It is not a choice between onshore wind and fossil fuels. By the 2020s, even efficient unabated gas can play no more than a niche role in power generation.
Under the Climate Change Act 2008), the UK committed to reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2025, compared with 1990 levels. The Act has strong political support: it was passed almost unanimously by Parliament, as were the first four carbon budgets legislated under it. The Act and its provisions make environmental and economic sense. They put the UK on a sensible path towards a low-carbon economy.
Under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (2009/29/EC), the UK has to increase the share of energy from renewables from currently 3.3 per cent (in 2010) to 15 per cent by 2020. The electricity sector is expected to play a significant role in this. By 2020 at least 30 per cent of electricity should be generated from renewable sources, and by 2050 the power sector will need to be almost completely decarbonised (Ref1)
Much has been made of the intermittent nature of wind (and other renewables), which cannot produce electricity reliably on demand. However, the cost penalty and grid system challenges of intermittency are often exaggerated (e.g. in Hughes, 2012)(Ref5). The Committee on Climate Change has found that even very high levels of wind energy penetration are technologically feasible and at a cost that will be lower than for other renewables Ref6) and, likely, competitive with fossil fuel prices within a few years (Ref2)
As a society we must all bear responsibility for the infrastructure that delivers the services that we consume. Oil, gas and coal generation together with the CO2 they emit are essentially invisible to most consumers , renewable energy on the other hand is diffuse by nature and consequently it’s capture mechanisms are likely to be more visible to more of us. Kirknewton hosts three major power lines, the electrified East Coast railway and it’s troublesome level-crossing, and one of Scotland’s busiest single-carriageway road, the A71. All are part of our modern society, and all are services utilised by everyone who is a consumer of electricity, a rail or a car user.
If we are to decarbonise our world then we also must accept responsibility for hosting sources of sustainable, renewable energy. Given the abundant wind resources available in our community, and the technological maturity of onshore wind technology, which represents the most economically attractive option for the transition towards a low-carbon future for generating electricity( Ref8), we must accept the proximal siting of wind turbines as part of the cost of our use of electricity
The impact of renewables on our electricity bills was through the Renewables Obligation cost (ROC). According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the contribution of the ROC to an average household’s electricity bill was about 0.5 p/kWh in 2011 This is important at a time of heightened sensitivity about the cost of green policies and their impact on fuel poverty. In 2017 we face paying a subsidy through our electricity bills for previously consented windfarms, for nuclear generation ( £90+ per MWh guaranteed for 35 years to EDF for Hinckley C)( Ref3) and for schemes to help insulate our homes, the overall impact being about 9% of the overall bill (Ref4)
Importantly the Fauch Hill proposal will claim no subsidy and will compete in the marketplace against coal, oil gas and nuclear derived electricity.
When making technology choices for renewable generation of electricity (and heat) it is important to factor in the environmental and social impacts of all of the alternatives considered. Most energy sources have environmental side-effects, including, for instance, global warming through unabated CO2 emissions, land use and habitat change (e.g. by open cast coal mining, tidal barrages, biomass and biofuels), visual impacts (e.g. to onshore and coastal landscapes, caused by wind farms), disturbance (e.g. related to seismic surveys for oil and gas production), infrastructure construction (such as new power plants and transmission systems), air and water pollution (e.g. from oil spills, acid mine drainage from coal pits, biofuels and eutrophication impacts from nitrogen oxides from coal power stations), and the accidental killing of wildlife (e.g. by power lines and tidal barrages) (Ref9)
Most of all we must accept responsibility for our actions. When we switch on the immersion heater or the central heating we must accept the impact that inevitably arises. We should not expect future generations to bear our debts. Without genuine sustainability man has a very limited future on board this ball of mud.
It’s time to act and embrace local renewables. After all we may just get economical “local”fusion power in 20 years anyway? (ref7) Until then we are going to have to rely on the old and existing fusion reactor, sited a safe 93 million miles away and highly visible to to viewers (except those living in Scotland) during daylight hours.
