On Wind Power

The British Isles are one of the windiest places in Europe, so it makes a lot of sense to make use of this wind, for example to generate some of the electricity or other motive power we need. But the U.K. is lagging behind other European countries in developing and installing wind power. And there is an active anti-wind lobby. I want to bring some clarity to this debate.


See also new page on Frodsham Wind Power which is right where I live.

Seven Points on Wind Power

1. I believe that we need a new, responsible attitude worldwide to energy use and generation. If we want electricity, we should be willing to take full responsibility for its indirect impacts (what economists call externalised costs). This is especially so if the U.K. is to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050. But even if climate change is not happening, I believe that, morally, we have no right to be irresponsible in our use or generation: each of us should take full environmental and economic responsibility for each unit of energy s/he uses. However, I believe that the best evidence we have is that climate change is a real threat and we urgently need to do something about it, to reduce our climate change emissions, both individually, nationally and internationally.

2. In this context, I don't see wind power as the sole solution, but rather it is useful alongside other power sources; it can contribute much when the wind is blowing - which is most of the time in the U.K.

3. I see wind power as motivated by the following vision or 'big ideas':

4. As I see it, we can expect a number of practical advantages of wind power, at least once it has gone down its learning curve:

5. If wind generation has be potential to be local, rather than being carried out in huge, distant wind farms, it is a great pity that the U.K. government seems to favour giant wind farms. This heavy-handed policy must bear some responsible for turning some people against wind power. Nevertheless, given the importance of the 'big ideas, wind farms are better than nothing. Indeed even with local energy they have a role to provide background energy in the grid.

6. Of course there are a number of challenges, such as the intermittent nature of wind - but it is not as intermittent as we might think, and we can expect even more wind as the climate changes. It can, for example, be combined with solar power: often when there is less wind there is more sun!

7. The debate should not centre on what wind power is now but on what it could reasonably become in the future. I believe it is important for wind power to be allowed to go down its learning curve. Not just that of developing better and cheaper technologies for generation, but also learning how to live with wind power in practice - its organisational and social aspect - and how it can become an integral part of 21st century life. Or else, learn that it cannot and should not. This brings us to the anti-wind opposition.

The Anti-Wind Opposition

The anti-wind opposition could provide humanity with good quality critique of wind power that helps it go down its learning curve and brings us to the point where we can either live with it or decide we cannot and should not. Unfortunately, they have not assumed this role.

Their activities in the U.K. have been very effective in turning people away from wind power and in convincing planning committees on councils to reject applications for wind power generators. I am deeply concerned because these people are preventing wind power going down its learning curve as fast as it should do. Moreover, they are ensuring that wind power cannot be installed by the smaller, local organisations which do not have the resources for a lengthy legal fight. The anti-wind brigade seems well-organised and well-financed, and only the big players seem to have the resources to contest them.

So I ask: Is the anti-wind brigade fulfilling a useful function in society and environment? Do they bring up good reasons for rejecting wind power? Do they even offer useful critique from which wind generation can learn, so as to more effectively go down its learning curve? Do they prevent bad wind-energy proposals but allow good ones? If so, then the anti-wind opposition is healthy and to be welcomed.

They have brought to our attention a number of challenges, including: visual impact, bird-strike, the doppler effect on aircraft radar, intermittent generation, and sundry impacts of the construction process. Some of these have proven to be minor. Some are able to be overcome by means of technological advance or planning.

However, so far, I have been very unimpressed with the anti-wind opposition. I find there is nothing noble in them. Whereas there are at least four major principles that recommend wind power (see above), their opposition to wind power does not seem to be based on any major principles. Rather, the reasons they give are usually self-centred, often petty, sometimes misleading, and sometimes hypocritical. (See below for discussion of some of their reasons.) I have yet to find them giving sound reasons against wind power, and very limited useful critique beyond those just mentioned. Here are a couple of examples from my recent visits to my homeland, Scotland.

Auchencorth Moss

While I was up in Midlothian, Scotland last week (7 September 2008), where I was born and grew up, I saw the following headline in the local paper, 'Wind farm plan back on agenda'. A wind farm had been proposed for an area I have loved since my childhood (Auchencorth Moss) and the Councillors had voted 11 to 3 against it; the wind power company has now appealed. I imagined the wind farm on the moss, and reckoned I could become used to it; the benefit of this wind farm is that it can fulfil the principle of source near demand, because it is near a sizeable town. (Some months later, April 2009, I drove across the Moss; yes it would make a difference, but the western end has been plastered with conifers so it's not a particularly beautiful a place - is visual appeal more important than the lives of those who will suffer under climate change?)

I was interested to see the reasons why it had been rejected:

"The effects on local birdlife; potential problems concerning peat bogs and sinking, and the visual impact, which might adversely affect tourism."
Let us analyse these.

It does seem to me that the reasons for rejection are very weak, and paltry when compared with the threat of climate change.

