Yesterday we heard from Bristol Green Party’s Peter Goodwin in support of Government plans to build 7,000 new offshore wind turbines by 2020. Angela Kelly, chair of Country Guardian, an organisation that campaigns against wind farms, gives the opposing argument
The Government’s latest plans to build 7,000 new offshore wind turbines within the next 12 years is both unrealistic and disastrous for the wildlife that inhabits the sea and sky around our coast.
When the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), Mr John Hutton, recently announced this massive development of 33 gigawatts of offshore wind power by the year 2020, the practicalities of such a scheme seemed to be entirely overlooked.
The target of 7,000 wind turbines is the equivalent of one turbine every half-mile round the coast of Britain. This would mean building 11 turbines a week for the next 12 years. It took more than six months to put up the 30 offshore wind turbines at Walney, in Cumbria.
Energy experts were dismissive of this unrealistic target. Professor Ian Fells said: “This is impossible. Each machine would be bigger than the London Eye. The jack-up rigs with heavy lifting gear do not exist in the numbers required … The maximum the Danes could build offshore was two machines per week. The proposal is absurd.”
Dieter Helm, of Oxford University, adviser to the Government, pointed out that onshore wind is the costliest form of electricity for the least output, and warned that offshore wind will be even more expensive. The taxpayer and consumer will have to absorb this extra cost in addition to the billions of pounds needed to restructure the national grid.
DAVID Howell and Dr Carole Nakhle, in their recently published book, Out of the Energy Labyrinth, summed up wind power: “The recourse for putting wind farms out to sea looks good, and attracts politicians’ posturing, but leaves a host of questions unanswered about corrosion, shipping safety and birdlife, as well as shoreline intrusion where the current has to be brought on land.”
The wind’s unreliability and intermittency has shown it to be an ineffective source of electricity which needs to be backed up at all times by a secure, reliable source. Flat, calm or gale conditions at sea will mean shutdown, so an equivalent supply of mainly fossil-fuelled electricity will have to be instantly available so as to avoid blackout s.
Wind turbines at sea also pose a clear threat to the safety of vessels. A wind farm only one and a half miles offshore at Blyth, Northumberland, suffered two breakdowns within 12 months – in the second, the harbour master on watch turned away for two minutes and, when he looked again, a blade had folded. There was no warning whatsoever.
A special ship had to be sent from Denmark to replace the blades, causing a long delay.
All shipping had to be diverted from the area until repairs were completed. This does not bode well for machines further out at sea. Damage from lightning strikes and gale-force winds is a major threat. Breakdowns could cause mayhem in the shipping lanes.
Denmark’s flagship offshore wind farm at Horns Rev, off Blavandshuk, has been hit by problems ever since it was established in 2002.
Within just a few months, problems were observed in several generators, and all offshore wind turbine transformers proved to be incapable of tolerating the harsh weather and salt water. In May, 2004, the 80 defective wind turbines at Horns Rev had to be shipped to Esbjerg for repairs.
But there is another great problem with offshore wind turbines. Marine biologists are deeply concerned by the threat they pose to marine wildlife.
In June, 2005, staff at the wildlife hospital at Winterton, Norfolk, said that hundreds of seals on Scroby Sands, off Great Yarmouth, had been so disturbed by the 300ft turbines that it was affecting their breeding.
Many pups were born dead or abandoned by frightened mums.
TONY Fox, a senior research biologist at the National Environment Research Institution in Denmark, has been studying the common scoter – a large sea-duck – for many years.
He said: “There are currently wind turbine proposals right the way throughout the Baltic, from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all the way through Poland, through German waters and then in the North Sea, the Netherlands, Belgium, off France and, of course, around British waters – everywhere where common scoters occur they are now being threatened by wind farm developments.”
The birds are rare breeders in this country but, in the winter months, they gather in enormous flocks offshore.
Many of their favourite wintering grounds happen to be ideal sites for locating offshore wind farms, which will surely disturb their breeding.
Environmentalist George Monbiot recently said he thinks onshore wind has now reached saturation point, but he thought Cardigan Bay would be an ideal place for a huge offshore wind farm. He obviously hasn’t considered the threat to birds and marine life.
I wonder how many people will want to watch the sun setting over the bay behind a restless maze of flickering, flashing blades?
Germany has 20,000 wind turbines but has just built three new gas-fired power stations and is building 26 new clean-technology coal-fired stations – so what does this say about their experiences with wind energy?
Good planning is about balance. The irreparable ecological damage, loss of amenity and distressing divisions within communities, caused by commercial wind turbines, far outweigh any benefit given by the insignificant and unreliable contribution to our energy needs.
They represent a relatively tiny, intermittent output of electricity from a technology covering a huge spatial footprint and negligible CO2 savings, abetted by the need for back-up from fossil-fuelled electricity.
They cannot possibly justify the huge sacrifice of that most finite resource – our unspoilt shoreline and marine environment.
22 January 2008
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