Wind power in perspective

A story in the Guardian yesterday helped put the extent of onshore wind power in the UK into perspective. The UK has only 1.11 wind turbines per 100 sq km.

     Wind industry counters claim that countryside is 'paved with turbines'

The report said that England had a density of only 0.49 turbines per 100 sq km, but gave no figures for any of the other countries of Britain. That of course led me to find out what the density is for Wales. I couldn't find the report the Guardian referred to on the RenewableUK website, but we can get a fairly good idea of the figures from this list. It is slightly out of date (October 2010) but close enough for comparison purposes. These are the figures:

UK ... 2,615 turbines over 243,610 sq km = 1.07 per 100 sq km

Wales ... 498 turbines over 20,779 sq km = 2.39 per 100 sq km
Scotland ... 1,293 turbines over 78,772 sq km = 1.64 per 100 sq km
Northern Ireland ... 213 turbines over 13,843 sq km = 1.54 per 100 sq km
England and Cornwall ... 611 turbines over 130,395 sq km = 0.47 per 100 sq km

So yes, the density of onshore wind turbines in Wales is more than twice that of the UK as a whole, and five times as great as in England.

     

But is this a good or a bad thing? One way of putting it into perspective is to look at other European countries. These are the figures reported in the Guardian:

Denmark ... 10.85 turbines per 100 sq km
Germany ... 5.95 turbines per 100 sq km
Netherlands ... 5.54 turbines per 100 sq km
Spain ... 3.39 turbines per 100 sq km

So Wales has nowhere near the same density of turbines as these countries, and the density of turbines in some parts of these countries will be much greater than elsewhere: for example Navarre in the Basque Country and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany.

A second way of putting things into perspective is the remind ourselves just how little renewable energy the UK produces compared with all the other countries in the EU. This is from a post I wrote in April this year. If the image is too small to read, click it to open the pdf version.

   

Even though the UK has better renewable resources than virtually every other member of the EU, it is right at the bottom of the table, ahead of just Luxembourg and Malta. There's some helpful additional information from the German statistics office here.

     

With this perspective, I think it's fair to make the following points:

•  The UK is not taking its commitments towards renewable energy seriously enough

•  The UK government has left it to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to bear the lion's share of the UK's commitments to renewable energy, leaving England to bear very little of the burden

The second is to some extent understandable. Wales, Scotland and NI have better renewable resources and are therefore better placed to take advantage of them. But England is doing nowhere near its fair share.

Now if you are a NIMBY—and Wales has more than its fair share of those—the obvious solution is to claim that Wales has made a big mistake with wind power and that we should have sat with our hands in our pockets and done nothing more than England. I'm proud that we haven't, even though we have done less than some of our European neighbours. We in Wales have taken a decent share of responsibility for meeting climate change targets; it is not our fault if our neighbours on the other side of Clawdd Offa haven't. They are in the wrong, but two wrongs won't make anything right.

     

But that said, I think there are many things about our energy policy that are wrong. In the first place we need to change the balance with regard to wind power from onshore to offshore windfarms. Offshore wind power is much more effective than onshore; winds are stronger and more consistent meaning that they should operate at a capacity factor of about 35% as opposed to about 25% onshore. There can be no possible problem with noise or flicker.

We should also put much more effort into developing other forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy. I have written about why we should be developing offshore tidal lagoons here. Tidal power will be able to deliver the bulk of our energy requirements in Wales. At a smaller scale there is also plenty of potential for solar, hydro and other renewables ... and all this needs to be complemented with energy saving measures.

