Helsby & Frodsham Wind Power

Peel Energy has recently announced that it intends to submit an application to situate 21 wind turbines on its land of Frodsham and Ince Marshes, Cheshire, U.K. Immediately there has been a flurry of opposition in the local press and council. I am in favour of wind power on Frodsham Marshes. This page

I am in Favour

My house overlooks Frodsham marshes, and for over 20 years I have thought "That is an excellent place to put wind generators. The winds coming down the Mersey could be generating power for us."

The Benefits of Wind Power

Compared with other sources of electricity, wind power has a number of benefits:

Wind Generators on Frodsham Marshes

The UK has the best wind regime in Europe and we should take the lead in using this resource. The wind that whistles down the Mersey, across Frodsham and Ince Marshes and into the 'Cheshire Gap' is part of this. We should be capitalising on it.

Therefore I would like wind generators on Frodsham and Ince marshes, to supply enough electricity, averaged over the year, for Frodsham, Helsby, Ince, Elton and a bit for Runcorn. I could then look out and think, "Those supply our power*." I'd be proud if we are also contributing a bit more for the nation's power.

The other day I looked out of the window and knew that wind generators would change the view. After a moment of concern, I asked myself, "Would I get used to it?" "Yes," I answered, "I would get used to it." I believe that we who want to enjoy easily-available electricity should bear some of the costs of producing it - not just the financial costs, but the inconvenience and disruption - and not just push those costs off onto others. The change in view from my window might be such a cost.

The Peel Energy Application

For sake of breeding an attitude of responsibility, especially in this era of climate change, it is important that all areas of the UK suitable for wind power should have wind generators on them. Frodsham Marshes is one of these. It is the owner of this land - Peel - that is seeking to put wind generators on it. If the owner is prevented from putting wind generators on their own land, then nobody else will be able to do so. So it is important that Peel is allowed to develop wind generators there.

Peel's application is for 21 turbines, generating on average 15MW (maximum 50MW), enough for 30,000 homes, a quarter of the renewable energy target for the local authority. I would prefer a smaller number, enough for the local area plus a bit more - around 10-15,000 homes. But I would prefer the 21 turbines to none, for reasons above.

Why 21 turbines? Government regulations say that if maximum generation capacity is over 50MW, then it is deemed a strategic resource and the Secretary of State decides on it, rather than local authorities. It is a shame that it has to be like this, because it makes localised wind power - a couple of turbines here and there - that much more difficult to gain permission for. Apparently this is part of the new planning regime, which the Government created in response to the failure of many 'strategic' installations to get planning approval. In particular, over the past decade the anti-wind people have been so successful in getting local authorities to decide against wind power - usually because of 'not-in-my-back-yard'. It is those anti-wind people who are responsible for this state of affairs, in which Peel feel bound to propose a larger wind facility than is needed locally.

So, unfortunately, there has to be enough turbines to make 50MW max. Nevertheless, I would like a couple removed from the plan. In particular, there is one sited rather near the caravan site (just over half a km away), which I think should be removed from the plan. In my opinion, Peel were daft to have included that one in the original plans, because it has given the anti-wind people the opportunity to frighten us.

Andrew Basden.

The Opposers

A campaign has begun to scupper the wind farm application on Frodsham Marshes. The local newspaper, Chester Chronicle, Frodsham Town Council and the local MP all are against the application - and most of them seem to be just against wind power as such. (See more on the anti-wind opposition.) I have sent four letters to Chester Chronicle, but they have not published one - but keep on publishing anti-wind stuff. (Correction 10 December 2009: They did publish one of my letters from 5 weeks ago, in an inconspicuous place, and followed it immediately with a badly-written anti-wind letter.)

The anti-wind campaign has produced a leaflet with reasons against. Many of the reasons are weak or irrelevant. I analyse them in the following table:

The Anti-Frodsham-Windfarm Leaflet
Statement Value Reason for that Value Comment
"Windfarms are fine in principle. They could provide a proportion of our national electrical energy needs and they probably make sense in offshore locations. However Peel's proposal for Frodsham and Helsby Marshes is unacceptable because:" Sounds reasonable. - Let's see whether they are entirely truthful in saying "Windfarms are fine in principle", or whether they are just saying that to appease us.
"These turbines are massive structures (see graphic on reverse); higher than the viewpoint on Frodsham Hill and higher than Weston Point Power Station Chimney." So what! Recently, I looked out of my window and thought, "Yes it would make a difference to the view. I'd see these tall things turning." Then I asked myself, "Would I get used to it?" "Yes, I would get used to it!"
Their 'graphic' misleads (deliberately?). They show the blade pointing straight up to maximum height. When they turn we don't get this max-height effect. At rest, wind turbines have the blade pointing down, not up; the two other blades point out to sides at 2 and 10 o'clock.
"Their flickering presence will dominate our daily lives and ..." Wrong implication!
Very rare event.
First, large turbines like this rotate slowly and gracefully; 'flickering' is inappropriate word. (It's the small, fast-turning ones that 'flicker'.)
The majority experience shows that people become quite happy with wind turbines installed near them. The few counter-examples are the minority (and may be politically motivated?).

