in the glens that are about to happen (the damming of Loch Monar). The narrative is understated, but I saw our pain in her sadness.

  12. Robin,
    As you know I have shared my concerns about the environmental effects of shale gas with you before, mainly from a health perspective, much more research is required.

    With reference to shale gas and earthquakes hopefully people would accept that the BGS is an aurthoritative independent body:

    In the U.S.A. the EPA are now in a 2 year study into the health risks posed by it. Previous comments on it’s effect on water quality were not actually tested in their last report. Other studies show it to cause large releases of methane.

    Contrary to popular belief I do not want windmills everywhere either but what are the alternatives? – I do accept the arguments for anthropogenic global warming and I’m not a massive fan of nuclear but would except a percentage of new build.

    1. Thanks Wurz. On shale gas, I’ve no idea. I can’t accept that wind power is the answer, even if it works, because it requires vast swathes of land to be devoted to wind farms. Most of these will be sited in the hills in some of our most fragile ecosystems. As Andy says, the damage to the landscape will be collossal and won’t be reversed. In comparison, the risks with nuclear seem more manageable. I see nuclear as a bridging technology. Domestic solar panels with battery storage may be the way ahead in a decade or so. I don’t know. Technology is developing fast. I really don’t want our hills covered in wind turbines whatever happens. If you support wind as a meaningful source of power, you have to accept the industrialisation of our wild lands. It’s as simple as that.

  13. Wurz, just to remind other posters here that you make your money designing wind farms, so it’s no surprise you’re trying to discredit shale gas.

    A lot of the scare-mongering regarding shale gas was created by a film called ‘Gasland’ directed by Josh Fox that showed water taps being set on fire. It has been revealed that the house affected had displayed that kind of phenomenon since at least 1936. In other words the contamination of the water supply was wholly disconnected from the issue of shale gas.

    There was a video posted on youtube and vimeo where the director was questioned about that and he had the gall of saying that wasn’t relevant to the film!

    Interestingly enough, the video has been pulled from both youtube and vimeo.

    Dirty tricks campaign anyone?

    Here’s a transcript of the interview:

    As for the Blackpool ‘earthquake’: do you know how many times events of that kind occur when drilling for oil?

    1. To be fair, Andy, Wurz has stated before that he works in the energy industry but has only worked briefly on two wind projects. Unlike some others, I do believe he’s interested in a genuine debate. Let’s not get side tracked by the shale gas controversy. I believe that France has banned shale gas exploration so it is controversial.

      1. Well, Robin, I don’t want to side-track the thread or anything like that, but it is no coincidence that there’s a smear campaign against shale gas. The French ban is an odd thing too (similar to the Russian ban on EU vegetable imports because of the false stories about Spanish cucumbers! I mean, do we really trust these knee-jerk reactions in today’s world?).

        Drilling for shale gas has no worse side-effects than any kind of activity of that kind (horizontal drilling is much safer than ‘fracking’ for instance, and depending on the type of deposit it is implemented). Once again the issue is: does the technology work in principle? Can it be made safer? Safe shale gas drilling is perfectly all right. And that’s an easily checkable fact.

        There are well-documented cases of water supply contamination arising from wind plants, incidentally, so it is rather curious that pro-wind guys should raise that spectre in relation to shale gas!

        The odd thing is that no-one has proposed banning wind plants because of a few cases of water contamination and landslides (Ireland).

        We are, I’m afraid, a deeply irrational race and there are people playing up the dangers of some form of energy production above all others. More people have died building wind plants than have been killed by nuclear. The casualties in the coal industry are notoriously horrendous. And cars have killed millions of people. Yet we only want to ban nuclear! We’re quite some species.

  14. Maz
    The alternatives are as set out in my comment of 3:18pm. The “new nuclear”, as far as National Grid is concerned, is already a done deal. The earthquakes are *so* small that no-one feels them. Larger earthquakes occur from blasting at Quarry sites, all over the British Isles.

    1. I think the earthquake issue is a red herring. More concerning would be groundwater contamination, where I think the issue is not entirely clear.

  15. Alan, Thanks for the acknowledgement that they can and do cause earthquakes, previously you seemed happy to support Andy’s comment on your blog that it was absolute nonsense. What does not appear to be as well known is the effect large scale operations would have in the much more densely populated UK.

    With reference to new gas build I’d commend the editorial of May 2011 The Environmentalist, Dash for Gas II. I’m sorry but am not sure if this is viewable on their website

    Andy – I DO NOT DESIGN BUILD OR WORK IN THE WIND INDUSTRY. I have been employed on 2, 4 week projects in Germany in the last 14 months as a subcontractor on geotechnical site investigations for windfarms. I have been offered work on offshore construction jobs for windfarms in the Thames estuary and off Barrow both of which I declined. As this work is on the increase engineers are in demand globally in a number of different markets, this is as much an indictment of education and training in the UK as anything else. If possible I suggest you read “Power People in Short Supply” in this month’s issue of Engineering & Technology again I am not sure if it is available on the website

    1. Wurz
      In the context of his comment on my blog, Andy’s comment about shale gas earthquakes I am surprised that that was what concerned you.
      The magnitude of these quakes are tiny, so by repeating the claim you are doing your cause no favours.

