The Economics of Renewable Energy - Economic Affairs Committee Contents


Memorandum by the Mynydd Llansadwrn Action Group

STATEMENT

  The Mynydd Llansadwrn Action Group accepts the need for an energy policy that focuses on emission reduction, but as the contents of this submission show, wind power is not an effective technology for achieving these policy objectives.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

  Evidence shows that wind power is an unreliable and intermittent source of energy that cannot provide firm predictable generating capacity; it is extremely expensive compared to almost every other energy source, and, it has limited value in reducing carbon dioxide emissions because of the need for spinning reserve backup from fossil-fuelled power plants. Wind farms are deeply unpopular with a growing number of people who object to the visual intrusion, the noise and light pollution and the damage to the environment and wildlife. We are paying a high cost—socially, environmentally and economically—for poor results.

1.  FLUCTUATIONS IN GENERATING CAPACITY

  Wind-generated electricity is intermittent and unpredictable and, therefore, requires spinning reserve backup. Fluctuating energy supplies from wind turbines cause problems for grid operators, who have to stabilise supply with demand.

1.1  Spinning reserve

  The intermittent and unpredictable nature of output from wind farms causes problems. In order to stabilise supply and demand, grid operators must maintain continuous spinning reserve backup ready to go on stream immediately in response to changing weather conditions. This spinning reserve is emitting CO2 even when not producing electricity.

1.2  Spinning reserve in Denmark and Germany

  The more wind energy penetrates the grid system, the more spinning reserve becomes crucial in meeting demand. The 2003 West Danish Grid [ELTRA] System Report | identified Spinning Reserve capacity as between 300MW and 500MW per 1000MW of installed capacity which means that with a Danish load factor of about 20%, "backup" can be of greater capacity than realised generation.1 The power company E.ON said it would take 50 GW of renewable energy for the UK to meet EU targets, but this would require 90% backup from gas and coal plants to ensure supply when "intermittent renewable supplies" are not available.2

1.3  Unusable wind-generated electricity

  Evidence from Denmark shows that even a large wind farm system is incapable of providing firm predictable capacity. Sometimes output is low when demand is high; sometimes output is high when demand is low. As a result, Denmark exports most of its wind-generated power to its neighbours at a financial loss.3 The UK has no grid connections with other countries; therefore our unusable wind-generated electricity cannot be sold, even at a loss. It is wasted.

1.4  Grid instability

  As more wind penetrates the grid system, more problems arse. Hugh Sharman has warned of the problems that can arise when trying to stabilise supply and demand. He concludes:

    The Government is advised that the UK's system can accept anything up to 26 GW of wind power|. this advice cannot be regarded as sound. Ample evidence from relatively large wind systems in Denmark and Germany exists to prove that 10 GW (+/-25%0) will be the probable safe upper limit of all wind capacity. Wind power's contribution at 10 GW, albeit small and costly, can be significant. However, its construction will do nothing to offset the inevitable loss of firm generating capacity.4

2.  WIND TURBINES AND CO2 EMISSIONS

  Estimates of the Contribution of wind power to a reduction in CO2 emissions are generally exaggerated.

2.1  Exaggerated claims

  The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) assumes that wind will replace coal-fired capacity unit for unit and bases its calculation for emission savings on this assumption. The BWEA figures are used to support developers' claims in their planning applications.

2.2  CO2 emissions from spinning reserve

  The estimated emission savings from wind turbines must be balanced against the emissions from the fossil-fuelled spinning reserve required to balance supply and demand when wind power is brought into the grid system.