But there is still a place for onshore wind, and there are a number of ways we could improve the situation in Wales. First and foremost we could pass legislation requiring a minimum proportion of any new onshore windfarms to be owned by the community. It would be a welcome and imaginative addition to the rather lacklustre proposals outlined by Carwyn Jones this week. About a third of windfarms in Denmark are owned collectively by individual shareholders rather than by large energy companies, and they now require that a minimum of 20% of any development is owned by the local community:

     

We could also set up incentives for local ownership through non-domestic rates. In England, even the Tories are proposing that local communities can retain NDR for the first six years. For an example of how that could work, look at this proposal for a small four turbine windfarm only a few metres on the English side of the border near Knighton. There'd be nothing to stop the Welsh Government introducing better, permanent incentives for Welsh communities. These are our natural resources, it is only right that we should retain a greater part of the profits that are being made from them.

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32 comments:

alexanders said...

Leeanne, your points are very interesting as ever but do not address the main problem with on-shore wind; it is so ineffective. In this area, the figures published by the wind power companies themselves indicate that the turbines were only producing power for 19% of the time. As they require power to prevent them seizing up when they are not generating, for 81% of the time, them are drawing current from the grid. This means that other energy sources are required to back up wind and they are generally far from renewable. As for NIMBYism, defence of what you value is at the heart of nationalism.In Mid Wales, we are fighting for jobs and communities, not a middle-class view from the window. Most of us would accept change is it had some purpose, but trashing Montgomeryshire for 0.004% of Britain,s energy requirements is no acceptable. And the community benefit if a joke: they are offering us a re-painted village hall so we can all gather there when have no jobs!

MH said...

I'm not sure why you've addressed your comment to Leeanne, Alexanders, but it appears that you don't understand the figures you've quoted,

Wind turbines produce some energy about 80% of the time. The capacity factor (which has been 26% over the past seven years) represents what a turbine produces relative to what it could produce if it were generating electricity at its full capacity all the time.

No electricity is required to prevent the turbines seizing up. The only electricity consumed is as a short burst at times when the wind has just started to blow gently: blowing strongly enough to keep the turbine spinning and producing electricity, but not strongly enough to start it from a standstill. Think of it as a kick start.

I'm not sure where your 0.004% figure is from, but Montgomeryshire has 0.1% of the UK's population and 2% of Wales' population. The people use electricity, so why should Montgomeryshire not produce some as well?

Anonymous said...

Sorry - all these fact all these figures don't mean anything 'cos no AM or MP with a brain is going to campaign for wind power. It's like turkeys voting for Christmas.

You know, all the other good things AMs want to do - education, the language, health etc will all be lost cos an AM stood up for wind power. It's not worth the bother. No point banging on about it.

maen_tramgwydd said...

Sorry, I'm not with you on windfarms. It's not fair to compare Wales (with its superb landscape) with for example, Denmark, which is virtually flat. It's a sacrilege to desecrate a beautiful landscape which has an economic value to the people of Wales as a whole, and to those in the particular localities involved.

Wales and Scotland are being exploited by the establishment which governs the UK. Fair and simple.

Bandying statistics about won't ever get fair play for the people of Wales

MH said...

AMs and MPs have already voted for wind power. So Christmas has come and gone a few times now, Anon. Labour in Westminster set up the renewable energy targets and wrote them into law. The Tories now want to go even futher; they said in their Assembly manifesto that they want all of Wales' energy to be from renewables by 2025 with 70% by 2020. How on earth do they think that could be achieved without expanding wind? I'd genuinely like to hear Glyn Davies or Russell George explain how.

All that's now happening is that one or two Tories are trying to campaign against their very own party's policies. A lot of fuss that will do absolutely nothing to divert us from renewable energy.

-

As for MG, do you really think our landscape is being "desecrated"? I don't. I think wind turbines are fine, and certainly don't spoil the landscape more than roads, railways, bridges, housing, other buildings or farming do. Our landscape has largely been shaped by us, and we will keep on changing it to suit our needs. Wales is more than a picture postcard. It is a place for people to live and work ... using their share of electricity as they do so, just like people do everywhere else.

And by what objective standard is our landscape is too beautiful for wind turbines, but the Danish or German or Basque landscape isn't? We're all entitled to our opinions (or prejudices) about beauty, but if you think that wind turbines are OK somewhere else, but not where you happen to live, you are nothing more than a NIMBY.

