Turbines shuddering to a halt across the region in heavy winds are yet another flaw of wind power, opposition groups claimed last night.
The structures cease to operate when wind speeds reach a certain level and do not generate electricity. Many wind farms shut down at 55mph, and some at 33mph.
Figures released by the Met Office show that in February wind speeds reached 91 miles per hour in Newcastle, 79 mph at Boulmer, near Alnwick and 77 mph at Albemarle in Northumberland.
But operators of wind farms in the North East have confirmed that with these strong gusts, there have been occasions when their turbines have been brought to a standstill.
None were able to say when this had been or how often it had happened.
Yet the Met Office data shows that at its Newcastle Airport station, the top nine recorded wind speeds for February were all above both the 55mph and 33mph figures. At Boulmer, the top four wind speeds for February all weighed in above the figures as did the top six at Albemarle.
And this data was for a month which the Met Office said had not been unusual in comparison to other winter months in terms of wind speed.
Although described by a spokeswoman as “quite high” for the North East, other parts of the country were said to have experienced faster gales.
Critics of wind power say the fact turbines do not operate in high winds is another flaw in their make up.
Nick Blezard, of Save Northumberland’s Environment, which is opposing plans for a wind farm at Middlemoor, near Alnwick, said: “My understanding is that the wind has to be blowing at no less than 10mph and not more than 40mph so there is a fairly narrow band. If the wind is blowing too strongly – and it is not that strong, it is only 30 or 40mph – then the thing cuts out because it cannot cope.
“This is one of the factors in the argument against their efficiency.”
Amanda Worlock, a member of Save our Unspoilt Landscape which is objecting to plans for turbines at Barmoor, near her home at Lowick, added: “It is also not just the speed of the wind, but the fact that it is gusting. “We had a gale force warning of 10 the other night, it would have been impossible to have the turbines working and that is when everybody wants their electricity. And this is the irony of it of course.”
The fact turbines shut down in high winds was last night defended by the operator of one of the North East’s biggest wind farms.
Charles Rose, of Hainsford Energy, which operates nine turbines at Blyth harbour, said: “It is no more than ships not going out to sea in a storm. On odd occasions a ship is not going to go to sea because the weather is bad.” Mr Rose was not aware how many times his turbines had shut down in recent weeks and was not able to say at what speed they cut out.
But modern structures which are set to be introduced at the harbour will shut down at the equivalent of 55mph, something Mr Rose said would be “infrequent”.
Nissan’s Sunderland plant has six turbines but was unable to give details of how often or when these had been shut down.
The turbines were programmed to turn themselves off if the wind speed reaches 55mph. However, following an incident in Scotland, the Health and Safety Executive and turbine manufacturer Vestas issued guidance advising that the switch off point be 33mph. Nissan reprogrammed its turbines accordingly late last year.
At Groundwork West Durham’s base in Anfield Plain, where there is one turbine, the company confirmed the structure had cut out in high wind but could not say how often.
By Sam Wood
10 March 2008
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