Friday, 23 December 2011

My perspective on wind farms and why we need them.

There is it seems a growing concern about wind farms on Ynys Môn,  the island of whom most visitors I know comment on how windy it is.

A related concern is the apparent lack of debate around the issue of wind farms - well let me contribute some of my thoughts.

First all you need to think about the wider picture - One day we shall have used most of the planet's natural resources be they oil, coal or gas.

And in their burning we produce carbon dioxide, which evidence suggest is causing global warming.

Much is made about future generations - i.e the need for austerity now, so that we don't burden them with our debt.

I for one believe we are very lucky, that we (if a small percentage of the world population) live in the golden age of mankind. The future if we continue on the same irresponsible consumer driven madness is a bit bleak to say the least.

However, we should at least try and make the future better for those yet born.  One big step we can take is to reduce our dependency on carbon fuels.

Climate change is real, is accepted by most countries of the world, and is something we need to tackle as a matter of urgency. You may say what's the point of the UK cutting our carbon emission if China emits more - a bit like saying it's OK I only smoke 20 a day, the bloke next door smokes 40, then dying of cancer.

We need to consume less and reduce our reliance on carbon based fuels. Think about the electricity we use, we need a balanced mix of electricity generation.  Now, one day there may be new means of generating electricity such as thorium power, but until then we have to use what we have.

That would be nuclear power in the first place, then gas (the most 'friendly' of carbon based fuels) and then renewable sources.

I don't think the Conservative led Coalition Government is under any impression that renewable power can provide a majority of our electricity, although some might disagree. The latest government policy aims for 15% of our electricity to be supplied from renewable sources, a major component of which is wind power.

That means 85% of our electricity needs has to produced from either nuclear, gas or coal. One day soon we might develop a commercially viable carbon capture system, which would make gas or coal more environmentally friendly. But even then that's still burning it, and gas and coal wont last for ever - sorry kids we used it all, at least we've made it warmer for you!

Let's be realistic whatever we do has an impact on the planet, but we are not talking about the planet's future; its destiny is already mapped out in the stars - we need to STOP, and think about the future of HUMANITY.

If we didn't have wind farms, then we would have to build more nuclear, gas or coal power stations. Offshore wind farms being more expensive, whereas wind farms on land provide a relatively cheap and short term solution to our need to reduce our dependency on carbon based fuels.

A major part of the government's policy for reducing carbon emission is a switch to electric cars. That's going to be a lot of batteries, and the next major breakthrough is likely to come in battery technology. In theory electric cars could be a source of storage, after all not going out for the day, battery full why not sell it to the national grid.

We could also build more hydro power station like the one at Llanberis, which is a storage unit. It was build to utilise spare capacity from Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, to pump the water to the top reservoir, and then quite quickly give a boost to the national grid when the nation say had a cup of tea during a commercial break in Coronation Street.

I finish by saying that in my opinion onshore wind farms are the short term answer to our urgent need to reduce our dependency on carbon based electricity albeit as part of a mix of generating sources. Who knows in 20 years time we might have new means of generating clean and green electricity, but until then we would be foolish to totally rule out onshore wind farms as part of the solution.

See also

Does wind power reduce carbon emissions?

Select Committee on Economic Affairs - The Economics of Renewable Energy


mairede thomas said...

Alex our use of wind will not even save 15% of the 2% of worldwide carbon dioxide we emit. We are talking here about a tiny tiny fraction that our wind generation might save. This is lip-service to the green cause no more.

Try telling anyone who loses their job or their business that its going to help their children or their children's children. It won't and they won't believe for a minute that it will.

Also as I said in yesterdays blog, the conventional power stations will still have to back-up wind power otherwise, as the UK Government admits, the lights will go out. And we will have to pay for that back-up.

Microgeneration from domestic size wind turbines will help to reduce CO2 emmissions. And for individual households, businesses or small communities that will save them money.

However we cannot rely on the wind to provide a totally secure supply of electricity from the National Grid. So no point in building onshore industrial size turbines simply to feed into the grid. All that does is allow the operators to profiteer at our expense. (see my blog on druids revenge today).