    [Reserve] capacity is placed under particular strains when working in this supporting role because it is being used to balance a reasonably predictable but fluctuating demand with a variable and largely unpredictable output from wind turbines. Consequently, operating fossil capacity in this mode generates more CO2 per kWh generated than if operating normally|Thus the CO2 saving from the use of wind in the UK is probably much less than assumed by Government advisors, who correctly believe that wind could displace some capacity and save some CO2, but have not acknowledged the emissions impact of matching both demand and wind output simultaneously. As a result, current policy appears to have been framed as if CO2 emissions savings are guaranteed by the introduction of wind-power, and that wind power has not concomitant difficulties or costs. This is not the case.5

  The amount of CO2 emissions a wind turbine can save is a matter of conjecture since there are no mechanisms in place to take accurate measurements. However, Denmark, the country with the most wind-generated electricity per capita, has shown no reduction in its overall CO2 emissions; in fact, Denmark's CO2 emissions are rising.6

3.  WIND TURBINES AND GLOBAL WARMING

  Wind turbines will have no significant effect on global warming trends.

3.1  Wind farm construction and global warming

  Electricity generated by wind turbines is emission-free at the point of generation, and to this extent it does not contribute to global warming. However, there are many emissions and pollutants associated with turbine manufacture and delivery and in the construction of the wind farm site with its access roads, grid connections, substations, etc. Each turbine foundation requires between 500 and 1,000 tonnes of concrete and aggregate; concrete manufacture is one of the largest sources (about 7%) of man-made CO2 emissions.

3.2  Removing CO2 "sinks"

  Many wind farms are being proposed on Forestry Commission land, which will mean chopping down vast areas of trees, which, if left standing, would absorb CO2. According to the Environment Agency, one acre of coniferous trees absorbs 3.5 tonnes of CO2 each year. However, when trees are clear felled, the decomposition of vegetation that is left behind actually adds to the CO2 emissions problem.

4.  ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

  Building a wind farm with all its associated works and grid connections is a major construction project that inevitably causes environmental damage.

4.1  Visual intrusion

  Wind farms are built on high-altitude prominent sites, marring some of the UK's most scenic regions. Modern turbines are about 400 feet tall, three times the height of a typical electricity pylon, with a bladespan greater than the wingspan of a jumbo jet. Our remote and beautiful landscapes are further degraded by hundreds of miles of pylons and transmission lines.

4.2  Environmental degradation

  Turbine construction will inevitably affect the local environment, probably destroying wildlife habitats. Building access roads, crane pads, and concrete foundations, felling trees and draining peat bogs change the soil composition at the site. The result is faster run-off during heavy rainfall with the associated risk of flooding in the lowlands.

4.3  Damage to peatlands

  Peatlands represent more than 50% of the world's terrestrial wetland and hold around 25% of the global pool of soil carbon. Peatlands contain more than three times the amount of carbon that is stored in tropical rainforests. During the construction of a wind farm at Derrybrien, Ireland, in 2003, there was a bog slide. Here is an extract from the report on this incident:

    Peatlands are the one part of the landscape where wind farm construction results in significant additional and ongoing CO2 release.. It is thus difficult to understand the logic of disturbing and releasing such long-term carbon stores in order to install devices whose whole purpose is to reduce carbon emissions. If wind farms are to be built, it is surely sensible to avoid using a habitat which, as a result of the wind farm, will release CO2 into the atmosphere throughout the life of that wind farm.7

5.  NOISE POLLUTION

  The low-frequency noise and vibrations from wind turbines can be very disturbing for some people and have serious health implications.

5.1  Low-frequency noise and vibration

  Noise of the mechanical gearing system is similar to that of a motorcycle and this can be quietened to a limited extent. But the low-frequency, penetrating sound of the rotating blades is more troublesome. It has been compared to the low thud of base notes from loud music, or the sound of a helicopter at a distance. So far there has been no success in eliminating this noise, which can continue day and night for extended periods. Low-frequency noise, which is sometimes inaudible, is ground borne and felt through vibrations that can resonate with the human body; it travels for several miles, much further than audible noise.