Lammermuir Hills

I was also up in Lammermuir hills last week, where I saw a notice 'No more wind turbines in the Lammermuirs'. Was this a legitimate local group who are concerned about the Lammermuir Hills as such, or are they just an anti-wind group masquerading as local concern? The notices (I had seen two others previously) were very professionally created, black lettering on yellow plastic sheeting, obviously backed by not insignificant money and a lot of expertise in creating such notices. It seems that they have a stock of such plastic sheets, since the notice examined last week had a new one nailed over an earlier one that had been defaced.

On touring round the Lammermuir hills it is actually very difficult to see the wind turbines, which are situated on Dunbar Common. One gets sees them when one first turns down towards the Whitadder reservoir, but soon the sight disappears, and all down that road towards Duns, round via Abbey St Bathans, and back round to Oldhamstocks, there is hardly a sight of them. The main view one gets is from outside the Lammermuir Hills. From the point of view of the Lammermuirs, the turbines are very well situated to cause minimum impact. What is the fuss about?

On looking up their website I found very little information in it.

One cannot judge what kind of money they are backed with. They have a page for donations, but there is no opportunity for public audit of how the money donated is spent. The only positive thing I found was that their bank is in a nearby town lying the lowlands south of the Lammermuirs, suggesting some localish link.

But their website is designed via Australia! The 'About Us' page began with "We're a group of ordinary people who live in and around the Lammermuirs, or who visit this special place and care for it. ...". Notice the "or who visit" - the site could have been created by visitors rather than inhabitants. I could find no contact details. So one cannot judge whether these are genuine lovers of the Lammermuirs or just part of the fundamentalistically committed anti-wind brigade with a single local contact.

Nor can one enter into discourse with them, because they have shielded themselves against it.

The arguments they give against wind power are weak, such as:

There might also be some contradiction. On one hand they say "Then it'll be too late, the hills will be lost, the developers will have made their money and the game will be over." suggesting the turbines will be temporary, then they say "The developers of Fallago assume in their application that the windfarm will be decommissioned after 25 years. This is speculation, as they cannot know what will happen at that time." suggesting concern with permanence.

Their site has a disclaimer that reads

"... we make no representation, and offer no warranty, in relation to it and its contents, and in particular we do not represent or warrant that any of the information available on this web site is accurate, up-to-date, or complete."

They have no opportunity for discussion or debate.

These people seem to be scraping the barrel to find reasons against wind power, they do not seem open to discussion, and they do not seem open about their financial support.

In my view, wind power would be good in the Lammermuirs. First, the people who live in the windy Lammermuirs should be allowed to set up their own local turbines, not prevented. Second, if the Lammermuirs have a set of larger generators, then that area can make a real contribution to the nation's economy and energy. At present, the Lammermuir hills export almost nothing to the rest of the nation and world than sparse sheep, a bit of heather honey, and hosting a bit of grouse-shooting - I know of nothing else. I love the area, but not as a museum. I love areas that make a contribution.

Frodsham & Ince Marshes

Plans for 21 wind turbines have been announced for Frodsham Marshes (Cheshire, UK), which my house overlooks. So it affects me now! Yes it would affect the view - but I'd get used to it. I have long thought that there should be wind generators on Frodsham Marshes, generating power for Frodsham and Helsby.

See the separate page on Frodsham Wind Power, which includes a detailed analysis of the opposers' arguments.

What Should We Make of the Anti-Wind Brigade?

All the arguments against wind energy that I have found so far are not strong in themselves. They pale into insignificance when weighed against some of the benefits and the major motivating principles.

It seems that the anti-wind brigade are just 'against' wind, full-stop. As such, they will try to dredge up any kind of reasons to resist it. They work not by good reason, but by stirring up anger. Much of the anger expressed against wind energy is of the hollow kind - the kind of anger that is bullying because it is loud and insistent rather than being backed by substance. This type of anger is characteristic of those who do not have a strong case.

Many of those against wind are also climate-change resisters. For example, one major anti-wind email-discussion group has a lot of people who are trying to suggest that climate change is fiction or if true not of human origin. If the anti-wind brigade is full of such obscurantism, then all its pronouncements must be treated with suspicion and they should be largely ignored.

Many of the anti-wind people seem to exhibit the selfish attitude of 'not in my back yard', rather than an attitude of responsibility.

And what money backs them up? I have heard it suggested that nuclear industry would find it very convenient if wind power were not allowed to make the contribution it might, so that nuclear power could fill the gap.

What Can I Do?

If you are in the U.K., write to your Member of Parliament in support of wind power.

Write to your local media and national media in support of wind power.

Keep up to date with the facts.

Be willing to take responsibility for the future, yourself, not just expect the government to do it.

If you are a computer hacker, then the anti-wind sites might be fun? I hear that the Climate Research Unit's computers were hacked by climate-change-skeptics today.

Created: 7 September 2008 by Andrew Basden.

Last updated: 8 September 2008 from suggestions by SJB. 19 April 2009 more re Scottish places. 19,20 October 2009 some rewriting. 23 October 2009 22 November 2009 hacked more. 6 December 2009 #lc. 7 December 2009 frodsham.