There are a number of renewable technologies that offer reliable energy and I would prefer to spend public subsidy on them, I don't want to spend my money buying wind turbines from Germany and then destroying this island and its future prosperity by putting these foreign made monsters into the landscape.

Sorry but you don't get my vote.

Richard Sletzer said...

WELL-SAID MAIREDE: The blunt fact is that Socialists and Greens like "Ice Cold in Alex" are always wrong about everything. The safest course of action in the field of public policy is to do the very opposite of the misguided policies "Alex" and his friends suggest.

My guess is that "Ice Cold in Alex" is, by profession, probably a teacher. I draw that conclusion because his grammar is terrible and his illogical ideas are - as you would expect - of the left.

He says "One day we shall have used most of the planet's natural resources be they oil, coal or gas." .....So what? Why does that matter? (Alex does not want us to use hydrocarbons anyway.) In any case even if we do reduce their use - they will still, inevitably, run out eventually...won't they?

Alex says "we should at least try and make the future better for those yet born" (sic)..... Why? Why should we care about people who don't exist? Did Alex's great-grandparents care about him?...I doubt it. Each generation lives in its own time and creates its own solutions to the prevaioling circumstances in which it finds itself. That is the strength of the human race - adaptability. So let's not try to solve the problems of future generations for them; let them do it themselves.

Human beings are good at thinking on their feet. That's why we survived the Ice Age. That's why we killed off our competitors the Neanderthals..... That's why we're here.

"Ice Cold in Alex" and his ilk are, it would appear, the "New Neanderthals" - thickos who are probably too stupid to adapt and survive.

The Red Flag said...

Not only do the conventional stations have to back-up the windfarms, but they have to remainfired up. You then end up in the ridicul;ous situation that Denmark has found itself in whereby iyt has to pay Sweden to take it's over-production (which is one of the reasons why the Dames are scaling back on windfarms - they are economic nonsense.)

kp said...

Happy to have as many windfarms as anyone wants, just don't want any of them in my back yard!

But neither do I want a nuclear power station within spitting distance either!

I, for one, would just be happy to agree to reduce my power consumption by half or even more if possible, rather than destroy the very reason for living here.

We must all be completely bonkers on this island!

Rhys Williams said...


I don't think I asked for your vote.

You state that "Microgeneration from domestic size wind turbines will help to reduce CO2 emmissions" but are you actually sure?

You also keep mentioning people losing jobs, how come - have you any evidence to back up this claim?

I have also added some links to my post which I recomend as bedtime reading for yourself.

Merry Christmas.

mairede thomas said...

Alex, it is difficult to calculate how many CO2 emmissions microgeneration installations save when all things are considered. But over time they will probably cut the costs of electricity for the owner operators.

I think the onus is on the developers and operators to prove how many jobs their development will create.

And Anglesey County Council has a duty to research the impact on tourism and leisure before introducing development plans of the scale proposed in the SPG.

Thanks for the Xmas reading list.
Can I suggest you add the recently published Adam Smith Report 'Renewable Energy - Vision or Mirage?'

Anonymous said...

"You also keep mentioning people losing jobs, how come - have you any evidence to back up this claim?"

Ridiculous question. How about we start with the 450 people who lost their jobs at Anglesey Aluminium? They were victims of a double whammy of the green crusade to (a) reduce emissions though introducing carbon trading and (b) hike electricity prices to pay for green-nonsense wind farms such as the ones you are defending here. Priced Anglesey Aluminium out of the market. The effect? They just offshored to Abu Dhabi, so no net reduction in carbon at all, but 450 well highly-skilled, well paid jobs lost on Anglesey.

Is that enough evidence for you?

The Red Flag said...

Anon 13:44 - I think you might well find that a certain Mr Mandelson removing the tariffs on Russian Aluminium was a major cause of Tinto going.

They were already making preparations (ie building and upscaling plants overseas in places like Slovakia and Brazil) before the decision was made that they were no longer going to get subsidised electricity. The loss of the subsidised electricity was just the last piece of the jigsaw. They would have scarpered anyway.

kp said...