  16. Chaps,

    I’d like to make further discussion on shale gas off limits as I think it’s another topic altogether and runs the risk of spiralling out of control.

    Wurz/Andy, I appreciate your contributions. Let’s keep it friendly, eh? Remember it’s not OM!

  17. Thanks, Andy but that really is the last comment on shale gas.

    I don’t think we need to solve the global energy crisis on one post. What concerns me most is the cost of wind power in terms of covering our hills with wind turbines.

    If people want to be pro-wind, the inescapable sacrifice is our hills. I’d love to be proved wrong.

  18. I think your comment about micro-electricity generation in the future is the absolute way to go. My only concern is that the power companies wont want to lose a captive (enslaved) audience and so will pressurise the government.
    If the government were to heavily subsidize residential options (solar, geothermal and yes some wind power) then the momentum might build to achieve stable, balanced energy provision with the emphasis very much on individuals reducing their own consumption.
    I had the privilege to visit the Machynlleth Centre for alternative technology back in the 80’s. Back then it was very much a community of people trying to be self sufficient in their energy needs. When asked about washing machines and televisions and suchlike there was a general concensus that sharing and making do was the only way to make it all work.
    We can postulate all we want about how we can generate the future power for our modern lives but I really believe that without some sacrifice and a “London Blitz” pulling together of society we may be fooling ourselves

  19. OK. We must keep it civil and constructive and in line with Robin’s point that if we support wind, we lose the hills.
    I have something more to say about that in a second. But two very quick points to justify why I raised the tone of the discussion above the one intended by Robin. Wurz did open a new thread on OM linking to Germany’s decision to terminate their nuclear programme. And his opening line was: the anti-wind won’t like this! This posted on a forum where lots of people (like Mike fae Dundee) feel very strongly about the issue. That was needlessly provocative, by any standards.

    Secondly, on the Blackpool issue. They started drilling in March. There were two small quakes at the end of May. The case for a correlation is not yet been made. Tremors of that magnitude in that area are fairly common. It may have been a coincidence.

    More generally, Robin, the dialectic here is that you point out the cost of wind, then the pro-wind guys say, well, what are the alternatives? You point out the alternatives to them and they dismiss them by using standards they refuse to apply to wind!

    Back on topic: you point out a dearth of qualified engineers. Fair enough. But as an engineer don’t you feel that wind is a bad answer to the energy question simply because it is hugely wasteful of resources? The cost of implementing the dash for wind runs into billions of pounds. And simply looking at one of those huge off-shore wind plants, or plants like Whitelee, it just strikes any sensible person as a bad idea; good ideas are simple; one power station providing power to millions. Scattering thousands of turbines across land and sea is an engineering nightmare and the scarcity of qualified engineers simply points out the inefficiency of the industry. Up here in Scotland, it is a familiar fact that about 3 in 10 turbines at any point in time ain’t working. Maintenance costs are proving to be much higher than anticipated.

    Leaving aside all other considerations, Wurz, I’m really really surprised that as an engineer you can support an industry that is so very clearly a bad example of human ingenuity. I can’t see how anyone in the profession can express admiration for a flawed technology like that. We can do better than that. And we owe it to the hills.

    I hope this post will be acceptable to Robin. I think I’ve said just about everything I wanted to say.

    Perhaps one more point: micro-generation. Yes, it’d be great, but again as far as I can tell even domestic wind turbines are not efficient enough to provide a return for the investment. Everyone I know who’s installed them (unless they live in Shetland or the West of Scotland, but even there I know of folks who go cold in winter when the wind doesn’t blow and their hydro micro-plants are all frozen up!) has had very little return. The feed-in tariffs are now making it economical for the individual, but we’re all paying for it in higher bills.

    1. I think dismissing nuclear out of hand is irrational. The risks are known and reasonably containable. The Japanese were foolish not to build their nuclear plant high enough above sea level or on an artificial mound to guard against a tsunami.

      I agree on microgeneration at the moment but the key is mass production. If the cost of small turbines/solar panels and battery storage can be reduced through mass production then it can work. Storage is the key as it can overcome (to a degree) the intermittancy problem and make the overall system more robust. Unfortunately micro solutions have no political lobby or clout.

