Land sacrifice (repeat post)

The whole wind power debate has bubbled to the surface again. I thought it would be useful to repeat the post that I made back in June 2011. One of the things that rarely seems to be commented on is the vast amount of land that would be needed to be sacrificed if wind power were to contribute significantly to our energy needs (leaving aside any technical issues, such as intermittency). Below I give you some idea of the scale.

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.


21 thoughts on “Land sacrifice (repeat post)”

  1. 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 register your objection on

    or google “wind petition norfolk” for a quick link.

    Please get your friends to sign up too.

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

  2. A good idea to re-post it.
    I see “Moonshadow” (Yuri G) is off on his usual crusade over at James’ place. He sprays his spurious arguments all over the place to deflect.
    This posting alone is reason enough to abandon onshore wind power plants

    I have also signed the petition mentioned above. Is is possible to see who else has signed the petition? I cannot fathom a way to do this.

    1. I’m sorry but I do not think it is possible to check who has signed any petition on the Government website. I have copied below my comments on the petition and wind farms in general which might be of interest. Please feel free to circulate this as widely as possible.

      Please sign this petition against wind farms immediately at

      Petition: We do not want any more onshore wind turbines/farms in Norfolk or elsewhere in the UK.

      We appeal to our MPs to represent our views and to vehemently oppose these projects. These plants are an uneconomical and inefficient way to produce electricity and are only pursued by the Government to secure the “green” vote and to keep the EU happy. Locally, they industrialise the landscape, have detrimental health, financial and other effects on peoples lives, destroy wildlife and have a negative impact on tourism. The billions of pounds wasted on these projects should be used in other areas to improve the lot of the British people.

      If you agree with this petition please spread the word by forwarding this e-mail to all your friends and other contacts.

      If you need more information please read below what David Ramsbotham, who created the petition, has to say.

      “I started this petition because of my involvement in a campaign to stop a 285 foot turbine being built in the midst of the beautiful, unspoilt, and historical landscape of North Norfolk. I realised that even if we could persuade our local authority to refuse this application the final decision could rest with central government.

      I also believe that the British public want to make the Government aware of their feelings and objections to these monstrosities which are beginning to blight our green and pleasant land. The way things are going it won’t be long before “there is one near you”. As with many other things, our elected representatives seem to be completely out of touch with the electorate on this issue.

      Many people are now concerned about the bigger picture – they are becoming aware that wind energy is a big scam and it is a way for Companies/Individuals, who do not really care about the environment, to get rich quick. They also realise that wind turbines are highly subsidised by the taxpayer, expensive, inefficient machines promoted by central government to get the green vote and to meet the requirements imposed by the EU. They feel that it would be better to pursue tide and solar power which is more predictable.

      Others are concerned about the social injustice and how the quality of their own lives will be affected. They are worried about the noise, health and safety problems, damage to bats, birds and other wildlife, the visual intrusion on a historic landscape, the devaluation of their properties and their human rights. They are incensed that developers claim that none of these concerns are valid but are not prepared to offer compensation if these fears materialise. They feel that the developers new found riches are at their expense.

      Most are concerned that this could be the thin end of the wedge and the country will eventually be taken over, as has already occurred in parts of Scotland, by these machines and their required infrastructure such as pylons and electricity substations. This would ruin the landscape and affect the tourist industry which is the life blood of many areas.

      The other sad thing is that wind power will never save the planet. Back up power sources will always be required and any fuel saved will be used elsewhere. It will be sold at lower prices to other nations making them more competitive in international markets. People also tend to forget that the money being wasted on this “green” dream could, as well as reducing electricity prices, be used in the health service, looking after the vulnerable, for affordable housing, reducing tuition fees for students and in other areas to improve the lot of the British people.

      From the above you will appreciate that there are many reasons why you should sign the petition at and persuade your friends and other contacts to do the same.

      Many thanks,

      David R”

    2. It is not surprising the the wind farm lobby never come clean about how much land is needed for their ambitions.

      Not sure how you access the signatories. How many signatures would it need to change policy? Millions?

      We are moving towards a political system of dictatorship. In this country it may be elective, but in Italy and Greece it is imposed.

      1. 100,000 signatures are required for the Government to have to consider debating this issue. It is worth a try – the other option is to do nothing – it is apathy which is destroying democracy in our country.

      2. Totally agree we should register our opposition. Unfortunately politicians have a habit of ignoring the public and following their pet policies. Let’s hope for 100,000

  3. There are only two types of Energy that the UK needs to develop, Hydro and Nuclear and I know there are arguments against both, but lets face it, compared to wind power, they are the only sensible alternatives.

    It makes me laugh that they claim to build wind farms in the best areas, but everytime we get a wind capable of producing some REAL energy, they have to shut them down… onshore or offshore, they are not viable.

  4. Robin,

    Not being British, I’m not entitled to sign any petetion against plans of your government; I wish I was!
    Loving the Highlands and being there twice a year at least I hope you’ll get the 100.000 and more!

    Willem Fox

  5. Robin, an additional piece of data to consider. Given that as Huhne’s recent document confirms the UK is going for 100% backup arrangements with respect to wind (i.e. whatever wind capacity gets installed will be matched by conventional backup plants), the land space required is even greater than in your calculations.

    I think you should also include the land taken by the new pylon lines needed to connect the wind plants.