Anonymous 13.01, if the workers at Rio Tinto would have been happy to accept minimum wage no jobs would have been lost.

Aluminium smelting is a minimum wage form of employment (albeit contrary to what some on the island thought), hence why it has been moving east for decades.

The lesson in this is simple, if you want your kids to have work make sure they get a good education!

Rhys Williams said...

@Mairede, being as I am according to some a left wing "New Neanderthals" thicko, and would you belive it a 'teacher!!!', it may be of no surprise that I'm a bit sceptical of anything from the right wing John Adams Institute, see my post of Monday 19 December, The renewable energy debate - more investment in Nuclear power?

And before you ask - no I'm not a teacher and no Alex is not my name – 'Ice cold in Alex' being a title of a film, with my fav star Sylvia Syms.

And a Happy New Year.

mairede thomas said...

Alex (I don't what what else to call you and I prefer not to insult) I missed your post on the 19th.

I believe in reading all the evidence and information I can get, so I make no excuse for referring to the Adam Smith publication, it makes some valid points.

The thing is, the WAG has said it wants to obtain 200% of Welsh energy from renewables. Now I don't know whether the National Grid can facilitate exporting the unrequired energy to England, Scotland or wherever, do you know? Reading the 'Capicity Constraints' consultation document I would say the network in England and Wales is close to the limit and already there are problems with the interface with Scotland.

There is a new undersea connection to Ireland and that will possibly connect to some of the off-shore wind farms, and it runs fairly close to Wylfa.

But to feed-in electricity generated from on-shore turbines that are scattered all over the island then it would appear that a network of overground pylons and power lines would also need to be developed.

I can't see how this could make economic sense even if we ignore the damage to the landscape, wildlife, residents health and quality of life, and the impact on tourism and leisure businesses.

Rhys Williams said...

@Mairede, you may call me whatever you wish, I have rather broad shoulders.

We might disagree on the issue of renewable energy, but at least you unlike others I could mention, conduct yourself with dignity. After all constructive debate is important in any democracy.

And have I mentioned a happy christmas...........

Anonymous said...

RedFlag on 24 Dec says "Not only do the conventional stations have to back-up the windfarms, but they have to remainfired up"

Although this claim is frequently heard, in fact it is just plain WRONG, and its wrongness, and the reality, are explained in more detail in my post of 12:33 25 Dec in response to the Druid making the same wrong claim on his website, at

"the ridicul;ous situation that Denmark has found itself in whereby iyt has to pay Sweden to take it's over-production"

It's perhaps nothing like as daft as it sounds.

Wind is intermittent, nuclear is inflexible (takes days to warm up or shut down). Something has to be done to make electricity demand match electricity supply. In the UK, the daily demand cycle currently varies between 20GW or so minimum and 50GW or so maximum.

Pumped storage hydro-electricity is one option to store and re-release a few GW for a few hours each day. Pumped storage also backs up the wind mills AND EVERYTHING ELSE on the grid.

For the Danes, geography makes it more sensible (ie cheaper) to have the storage in nearby hilly Sweden than in flat Denmark.

There have been similar suggestions for the UK - we should build a multi-GW link to Norway (we already have a 2GW link to France, and a gas pipeline to Norway) and use them for a massive expansion of pumped storage. is well worth a read.

kp said "Aluminium smelting is a minimum wage form of employment"

It's a massive electricity user that also requires cheap transport in and out (this was O level geography when I were a lad). Having a local market to use what you make is helpful too. The Wylfa smelter closure was planned when it lost its assured supply of cheap electricity from next door. Labour costs are largely irrelevant, but a low-wage economy is often seen as good for business (if no skills are required).

The Red Flag said...

Anon by 'Fired Up' I don't mean what you are trying to portray. I don't mean generating at max capacity. By Fired-Up I mean fuelled, manned, turned on and able to produce to full capacity very quickly. ie Not shut down and mothballed.

Also the Danes pay the Swedes to take their surplus over production after storage - ie they are producing so much that they cannot store it and have to pay the Swedes to take it and use for themselves. Now their's a bargain. That would be the equivalent of you driving into a garage and being paid to fill your tank from the tanker because the fuel pumps are full.

