On sea and land they are sprouting like one legged monsters with propellers. The “windmill”, the vehicle for wind power, is becoming a more familiar sight as the government programme for encouraging faster development of renewable energy gathers momentum.
They will become even more familiar, commonplace and controversial over the next decade. Wind power is set to make a bigger contribution to the supply of energy. The offshore wind programme alone could be delivering 9 per cent of electricity demand by 2020 on the basis of current plans.
Overall the market for tidal and wave energy could be worth £4.2bn a year to the economy by 2050, according to estimates made by the Carbon Trust.
Major projects are being approved at a rapid rate, particularly offshore where opposition is limited and largely related to environmental concerns. Fish cannot vote. Onshore householders can and many are making their voices heard and count in arguments about the location of wind farms and their economic as well as environmental contribution.
The impact on house prices has figured prominently in the local as well as national debate about the merits of, and need for, wind power. The Nimby – not in my backyard – factor has been reflected in some of the debates but the wider economic issues have involved measuring the contribution in energy terms from a new nuclear power programme and small accumulations of wind farms.
Efforts to counter Nimbyism have involved a number of studies. Three in a row have shown there is not “empirical evidence to demonstrate a direct link between operating wind farms and house prices,” says the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).
The latest, from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Oxford Brookes University, examined the movement in residential property prices near two wind farms in Cornwall. The findings showed that while terraced and semi-detached houses within a mile of one of the wind farms were lower in value than similar houses four miles away, other factors influenced the valuation difference.
The most significant was that the homes near the farm were former and less desirable Ministry of Defence properties.
Recent research in Scotland involving property prices near the Crystal Rig wind farm in the Scottish Borders failed to discover any evidence of a negative impact on property prices in nearby areas.
Prices in Dunbar had risen from below to above the East Lothian regional average over the last four years, a period covering the building of the wind farm.
Chris Tomlinson, the BWEA’s director of programme strategy, declares: “This new research is yet another nail in the coffin of some of the exaggerated myths peddled by opponents of wind power.” Exaggerated or not the development of wind farms will continue to excite and divide opinion.
Britain represents an under-developed market for wind power despite the recent spurt of activity and investment and opportunities provided by the island factor and exposure to “favourable” weather.
Recent figures from the Global Wind Energy Council show installed capacity at the end of last year was just under 2,000 megawatts of electricity, representing just 2.6 per cent of worldwide capacity.
Britain was listed as the eighth biggest “wind power” in the world, well behind the market leaders, Germany with 20,622Mw of installed capacity or 27.8 per cent of the market, Spain 11,615Mw (15.6 per cent ) and the US 11,603Mw (15.6 per cent ). Even India with 6,270Mw (8.4 per cent ) and Denmark 3,136MW (4.2 per cent ) were well ahead of Britain.
The market grew by 32 per cent last year with the total of installed wind energy capacity topping 74,220Mw and the value of the wind business jumping to $23bn (£11.5bn).
The extent of the market growth comfortably exceeded expectations and continued double digit growth is in prospect for years ahead according to market studies. Britain will account for a bigger slice of the market, helped by the acceleration in clearance for new projects.
They include Greater Gabbard – a green energy scheme in the Thames Estuary where 140 wind turbines will be spread over nearly 150 square kilometres (93.5 miles) around 12 miles off the Suffolk coast and be capable of supplying more than 415,000 homes.
It will also be capable of reducing emissions by 1.5m tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road. The 500Mw project will push total wind power capacity well through the 2,000Mw mark. An indication of the speed of current developments can be gauged by the fact that it took more than 10 years to reach 1,000Mw of windbased generation but only 20 months to pass the 2,000Mw mark.
There are currently five offshore wind farms in operation – Scroby Sands, Kentish Flats, North Hoyle, Barrow and Blyth. Another 10 have won approval and eight are at the planning stage. They all form what the Government regards as the first round of an offshore wind generation demonstration programme providing valuable lessons in installation and development and backed by £107m of taxpayer funding.
They represent 1,100Mw of capacity but the second-round programme is more ambitious, representing between 5,000Mw-7,000Mw of capacity in three strategic areas, the Thames Estuary, the Greater Wash and off the coasts of north Wales and north-west England where new ground has been broken with approval for what is described as the world’s first wind and gas offshore energy project.
The innovative hybrid development, 10 kilometres (6.25 miles) from Walney Island near Barrow in Furness has the potential to generate up to 200Mw of electricity with almost half coming from 30 turbines on the offshore wind farm. When winds are not strong enough to propel the turbines power will be supplied by gas pumped from two fields in nearby Morecambe Bay. All told the complex should be capable of providing “clean energy” for around 70,000 homes
27 April 2007
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