    As far as loss of wild land is concerned, the off-shore farms, although technically not land-based, will also impact on wild land onshore. In Scotland, the Firth of Forth, Moray Firth and Pentland Firth, as well as much of the Argyll coast are about to be sacrificed too. A walk on previously wild beaches and hills will now get you a front row seat to hundreds of turbines a few miles off the coast.

    So I think the overall figures are even worse than your calculations.

    Try and get the pro-wind guys to grasp the reality of what they are supporting.

    I still remember a few years back when we were saying wind turbines would be blanketing the hills. Scaremongering, they were saying. Look around ye now, you nice guys and see what you’ve done to this country.

  6. Have you seen the latest piece of spin from the wind industry?

    The Civitas report doesn’t seem to add anything new, in the sense that it is well-known that if you need to have gas power stations on stand-by to back-up the sudden drop in wind production you end up emitting lots more C02.

    But the reply from the shill for the wind industry is priceless. He said: “modern gas plants are not required to provide back-up for wind. Instead, wind is “integrated” into the existing system to act as a fuel saver”.

    Strictly speaking, this is true: when turbines are producing energy, they put gas on stand-by regime, saving fuel for the time the turbines are turning. But the important thing is to work out the *overall* consumption, i.e. the well-established inefficiency of a stop-start regime for gas turbines.

    The elephant in the room, of course, is French nuclear…

    But the galling thing is that precisely the very same people who question to death anything that comes out from the government in all other issues, will buy the wind industry spin without so much as raising a sceptical eyebrow. Pathetic.

    1. Thanks. I posted on it before I saw your comment. I was going to put something up more contentious. Like you I am fed up with the spin of the wind lobby. Any opposition is labeled as cranks.

  7. A found your blog when I was looking for pro-wind farm web pages which I haven’t yet found. I appreciate that your blog is mainly statistics with reference because I am a scientific person. Saying that, I can’t be bothered to put the time and effort into doing the same with my comment. Sorry :S I do that for my coursework.

    You would be more likely to persuade me that onshore wind farms are not the way forward if you gave some evidence against wind farms. I personally like the countryside being scattered with wind farms looks quite majestic. I have seen them more on the continant by motorways. I agree with you that there shouldn’t be too many wind farms and we should also invest in neuclear and hydro-electric. “We shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket” Your statistics you found have perswaded me on face value that too many wind farms are not viable. However, if a farmer or other landowner chooses to build wind farms, or a windturbine I beleive the goverment should continue to support them. Andy, I don’t think these areas are being sacrificed because they aren’t being destroyed like land was for coal mine, just modified.

    Looking at the petition, I need evidence for the having ” detrimental health, financial and other effects on peoples lives, destroy wildlife and have a negative impact on tourism.”, especially the last two points before I sign it. I read some staticstics (I can’t verify it though) that windows kill a much larger proportion of birds but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any windows does it? As for health, it is nothing compared to fossil fuel manufacturing or even nuclear power (what should we do with neuclear waste).

    Also, do you agree alongside motorways is an ideal spot because:
    It is already noisy and lethal for animals
    it can make a long car drive more interesting for children ?

    1. Thank you for your comments.

      This is a blog mainly about backpacking. The backpacking community is extremely concerned about the destruction of our wild lands especially in Scotland. For reference you should look at Alan Sloman’s blog for a number of articles

      Many of us have less objection to wind turbines in less sensitive areas such as beside motorways. However, many of us also have serious doubts about both the efficacy of wind turbines as a reliable source of power and their economic viability.

      If you are interested in finding out more you should read the recent Adam Smith Institute report on renewables

    2. Do you realise that it is us the consumer who pays for wind farms? Not the government. The cost goes onto domestic electricty bills and those of British industry. As a result this hikes up bills and makes industry less competitive.
      Did you know that 6 million Brits are in fuel poverty? And 1 in 4 people are worried about paying their next fuel bill.

      Do you realsie that in the drive for subsidy developers do not care where they site wind farms? You may be shocked to know even AONBs are not areas that we cherish and have been protected for generations will not be areas of outstanding natural beauty for long.

      You may like to read a report on wind farms in Spain killing between 6 and 18 million birds a year? How can a population recover from that?

  8. While I do not wish to tread on David’s toes with his petition I would also like to draw your attention this this one too which calls for a reduction in subsidy for wind farms.
    There is such great public anger at wind farms, but it is not easy to get petitions into the limelight once you have started them up and get them circulated. I hope that all the the readers to this blog will help to circulate it for us in any way they can. We already have a substantial number of people signed up, 5,500. So please join us.
    The petition is easy to find simply Google reduce electricty bills or the petition number which is 22704.
    This is the wording and I have put a link on below which should be a direct link!

    Responsible department: Department for Energy and Climate Change

    Electricity bills have soared, and more increases are in the pipeline. This punishes the 6 million people already in fuel poverty, restricts economic growth, and makes British industry less competitive. A key factor in this increase is the Renewables Obligation, which indirectly provides more than 40% of the income of wind-farms. These complex and covert subsidies (most of which go to foreign companies) are paid not by the government, but instead are ENTIRELY financed by increasing the price of our electricity bills. Climate-change policies have already increased household electricity by at least 14%, and have increased the electricity bills of business by at least 20%. Even worse, these tariffs are forecast to escalate. By reducing or ending the subsidies for wind-farms, we would benefit the poorest members of society, boost our manufacturing exports and, while doing so, would help protect what remains of our precious countryside. Please vote for this petition.

    Please sign this petition

    Many thanks.

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