5.2  Health issues

  For some people living near wind turbines there is no effect, but for others the low-frequency vibrations can cause health problems such as pulse irregularity, headaches, dizziness and sleep disturbance. A recently identified disease, vibroacoustic disease (VAD), has been observed in people exposed to low-frequency noise.8 In a press release on 31 May 2007, the Centre for Human Performance, a non-profit organization dedicated to research into VAD, gave the following statement based on their studies of several families living near industrial wind turbines:

    These results irrefutably demonstrate that wind turbines in the proximity of residential areas produce acoustical environments that can lead to the development of VAD in nearby home-dwellers.

6.  LIGHT POLLUTION

  Strobe effect and shadow flicker caused by wind turbines and pulsating lights that are sometimes installed on the turbines themselves are sources of light pollution.

6.1  Strobe effect and shadow flicker

  The strobe effect when sun is behind the rotating blades can, according to medical opinion, cause dizziness, headaches and trigger seizures. Shadow flicker and reflected light from the blades can also cause problems. These light disturbances are experienced inside the home as well as outside. In April 2005, the BBC reported that the owners of a wind turbine near the Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire had agreed to turn the turbine off in the early mornings to prevent possible "security problems" because the prisoners were becoming upset by the flickering shadows. Homeowners suffering from shadow flicker are not able to strike such a deal with the wind farm operators.

6.2  Pulsating lights on turbines

  Because of the great height of the new generation of turbines, which are built on high hill tops, there may be need to install flashing red lights to prevent aircraft collisions. There are pulsating lights on turbines in France, for instance.

7.  THREAT TO WILDLIFE

  Wind farm construction is a threat to wildlife, Once operational, wind turbines kill birds and bats. Noise and light flicker from turbines can disturb livestock.

7.1  Bird and bat kills

  According to the RSPB, birds may be scared away from their usual locations during construction and/or operation of wind turbines. Access roads may destroy feeding, breeding and roosting sites There is considerable evidence from around the world that spinning blades have killed huge numbers of birds. This seems inevitable when one considers that turbine blades weigh in the region of 1.5 tonnes and their tips can travel over 180 mph. According to the RSPB, birds may fly into the towers or the blades, especially during storms and conditions of poor visibility. The first major study into bird kills, carried out in northern Spain, found that about 6,000 birds and hundreds of bats were killed by turbines in one year.9

  Bats kills are also a serious problem. It is suspected that bats are killed from turbine chop and shock death from wake turbulence. Scientists with the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative studying two wind farms sites in the USA found that the 66 turbines at the two sites killed as many as 2,900 bats during the six-week period of the study. They concluded that this was not a sustainable kill rate.10 All bats are protected species under UK and European law.

8.  JOBS AND TOURISM

  Wind farms threaten the local tourist industry and create few, if any, jobs.

8.1  Threat to the tourist industry

  Evidence from Europe suggest a 40% drop in tourism in areas where there are wind farms. The 2002 VisitScotland Survey of visitor attitude showed that tourists avoid landscapes with wind turbines. A typical wind farm employs one maintenance person.

8.2  Effects on the rural economy

  The effects of a drop in tourism will be felt most keenly in rural areas. Most tourists travel to countryside to enjoy the peace and tranquillity and to engage in outdoor activities. Wind farms are incompatible with this type of tourism. The result will be fewer visitors to rural areas and, therefore, fewer tourism-related jobs in communities where employment opportunities are already very limited. Our Action Group is aware of three rural business enterprises—a game shoot and two sound studios—whose continued existence is under threat from proposed wind farms. All these businesses employ local people, and visits from clients from outside the area to these businesses are a benefit to the local economy.

9.  PROPERTY VALUES

  Wind farms have been shown to reduce the value of nearby properties.

9.1  Legal ruling on loss of value

  There has been a legal ruling on the loss of property value against a couple in the Lake District who sold their house without telling the buyers that a wind farm was likely to be built nearby. The judge, Michael Buckley, upheld the purchasers' claim that their house had been de-valued as a result of the noise pollution, light flicker and damage to visual amenity caused by wind turbines, and he ordered the vendors to pay compensation of 20% of the purchase value of the house.