Siônnyn said...

MH - I agree that turbines are often handsome, from afar (being , myself, a techie aesthete ), but I am still not convinced that turbines do anything other than salve vague middle class guilt about greenhouse gasses and the environment.

I keep reading that the research clearly shows that they make a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but yet I am unable to find any credible published sources for this. Can you help?

maen_tramgwydd said...

MH

'by what objective standard is our landscape is too beautiful for wind turbines, but the Danish or German or Basque landscape isn't?'

What a silly question. Beauty isn't a matter of objectivity. If the Danes, Germans, or whoever, want windfarms that's up to them.

The people of Wales are being exploited, yet again. Nimbyism has nothing to do with it. Wales is losing more than the environment is gaining by these monsters.

Plaid has tried out-doing Labour on socialism, and the Greens on environmentalism, and its failed. It's a ploy voters, even the densest of whom can see through, and won't fall for. They'll vote for the genuine object (not that Labour is socialist) as they did at the last election.

If an independent Wales is to have a viable economy, tourism will play a vital part in it. It's one of the country's foremost assets. Wales will lose more than it gains by being covered in huge turbines which contribute very little to green energy in real terms. It's a truly STUPID and shortsighted policy.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty Wales faces is that in 4 or our 5 regions (basically, everywhere except lowland Gwent and Glamorgan) the population is stagnant or it it's increasing it's because English people %50+ age are moving the area. They're attracted by the 'quality of life' possibly left a large city and want a tranquil countryside. They're going to vote against windfarms and so vote against any AS or MP who's for them - Simon Thomas lost his seat in 2005 partly on this issue.

So, one way which Wales could create income and export energy and so make itself a viable state is undermined by the voting power of people who've moved to Wales and don't want windfarms, making Wales's economic poverty a self-fulfilling prophesy ... as well as adding greater costs in terms of health and services in a few years time.

We've an ageing population who cause greater stress on the health service, we're welcoming even more ageing population and then the population votes for high social services + against ways of creating wealth. We're in a mess.

XYZ

maen_tramgwydd said...

Anon 12:52

Where's the evidence that the total energy generated by windfarms will provide an income greater than that lost through desecration of the landscape from tourism?

Their construction and maintenance will create little or no employment for Welsh people. Many windfarms are controlled remotely from places on the continent, and maintenance engineers sent in to Wales to fix them when problems arise.

Where's the evidence that it's immigrants who oppose these developments?

I agree that immigration (from England) into Wales' rural areas is a serious issue for the language and culture of those communities affected, but that's another matter.

That Wales is in a mess isn't in contention. It has been for all of my life, and things aren't likely to improve until self-government is achieved and we can decide our own destiny. If and when that happens, then we'll have to get off our backsides and make it work.

Lyndon said...

Yay, Plaid isn't unpopular enough at the moment, so let's stick up for the pointless industrialisation of our last unspoilt countryside!

Anonymous said...

MH said...
"AMs and MPs have already voted for wind power. So Christmas has come and gone a few times now, Anon. Labour in Westminster set up the renewable energy targets and wrote them into law. The Tories now want to go even futher; they said in their Assembly manifesto that they want all of Wales' energy to be from renewables by 2025 with 70% by 2020. How on earth do they think that could be achieved without expanding wind?"

If they are talking of making Wales' energy to be from renewables......by 2020 then why are they hoping to build pylons leading into England? Or does Wales in actual fact mean....EnglandandWales? Not trying to be awkward. Just truly confused by this. :-(

MH said...

You're chasing your tail, MT. You were the one who compared the landscapes of Wales and Denmark. You refuse to accept that renewable energy policies in TAN 8 were made by a democratically elected governments in Wales. We might disagree with the policy, or some aspects of it, but it is ludicrous to call the windpower capacity targets in Wales an example of Wales being "exploited". We made the decision ourselves.