      1. correct Robin. There needs to be a driver to get the ball rolling on mass producing (via subsidies to begin with) micro-generating devices and systems.
        The only way this is likely to happen is if we start having blackouts and power cuts like in the 70’s in the last great energy crisis. Only then will the effects be felt by all and sundry, rich and poor and that might be enough to change opinion. Lets face it, most people grumble about price rises for energy but there is a conscious decision whether to use that energy or not (to a certain extent). Once the decision is taken away from us and we reap the whirlwind of facing energy shortages and not just cost hikes, only then will the good and the great take notice and get off their derrieres and make it happen

      2. Yes, Robin, that seems about right. In other words, either you get a system that relies on relatively few centralised power stations (like in the old days) or a system where generation is diffused through every household (or rather, a combination of the two is the way to go). Basing nearly everything on wind (as Salmond wants to do) is the worst strategy, that is, having a diffused centralised system (if that makes sense), with power production scattered over a huge percentage of the land, as you correctly pointed out, Robin. That’s just madness. But that’s where we seem to be going. And it’s sad to see some people cheering from the sidelines…

  20. It’s unlikely that micro generation can become the whole answer if only because not all dwellings are suitable. However, it could become a significant part of the solution in conjuction with better insulation. It would also make hybrid cars like the Voltera more attractive as home generated electricity would be “free” and thus the majority of journeys would be on “free” fuel (I know that’s ignoring capital costs). There will always be some need for centralised power generation. If homes had the capacity to store power, then neighbourhood wind turbines would work.

  21. Backpackbrewer you make some excellent points. Luckily CAT is still going strong, their site is worth a visit for anyone that has not heard of it:

    Andy I don’t think that wind is hugely wasteful on resources. Electricity generation in general is hugely wasteful of resources when you look at the efficiencies of thermal plant the fuel the electricity supplied from it and then the transmission losses – this will apply to Scottish wind too. That’s why micro generation is interesting. As for failing human ingenuity pollution and resource use from traditional heavy industry is far worse. Having worked for companies in the U.S. and the developing world policies were regularly ignored by companies in those countries that would have been unacceptable in Europe or even the U.S. but this is a digression. I agree with you that wild country is worthy of protection but I disagree about how we should provide a secure energy mix for the future.

    1. Wurz, I fear we’re nearing the point where, in that dreadful phrase, we’ll have to agree to disagree…

      Micro-generation: yes, in principle that would be fabulous, and the most sensible thing to have. Let’s hope they crack the technology soon enough. No argument there.

      I’m not sure however how bad practice in the developing world is relevant. That’s bad technology. Bhopal was a technological failure. They should have hanged the company executives. And Bhopal killed many more people than nuclear ever did. Yet we don’t say let’s close all chemical factories. Any technology can be badly implemented.

      The point at issue here is that no matter how well you implement wind, it will eat up colossal resources in terms of land and sea use, which was precisely Robin’s original point.

      As I say, I continue to be amazed that as an engineer you find wind a viable and attractive proposition. We have 3,500 turbines installed in the UK and even on a good day they barely produce the output of one single conventional power station with a minuscule footprint. Simply in terms of the maintenance and distribution costs for 3,500 turbines compared to one power station, the comparison is enough to condemn wind as a daft idea.

      And don’t forget: we are getting Beauly-Denny only because of wind, and nothing else.

      If you agree that wild country is worth protecting, that should give you pause, shouldn’t you?

      Finally, there were some really good things coming out of the Highlands, forest regeneration, crofting reform, land buyouts, repopulation, all things that were pointing to a return to the times when the Highlands were more populated than the Lowlands. The wind plants controversy is tearing apart communities, torn between accepting ‘community funds’ and defending whatever wilderness is left.

      There was no need for this. There must be a better way, Wurz, and I’m sorry you can’t see that.

  22. I shouldn’t but I couldn’t and on checking OM again I note that our esteemed contributor Wurz has resurrected that old canard, nuclear decommissioning, claiming that it’ll cost us £75 billions.

    Well, for a start we’re talking about old generation nuclear. New generation nuclear will cost far less to decommission.

    Secondly, that doesn’t compare badly to the cost of commissioning and decommissioning wind. The government actually doesn’t know how much it is going to cost, but some estimates are talking about £300 billion and heavens only knows how much it will cost to take them all down.

    So, Wurz, you accuse your opponents of cherry-picking data, but you seem to be doing quite well yourself.

    Of course those who are benefiting from this madness are you engineers lot for whom Christmas now comes once a month. Never before in the history of this country has so many men worked for so little energy return! Must be such fun putting up one wind plant after another knowing that no matter how many you put up, you’ll need to put another one up and then another and so on. And still we’ll need as much backup as we had before anyway, so for the engineering profession is the greatest bonanza that ever was. As long as we remain committed to wind, we’ll need at least twice the amount of power base that we’d normally need. When was the last time you took a look at the map of wind plants in Britain, Wurz? Have you ever felt a little twinge of embarrassment about your enthusiastic support for the venture? And as Robin was saying on OM, how deeply weird that people that profess an interest in the outdoors should go to such lengths to castigate those who lament the loss of wild land! Truly extraordinary times.

    1. There’s a good comment: It is not science that is at fault, it is the politicians, businesses and engineers prone to all sorts of corruption and lacking any sense of responsibility.

      Modern plant is much safer. Early PWRs were flawed. In a different way wind power is flawed. Covering a large chunk of our hills in turbines is not the answer.

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