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.