In fact it seems that others have this same difficultly. I would simply remind people that all the major parties in Wales are in favour of renewable energy. If people are against it, they're free to vote for (or set up) a party that is opposed to it, or any aspects of it they don't like. But as I've said, it's strange that the politicians who are most prominently jumping on the anti-wind bandwagon (or to be more accurate, the anti-wind-where-I-happen to-live-bandwagon) are from a party that wants all Wales' energy to come form renewable sources by 2025.

For 20:36, doing it for Wales is much, much easier than doing it for the UK as a whole because we have a smaller population relative to the extent of our renewable resources. As for the issue of the national electricity grid, the big problem is that Wales is split into two halves, and there is no interconnexion between north and south. Rather like the rail network, the only way to get from north to south is through England. This is something I addressed in this post. We need to have better grid links between north and south, and an undersea interconnector seems to me to be the bast way of doing it.

But the grid can operate just as effectively whether the cables are carried on pylons or put underground. From the outset of Glyn Davies' campaign I have said that he should fight to have the cables put underground, rather than confuse the issue with wind power generally. I'd certainly support him in that fight, though I would at the same time point out that other parts of Wales have pylons too, and that Montgomeryshire is hardly a special case. The problem is that decision making power on the electricity grid are not devolved to Wales, so the Welsh Government has no way of insisting that cables are put underground. This needs to be devloved to Wales in the same way as it's devolved in Scotland. In fact, all energy matters need to be devolved, as they are in Scotland.

Anonymous said...

The outsider said
I think it is economic madness to have massive windturbines anywhere in Wales or for that matter in the UK. We taxpayers are paying to subsidise mostly foreign workers and foreign company profits to destroy our valued landscapes by placing massive and (sometimes) moving objects into those landscapes. The scale of these developments in rural landscapes bears no relation to the scale and mass of the other manmade features and they dominate and conflict with the natural features and skyline. Smaller domestic wind turbines are a different matter and could help households reduce not only their CO2 emissions but also their ever growing energy bills. Think global (Climate change; multinational profits) and then think local (self-sufficiency; what benefits the local economy).

Anonymous said...

MH - Off topic - did you see these proposals?
http://www.democraticaudit.com/the-uks-new-political-map
Penddu

Anonymous said...

Many of those campaigning against onshore wind suggest that we should use offshore wind, tidal power, or hydroelectric as well. All of these have a place, but unless I'm missing something, they'd all require the building of sub-stations and pylons to link with the grid, wouldn't they? And whilst the connections might be shorter in some cases, they'd still need land for the sub-stations and pylons to carry the cables. Presumably, that's OK, since they are 'somewhere else'. Isn't that what NIMBYism is all about?

Anonymous said...

Some points by maen_tramgydd are interesting, as ever.

"It's a sacrilege to desecrate a beautiful landscape which has an economic value to the people of Wales as a whole, and to those in the particular localities involved."

But obviously the landscape in Wales has already been dramatically altered by centuries of legitimate human activity like agriculture and mining? The uplands don't look like they do because of nature. Wind turbines are simply part of continued human activity.

"Wales and Scotland are being exploited by the establishment which governs the UK. Fair and simple."

For Wales, maybe. But how does this suggestion square with Scotland having more or less full control over its own energy resources, and the nationalist government in Scotland pursuing the largest wind farms on the planet?

The people demonstrating and decrying "exploitation" are hardly those who read Frantz Fanon and are concerned about colonialism and Palestine. They're mostly quite conservative people and they largely elect liberals and conservatives. I'm not buying that it is a genuinely Welsh patriotic movement. You can't cry colonialism in one policy area to make your argument ring true with nationalists, but then refuse to apply it to the whole of society.

Do we want a productive country where the 21st century technologies are being utilised, or a retirement village that looks nice and has alot of old people moving in but plays no useful role in the world?