Apparently, under very rare conditions a few people do experience flickering from large turbines: a wind farm on a flat horizon, at sunset on a some days in the year, when the turbines are turning quite fast, and the sun is shining horizontally through several turbines, then the few houses in line with that will find the sun flickering for a short time. Hardly "dominate our lives": very few people, very few days a year, for a very short time, and not when cloudy! Very rare if ever.

Cars and trucks through Frodsham and Helsby dominate our daily lives far more; I don't hear the anti-wind people complaining much about this.
"... and affect businesses and tourism." Not necessarily! At Swaffam village, tourism actually increased, because the villagers and wind company made it a tourist attraction. Frodsham people and Peel could do the same. Frodsham & Helsby are hardly grand tourist centres now, and could do with this stimulation!
Come on, Frodsham & Helsby: grab this opportunity to get on the map: one of the few lowland windfarms is coming your way! Make best use of it.
Most anti-wind people seem to lack imagination - or is it that they refuse to consider the opportunities and benefits?
"Wind turbines make a very low pitched noise which will be particularly noticeable at night and may be focused by the hill. We suffer enough as it is from motorway noise." Wrong! Their noise will be drowned by far-worse motorway noise. 'White' noise from car tyres is the really obtrusive, annoying noise. Low-frequency noise is mainly OK. (Except to those who make up their minds to be annoyed with wind turbine noise, of course.) Why haven't the anti-wind people campaigned against traffic noise from the motorway? They have let it increase over the years without a murmur. Why do they pick on wind turbine noise, and ignore the worse traffic noise?
"In Scotland this windfarm would not be permitted because Scotland has a planning policy which prohibits wind turbines within 2km of human habitation." Irrelevant! That policy is not in force in England.
Scotland has huge tracts of land far from human habitation (Highlands and Southern Uplands) and that policy may be appropriate there, in that it helps to give preference to sites away from habitation. (I come from Scotland.)
England does not have such huge tracts of land. So that policy would be inappropriate - unless one wanted to completely annihilate wind-power, of course.
Are we to abandon this very important and promising type of electricity generation by imposing policies inappropriate to the English situation?
"The maximum instantaneous capacity of this windfarm may be in excess of 50MW as Peel claim but, due to varying wind speeds, the average output over a year will be nearer 15MW." So what! The '50MW' refers to the maximum possible output (during maximum wind speed), not the main designed load. Averaged over all wind speeds, wind turbines deliver about one third of their maximum rating. They are designed for peak efficiency at this duty. Do anti-wind people run their cars flat out, with accelerator pressed to the floor all the time? Of course not. It would be bad for the car engine - and most machinery - to do that. Similarly with wind turbines.
"Peel's claim that it will power 30,000 households omits the requirements of the businesses, industry and services that go to make up a community." So what!
Peel's actual wording is "generate enough electricity to meet the annual electricity needs of around 30,000 homes for the next 25 years". It is for the local community to decide what proportion of that goes to businesses. Local freedom of action.
"This windfarm will contribute only a tiny proportion of Cheshire's total energy (including transport, heating, etc) needs." Disingenuous! To lump together electricity, transport, heating etc. is misleading The windfarm will contribute one quarter of the local authority's target for renewable energy. Not a "tiny proportion".
As my mother used to say (and a main brand puts it), "Every little helps"! Wind power is part of the mix. It is never claimed to be the total source of electricity, let alone all energy needs.
But if ever our other supplies were, for some reason, cut off, then our wind turbines could be very useful, since they provide some local power for essential local needs. Remember that UK has an excellent wind regime.
Most anti-wind people I hear (e.g. Nick Griffiths, Nigel Lawson, Roger Hemley) play up nuclear power. Nuclear power is no panacea.
"Windfarms are highly subsidised compared to all other methods of electricity generation." So what! New technologies need subsidy. Wind power needs to be helped down its learning curve (click for explanation of learning curve). I don't hear the anti-wind people complaining about the huge subsidies that nuclear power received for many years, which have never been paid back as far as I know. Nor about other subsidies. So why pick on wind power?
This is against wind power as such ; is their "fine in principle" claim a lie?
"It is sited entirely within the Green Belt. Wind turbines are extremely rare in the Green Belt and the Aston windfarm proposal was rejected rpimarily because it was in the Green Belt. The proposed Ince incinerator is not in the Green Belt." Irrelevant! Wind turbines are in fact allowed in Green Belt. As the quotation actually admits, there are wind farms in Green Belt. The Aston windfarm was rejected for a number of reasons, and it was a completely different case: it was on a hill opposite Frodsham. I have long believed that the Frodsham Marshes is a good place for wind turbines; I had not 'long believed' that Aston was a good place.
Moreover, perhaps wind turbines on Frodsham Marshes is a good way to prevent future buildings there (in event that Green Belt status changes)?