Also, the EU ending tariffs and allowing RusAl to export into the EU unhindered did Anglesey Aluminium absolutely no favours whatsoever. Remind us which EU official that was? Which Russian Oligarch benefitted? And who was on who's yacht?

Anonymous said...

"By Fired-Up I mean fuelled, manned, turned on and able to produce to full capacity very quickly. ie Not shut down and mothballed."

That's basically what MaiRede said too, over at the Druid's site. Apparently didn't mean what she wrote, or at least not what I read.

Either way, the chances of the grid contribution from wind going from worthwhile to worthless and there being insufficient time to start up (e.g.) a coal station *from cold* in the same time are small, because it takes hours for that kind of weather change to happen, and even the Met Office usually see it coming a bit before it happens, so the boilers could be warmed up a bit before the wind power drops off.

"Remind us which EU official that was? Which Russian Oligarch benefitted? And who was on who's yacht?"

How about Lord "Two Resignations" Mandelson of Ill Repute ? George Osborne was there too, wasn't he? And RusAl's top man, Deripaska:

Such a shame the Millionaire's Cabinet couldn't find Mandy the job he'd wished for back in September 2009:

""the business secretary said he would be willing to put his “experience at the disposal of the country”, if Labour lost power. “As I grow older, I can imagine more ways of serving my country than simply being a party politician,” he said.
On the specific point of whether he would consider requests from a Conservative government, he said: “Of course, it wouldn’t be serving the government, it would be serving the country and I wouldn’t be doing it by becoming a member of that government.”

While I'm here again, right at the top Mairede also wrote "Microgeneration from domestic size wind turbines will help to reduce CO2 emmissions."

Unless I've 'misunderstood' that one too, it really is wrong. Domestic wind turbines, with or without feed in tariff, are (for most purposes on most premises) a completely pointless exercise. Even B+Q have given up on them, haven't they? Not enough output at the times when it would matter. Sound familiar at all?

The Red Flag said...

Anon, the stand-by plants will be running just not at a high level, They have to be - unless all the staff to work it are going to be in hibernation pods. It may take a couple of hours for the wind to drop, but it takes ore than a couple of hours to recruit train and install the shift to work the station - they have to be there whether the wind is blowing or not and whether they are dumping electricity or putting it into the grid.

Anonymous said...

"it takes ore than a couple of hours to recruit train and install the shift to work the station - they have to be there whether the wind is blowing or not and whether they are dumping electricity or putting it into the grid."

Maybe it does for classical big coal plant, but how much do you think the people costs are today (and tomorrow) vs the fuel costs? Not to mention CO2 and acidification costs for fossil fuel stuff.

Last I heard, "the markets" were finally realising that flexible/controllable generating capacity was worth paying extra for, which means that in principle there should be money in the kitty to pay employees even when no electricity is being sold. A bit like is happening with wind already?

The pumped storage at Dinorwig/Ffestiniog is 2GW maximum output and around 200 employees (according to the overview at

The gas fired quick-build CCGT stations installed by the GW in the insane post-privatisation "dash for gas" don't need many people at all either. A new build of something around a GW might need maybe 50 people total. Cost of people: negligible vs cost of fuel.

The dinosaur which is Drax is a 4GW station with almost a thousand employees. But it is flexible (within reason); certainly flexible enough to make a major contribution when the wind drops, even if for much of the rest of the time it doesn't generate much output (or burn much fuel). But don't mention the LCPD.

Too much wind is not the answer to anything. Nor is too much nuclear. But unless demand management can do something very significant about the daily demand cycle, we need more storage, and we need more flexibility,and probably more predictability (tidal is predictable, and depending on the implementation, may be flexible e.g. lagoons can be flexible).

There is no big technical reason why these things can't happen (engineers routinely work miracles, given sufficient time and money).

But leaving security of energy supply to "the markets" continues to be a recipe for disaster. A disaster that was predicted pre-privatisation, and which gets closer every day, because "the markets" aren't interested in stuff beyond this year's results. And major electricity supply projects need rather longer timescales than that. Nuclear projects need *much* longer timescales than that.

All the best for 2012.