Ref1 Her Majesty’s Government, 2011a. The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future. http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/tackling/carbon_plan/carbon_plan.aspx
Ref2 Committee on Climate Change (CCC), 2011a. Renewable Energy Review. [pdf] London: CCC. http://www.theccc.org.uk/reports/renewable-energy-review
Ref5 Hughes, G., 2012. Why is wind power so expensive? An economic analysis. GWPF Report 7. [pdf] London: The Global Warming Policy Foundation. http://docs.wind-
Ref 6 Committee on Climate Change (CCC), 2011b. Costs of low carbon generation technologies – 2011 Renewable Energy Review – Technical Appendix. [pdf] London: CCC. http://hmccc.s3.amazonaws.com/Renewables%20Review/RES%20Review%20Technical%20 Annex%20FINAL.pdf
Ref8 Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), 2011a. Digest of UK energy statistics (DUKES). [pdf] London: DECC. http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/statistics/ publications/dukes/dukes.aspx
Ref9 Tucker, G., Bassi, S., Anderson, J., Chiavari, J., Casper, K., & Fergusson, M., 2008. Provision of Evidence of the Conservation Impacts of Energy Production. [pdf] London: Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). Available at: www.ieep.eu/assets/414/conservation_ impactsofenergy.pdf
AGAINST – by John Thomas
The proposed turbines, 12 towers 125m to blade tip, will be on the edge of a regional park, in an area reserved for its natural beauty. An area at the southern edge of Kirknewton’s electoral ward, this is a rural area quite different to the centre of the village where most consultees live. The turbines, if permitted, may become the eastern edge of a band of industrial turbines stretching along the northern edge of the Pentland Hills Regional Park from Harperrig to Carnwath.
Each turbine is rated at around 3MW peak capacity. At maximum output that’s enough to power just 1000 domestic kettles. The standard “capacity factor” from the manufacturers of turbines means that on average that figure will be 300 kettles per 125m turbine power.
In fact it’s been stated that to power the world with wind turbines, 100% of current demand with no growth in demand, given the average space required by land-based wind turbines, we would need just one more planet Earth!
All the turbines operating together are equivalent to a small power plant, at peak one twenty-fifth of a standard 1GW power station, or on average around one hundredth of the output of a standard power station. It’s insignificant in national electrical energy
terms but locally covers nearly two square kilometres with industrial plant.
The access roads required to install the turbines will disrupt water courses. The turbines are mid-scale industrial plant in the countryside for at least 25 years. Birds, some rare, will be killed flying into the blades.
There are residents of Kirknewton in the area around the blades. Not great in numbers, they have their homes there because they, or their families, chose to live in a rural zone, far from shops and services. Or because their original family businesses were in farming.
Some have diversified into accommodation for fishermen and those seeking wilderness for recreational purposes. Those small businesses’ existence is threatened by the turbines as their main selling point is peace and quiet in a rural setting. Those seeking a break from busy lives will not be attracted by premises with a view of major industrial plant.
These Kirknewton residents do not stand to benefit from the “community benefit” payments which will fund KCDT services unlikely to reach out to them.
Another local village, Forth, has seen a community centre built out of “community bribe” funds, but has not seen the promised riches originally proposed by the developers. Conditions on the money sees most of it soaked up by lease payments on the land, maintenance costs and no doubt hidden profits. The £4-5 million dangled by the developers at Fauch Hill, if it ever materialises, will amount at most to around £50,000 per year for Kirknewton. Sounds a lot, but it’s less than £25 per head.
Of course that money, if it ever appears, comes off the bottom line of the wind turbine operators accounts. Which of course ultimately comes from our electricity bills. Are you really so enthused about the carrot, when part of your £1000 a year bill comes back to the community at £25 per head?
At 30% capacity factor, around 70% of the turbines peak capacity will be produced by fossil-fuelled generators – currently the only technology available to the national grid that can replace gigawatts of wind going offline when the wind stops, as it regularly does.
Personally, I’ve done what I can. We have 4kW of solar panels on our roof. When all the kettles go on, at around 6pm in the UK, solar produces next to nothing, particularly in winter. Some days in January, our own panels produced half a kilowatt hour a day, barely enough to keep the LED lights on, let alone power a kettle or a cooker. See for yourself:
locks in 70% fossil-fuelled capacity for generations.
Don’t take my word for it, look at a live picture. See how small the blue line – representing 9GW of built turbine capacity, around 25% of average UK demand – is compared to the fossil fuelled generators, and how often in a day, week or month, the blue line goes
near to zero output.
Then click on the map of France. A country that has reached 80% of electricity production from non-carbon emitting sources. Doctrinaire “Greens” are religiously opposed to the message contained in those facts. Experienced scientists like James Hansen (former director of NASA GISS) and James Lovelock FRS say we need to take notice of the facts and start producing real carbon-free electricity sources, even if there are some risks from those sources in the medium term.
Given all of that, is it really worth turning an area next to a regional park, the inspiration for much of Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing, an area appreciated by many visitors every day, into a pseudo-industrial park mainly for the profit of large international companies? Maybe we should all offer to pay £25 per year each to KCDT instead, and save our wild spaces.