They cannot have it both ways: if they want wind turbines away from habitation, they must allow them in Green Belt. Sounds like they are against wind altogether; is their "fine in principle" claim really honest?
"In addition the Marshes provide an important breathing space between the large-scale industry at Ellesmere Port and Ince, and that at Runcorn and Widnes." Probably
the most
they make.
But what do they mean by 'important breathing space' (such that the wind turbines would destroy it)? We need to know what functions such a 'breathing space' fulfils, so that proper regard can be taken of this - concreting-over? wildlife?. Wind turbine towers are not as bulky as buildings, and a wide gap has been left for the route birds take to fly inland. Let's be clearer.
"They [Frodsham Marshes] also provide an important buffer zone for the internationally-protected wildlife on the Mersey Estuary, and are home to protected species like the water vole." Irrelevant! Not sure that water voles will be much disturbed by wind turbines! Most (all?) birds will still live there quite happily.
(Voles: I understand that the concern is that construction work will block and flood the ditches where the voles live. Peel have told me that this will not occur because they will bridge the ditches - but it's worth the Planning Authority ensuring legally that Peel protect the vole habitat.)
The anti-wind people seem to be scraping the barrel here!
Notice that the anti-wind people's erstwhile concern about bird deaths has been quietly dropped. A few years they shouted about the blades killing birds, and that seemed to sway planning committees. But it has been largely disproved: average 1.5 birds killed per turbine in 25 years if birds take no avoiding action. Planes, cars and cats kill far, far more birds; do anti-wind people advocate stopping planes, cars and cat-ownership? So why were they so concerned about bird deaths from wind turbines?
Could it be that anti-wind people were just trying to scare us with anything they could to throw against wind generators, without thought?
"The disturbance of canal dredgings which are contaminated with chemical plant effluent." Rather irrelevant! These have already been disturbed when dredged from the Manchester Ship Canal and dumped in the drainage lagoons, from which water runs off.
"The balance between the carbon saved during the operation of windfarms and the carbon released during their construction (which in this case will involve deep piling and major peat disturbance)." Rather irrelevant! It is not a matter of 'balance' but of 'pay back' period, in which the amount of electricity generated first exceeds the total amount of energy used in construction, installation, operation etc.
I understand that wind turbines 'pay back' in around 6 months the energy expended (total energy in operation, construction, installation, including the cement for the concrete footings). This is phenomenal! Even if the Peel installation pays back at half this rate, that still leaves 24 years of largely carbon-free electricity.
By contrast, as I understand it, nuclear power never pays back (as electricity) the energy expended in construction, mining and processing Uranium, operation and deconstruction. It never gives carbon-free electricity.
(What peat are they talking about? There is none on Frodsham Marsh that I am aware of.)
If they are concerned with carbon 'balance' (or pay back), why are so many anti-wind people in favour of nuclear? (e.g. Nick Griffin, Nigel Lawson)
Also, most of that statement is against wind power as such; is their "fine in principle" claim a lie?
"The need to operate conventional power stations on 'hot standby' to take over when there is no wind." Exaggeration! Not much of a problem. Nobody suggests wind should contribute all our power. Two possible problems:
1. Keeping the right amount of power available? Wind turbines produce power for 80% of their time, even if not maximally. Periods of no-wind are usually forecastable with enough time to get the grid to react. Usually if wind ceases to blow one place it blows elsewhere.
2. Sudden drops in power? Very rarely does a good wind suddenly drop to, and stay at, zero. In any case, operators of the grid can easily deal with sudden drops and surges in demand and supply: they just drop voltage. (Drop from 240 to 230 caters for sudden 10% reduction in power).
This is against wind power as such; is their "fine in principle" claim a lie?
"Interference with Liverpool John Lennon Airport radar." Not a problem. Aircraft very seldom land and take off across that part of the Mersey (runways are east-west). Where there is a problem, the wind energy company put in at their own expense additional radar to remove the blackspots. If these anti-wind people are concerned about carbon reduction, as their piece above suggests, then should they not welcome a constraint on Liverpool Airport?

Column 4 shows the nature of the anti-wind people and their attitude. In many they appear rather hypocritical or contradictory. Only one point is relevant and useful. If that's the best the anti-wind people can do, then they deserve to lose the fight they want to make.

What To Do

I believe this wind farm application should be given a fair hearing. The problem we face is that debate has been stifled. The local paper has so far refused to print pro-wind and pro-wind-farm letters. The leader of Frodsham Town Council and the local MP are vocally against it. But good quality debate is necessary for democracy to work. If you agree with me, then please:

The quotations come from the leaflet, quoted verbatim. Because there is no name of author no copyright can be claimed on the quotations since the material is in the public domain. The other material is Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009.

Created: 6 December 2009. Last updated: 10 December 2009 paper. 5 January 2010 small updates in response to comments. 18 February 2010 more on flicker, voles.