|Loch Ness from Lochend beach|
I am rapidly coming to the dismaying conclusion – based on the recent approval of the vigorously opposed Corriemollie scheme – that an increase in blood pressure is the only thing likely to be gained from the opposition of wind farm developments. As a consequence of the no doubt well-intentioned Renewables Obligation, a lot of people stand to gain a lot of money – your money and mine – from the construction of wind farms. The only way that the current frenzy of wind farm construction could be halted would be from the very top down; by dismantling the legislation that makes their construction so very profitable for the developers and the landowners. I really cannot see that happening any time soon.
The wind industry has a highly effective propaganda machine, but in truth it is hardly needed. Misguided environmentalists and angst-ridden carbon guilt trippers all do their bit to hide the truth about wind power. Before I throw in the towel I will air that truth one more time.
Firstly, wind energy as currently pursued does little to reduce carbon emissions. Because wind is fundamentally unpredictable and intermittent, other sources of power are required to pick up the slack when the wind drops. Wind energy makes a lot of sense if a method of storing the energy generated when the wind was blowing is available; for example as chemical energy in the batteries of electric cars or as potential energy in pumped storage hydro schemes. Feeding the energy into the grid makes much less sense because you need to have backup for when the wind stops blowing. If this backup takes the form of fossil fuel fired power stations then the carbon emission reductions claimed by the wind lobby are at best drastically reduced. See John Etherington’s ‘The Wind Farm Scam’ for a full discussion of this point.
Secondly, even if we go all out down the renewable route (area the size of Wales covered in land based wind turbines, offshore wind turbines along the entire Atlantic seaboard, tidal in every suitable location, pumped storage hydro in every suitable location, lots of clean coal etc) there is still a gap between what we can generate and what we require. This gap needs to be filled and – however unpalatable it may seem – the best way to fill it is probably to build more nuclear power stations. If we are going to have to build more nuclear power stations anyway,why bother polluting the hills with wind farms? Should we not just bite the bullet and build the nuclear power stations? This is an important debate and one that is currently being stifled by the feel good factor created by the construction of highly visible – but ultimately ineffectual – wind farms. See David Mackay’s book ‘Sustainable energy: without the hot air’ for the calculations that back up this second point.
I could trot these points out on my blog again. I could become evangelical and attempt to convert every person that I meet to my point of view. Unfortunately I think that the windfarm horse has bolted. We are simply living through the latest in a long line of acts of environmental vandalism: in the past we have had mass conifer afforestation and the damming of lochs for hydro; more recently rampant overgrazing by sheep and deer. The wind movement is at least as unstoppable as these previous scourges. As a nation we have surprisingly little appreciation of our custodianship of Europe’s last wild places. Our system of land ownership leaves these wild places more or less unprotected. The recommendations of SNH carry surprisingly little weight. I am sad to say that it is probably only with the benefit of hindsight that people will realise that they have traded their precious wild places for what David Bellamy artfully punned as a ‘mess of wattage’.