The idea that an independent Wales would or should prioritise tourism over energy is absurd, in terms of economic value. You can't run a state off holiday homes, but you probably can off energy exports.

Realism or romanticism is the choice. Denmark, Euskadi, Netherlands, are successful normal sized countries. Wales is an unsuccessful normal sized country. Time to use renewable energy productively in the same way Denmark does. It's windy, and people are always going to need power- and more of it as we move to an IT economy. The subsidy rate in the next two decades will fall to about the same level as most fossil fuels. Time to get with the real world rather than languishing in well-meaning but bygone Saunders Lewis-style agrarian fantasies.

Selfish nimbyism is the antithesis of Gwynfor's idea of a communal nation in which we work together for the common good of our country, which was based on indigenous Welsh concepts.

maen_tramgwydd said...

Anon 12:32

You make a number of points, I'll respond just to a couple:

"But obviously the landscape in Wales has already been dramatically altered by centuries of legitimate human activity like agriculture and mining? The uplands don't look like they do because of nature. Wind turbines are simply part of continued human activity."

Your argument reduced to its essentials runs like this: 'It's ok for my neighbour to carry on beating his wife, because he's been doing it for years'.

The previous human activity to which you refer, the slate quarrying in N Wales, and the coal mining in the Valleys and the NE which desecrated the landscape was capitalist exploitation from which the people of Wales benefited little. The political and planning mechanisms to control that development was non-existent.

TAN 8 was a response to pressures on the Welah Assembly to meet UK renewable targets. Unfortunately those targets are inequitably shared within the UK. Thankfully the Welsh Government is beginning to come to its senses on this issue. However the major decisions are still under the control of Westminster and Whitehall.

Its true that the Welsh uplands have been altered by human activity, but that activity hasn't resulted in making them ugly places. Windfarms are industrial developments writ large being placed in areas where no heavy industry has ever existed.

Your reference to nimbyism on my part is unfounded, since I live in one of Wales' cities where windfarm development is not possible.

"Do we want a productive country where the 21st century technologies are being utilised..."

How much of the turbine technology, the hardware and the software, is produced, maintained, and controlled in Wales, providing employment for Welsh people? The answer is virtually none at all.

The subsidies (paid by us the tax-payers in Wales) and the subsequent profits go to multi-national energy companies. Their head offices, boards of directors, CEOs and shareholders are not Welsh either. If this isn't exploitation, what is?

Anonymous said...

"Your argument reduced to its essentials runs like this: 'It's ok for my neighbour to carry on beating his wife, because he's been doing it for years'."

If you regard activities such as agriculture, industry and energy generation as equating to "wife beating" then it's not going to be possible to argue this one constructively.

maen_tramgwydd said...

Anon 13.33

I'm not equating it, simply using it to illustrate your (flawed) reasoning.

Your argument is that there is no problem desecrating a landscape, on the basis that it has been altered in the past. Previous errors don't justify later ones.

Your use of 'selfish nimbyism', which I note you don't retract, is similar, though less extreme, to the tactic used by Zionists of accusing detractors of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, as 'anti-Semitic'. It's an ad hominem device resorted to when one's own case is weak. 'Slur your opponent', is another way of describing it.

You have to face the fact that others, such as me, have different opinions about onshore wind, especially considering that Wales played little or no part in agreeing renewable targets in international fora. That was and is done by the UK government which historically has had scant regard for our country.

Neither is Wales directly represented on the European Commission. It has far fewer MEPs than it would have were it a sovereign nation state so that it could better put its case before the Parliament.

If Wales were such, and democratic decisions taken regarding the construction of large scale onshore wind farms in the country, I would still oppose it on a number of grounds. However, if it was a democratic decision, then it would be less unacceptable. After all, we would have the Wales we deserve, and take responsibility for it.

As to your comments regarding Saunders Lewis and Gwynfor Evans' vision of Wales as a community of communities (Evans was heavily indebted to Lewis for his national vision), then it has to be borne in mind that those communities most affected by industrial developments would be trampled underfoot by centralist policies - a basic denial of the political philosophy of Plaid's foremost leaders. Both Lewis and Evans railed against such an approach.