  A study of eight properties near a proposed wind farm in Carmarthenshire estimated that the total loss in value if wind turbines were built nearby would be in excess of £1.5 million, or typically 20-25% on each property.11

10.  THE ECONOMICS OF WIND POWER

  Wind power is one of the most expensive forms of electricity; it survives on direct and indirect subsidies. This extra cost to taxpayers is not good value because wind energy cannot provide firm generating capacity nor can it make a significant contribution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

10.1  Cost of wind power

  According to a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering12 the cost of generating electricity from onshore wind farms is 5.4 pence per kWh with standby generation. The cost of generation from offshore wind farms is 7.2 with standby generation. (The cost of the standby generation capacity was based on an open-cycle gas turbine, which is the cheapest new plant option.) In comparison, the cost of generating electricity from gas-fired (CCGT) plant is 2.2; from nuclear fission plant, it is 2.3, which includes decommissioning costs. (Decommissioning costs are assumed to be neutral in the calculations for the cost of wind power.)

10.2  The subsidy system

  Wind-generated electricity is too expensive to be commercially viable without huge subsidies. It has been estimated that wind farms receive about thee times as much in subsidies as they do producing electricity.13 The Renewable Obligation subsidy system pays for wind power at the point of generation, not delivery. This means that even the wind-generated electricity that is lost in transmission or wasted because it is generated when there is no demand is rewarded with government subsidies. The Committee of Public Accounts Report on Renewable Energy, published in 2005, concluded that the Renewable Obligation subsidy system gives undue support to wind power at the expense of other renewable technologies.

10.3  Cost to consumers

  The Committee of Public Accounts Report on Renewable Energy, published in September 2005, estimated that the Renewable Obligation subsidy system will be adding £1 billion a year to electricity prices by 2010. The expansion of transmission capacity needed to meet the government's 10% renewables target will add another £1.5 billion to consumer costs.

10.4  High cost for poor results

  This high cost of wind power for taxpayers and consumers is unjustified given the poor performance of wind turbines in providing firm generating capacity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Wind power is not an effective technology in fighting global warming, nor can it make a reasonable contribution in meeting the UK's growing energy demands.

  We are paying a very high cost for very poor results.

6 June 2008

REFERENCES

1.  "The Renewable Energy Debate" by Henry Thoresby, Chairman of the London School of Economics Environmental Initiatives Network, appeared originally in the September 2004 edition of Business-Money

2.  The Guardian, 4 June 2008

3.  Hugh Sharman, "Why wind power works for Denmark" Civil Engineering 158, May 2005

4.  Hugh Sharman, "Why UK wind power should not exceed 10 GW" Civil Engineering 158, November 2005

5.  David White, BSC, C Eng, Fl Chem E "Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions; Estimating the Potential Contribution from Wind-Power" Commissioned and published by the Renewable Energy Foundation, December 2004

6.  V C Mason, "Wind power in West Denmark: Lessons for the UK", October 2005. See www.countryguardian.net/vmason.htm

7.  R A Lindsay and O M Bragg, Wind Farms and Blanket peat: The Bog Slide of 16 October 2003 at Derrybrien, Co. Galway, Ireland. University of East London, 2004

8.  N A A Castelo Branco and M Alver-Pereira, "Vibroacoustic Disease" Noise and Health, 2004, 6:23, 3-20

9.  See www.iberica2000.org

10.  Reported in Charleston Gazette, Charleston WV, 8 June 2005

11.  Gareth Scourfield, "Report on a sample of properties inspected near a proposed wind farm at Esgairwen Fawr, near Lampeter, Ceredigion" 11 July 2005

12.  The Cost of Generating Electricity, The Royal Academy of Engineering, March 2004

13.  The Economist, 18 March 2004



 
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