However, my objection to large scale onshore wind projects is not based on that argument, but that the environmental and economic 'cost' on balance is not worth it. Desecrating much of upland Wales for a small percentage of rather unpredictable and unreliable electricity generation for a period of only 25 years is questionable bearing in mind the damage done to the upland peat environment is permanent.

MH said...

Any damage done to upland peat areas might well be permanent but is very limited in extent, MT. To quote from the Arup report which led to TAN 8.

"No extensive areas of peat bog occur in the SSAs [the areas identified as being suitable for wind farms in TAN 8] or indeed in other parts of Wales to the same extent as in Ireland and thus this is not seen as an issue warranting further consideration at the strategic level."

Nor will these sites generate electricity for "a period of only 25 years". The nacelles and maybe the blades might be replaced within that time (and if so, they will almost certainly be replaced with more efficient ones as the technology improves) but I doubt that the towers will need to be. The whole point of renewable energy is that we won't need to rely on fuel that could either run out or rocket in price.

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MH said...

MT, I've removed your comments because anybody who read the first could see that you were not telling the truth. It's pointless trying to claim that white is in fact black just to continue an argument.

Your subsequent comment was better, but still misses the obvious. To repeat: "No extensive areas of peat bog occur in the SSAs". If you want to challenge that point, provide evidence.

In addition (and it only got worse in your other deleted comments) you are becoming more intemperate in the way you say things. If you want a slanging match, this is not the place to have it.

You're free to post further comments, but you must be more careful about what you say and how you say it in future.

maen_trangwydd said...

I won't bother to even read your stuff again, as its clear that censorship rules here. Its clear that you will insist on having the last word, even if it means deleting all of my remarks.

There are comments above which were intemperate, accusing me of 'selfish nimbyism' with no evidence of that, but you allowed them. But then they were comments which support your stance on onshore wind.

I responded to your 'evidence' in a way which you didn't like but there was nothing incorrect in what I said.

You have plummeted in my estimation.

Anyway, goodnight to you.

MH said...

I allowed some of your intemperate comments to stand too, MT. I'm happy to allow a good deal of latitude on such matters, but there comes a point where enough is enough. I have never deleted a comment because I disagreed with it.

You were not only incorrect, but you lied through your teeth when you claimed that the Arup report "didn't deal with the issue of peat". What I quoted was taken from the report verbatim.

Anonymous said...

"Your argument is that there is no problem desecrating a landscape, on the basis that it has been altered in the past. Previous errors don't justify later ones."

I don't view agriculture or industrial activity in such a way that they can be considered errors, MT.

Your argument is the easier one to make than mine. It avoids taking responsibility for the climate or our energy needs by using terms such as "desecration" and rests on subjective and irrational ideas of landscapes "looking nice" and things "being ugly".

Alot of people do support your opinion though on wind, including quite alot of nationalists- it is just I think they're wrong and they've lost the vote, in terms of the vote in the National Assembly, or the vote in Plaid Cymru to decide party policy, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think your missing an important point here. The assemebles and local Governments of Wales and Scotland opted for a renewables charter as they felt they could sell power back to England, hence Wales and Scotland have more becuase they wanted more. Try living with a wind turbine within 1km of your home and tell me you still like them. We all like rock music but at least you can turn that off.

MH said...

That's a rather strange interpretation of motives, Anon. Isn't it more likely that Wales and Scotland want renewables because they are a cleaner and better way of producing the energy we use, irrespective of what England does?

And why "back" to England? Do the wind, tide, waves and sunlight in and around Wales somehow belong to them rather than us?

And the idea that we all like rock music might go some way to explain your equally silly idea that we should all dislike wind turbines. It's a mistake to assume that everybody likes and dislikes what you happen to like and dislike.

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