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A’Chruach Wind Farm: some questions  

Credit:  Andy Anderson, forargyll.com 12 October 2011 ~~

In a couple of days we’ll all get to see what Infinis has to tell us about its expanded windfarm plans for the site to the north of Loch Glashan. I’m generally in favour of windfarms – they can obviously make a contribution to our energy needs and if they are sympathetically located and kept to a reasonable size, they shouldn’t have too much impact on local environments.

But I think we need to have our eyes wide open before we embrace them too eagerly – they will be in place for a long, long time. There are several things that I feel should be carefully considered.

Specifically, the new plan for A’Chruach is for one more turbine than permission was originally granted for – and if I have interpreted the Infinis brochure correctly, the tips of all 21 turbines will now be 14% (54 feet/16.5 metres) higher than before. That’s quite a lot bigger – a total tip height of 126.5 metres/415 feet. I hope there will be clear information about how this will affect the total visibility footprint (ie how much further afield the farm will be visible from), and what the noise implications are.

I am also expecting to see detailed information about how and where the generated supply will be connected to the grid. Will it involve lots of visible pylons or other infrastructure near the roadside somewhere, or will the supply be underground in areas where pylons would have a visual impact? These are matters that Infinis should have concrete plans for by now.

I note that access “will continue to be via the A816 at Achnabreck and upgraded existing forestry tracks.” There’s an existing forestry track starting from Birdfield that leads to the site – as a Minard resident I for one would like to know if Infinis plan to upgrade and use that for access during the construction and/or the everyday running and maintenance of the site.

It is interesting that the Infinis brochure states “If the proposed changes to the A’Chruach wind farm are granted general planning permission, a dedicated Community Development Trust Fund will be established.” Should one take this to mean that if planning permission for the changes isn’t granted, there will be no Fund? I’m not sure, but I think a Fund was mentioned when the original plan went in. It would be good to have that clarified.

There’s a paragraph on page 2 of the brochure which says that the positions of the turbines illustrated in the brochure are “indicative” and that the final layout will not be concluded until shortly before the submission of the planning application in November. So they won’t be showing us the final layout plan then – not this week, anyway. I’m curious to know why not – November is only 20 days away!

Finally, I would recommend that anyone with an interest in this issue should have a look at a very recent report on wind farms. It’s prefaced by the John Muir Trust, whose synopsis follows. My attention was particularly caught by the point that during the study, wind generation operated at less that 20% of capacity for more than 50% of the time. Anyone wanting to read more can do so and download the whole report at: http://www.jmt.org/wind-analysis-report.asp

It’s always tempting to rush for what initially seem to be strong immediate benefits offered by developing technologies: new jobs, cash payments and so on. We could certainly use some extra benefits round here right now, but I hope that the future of our extraordinarily beautiful land and seascapes, our still reasonably quiet roads and countryside, our wildlife, and the environment we leave for the generations to come will be considered equally when we weigh up the pros and cons of this large scheme right in our back yard.

Andy Anderson

Analysis of UK Wind Power Generation report:

The report, Analysis of UK Wind Power Generation, November 2008 to December 2010, is the result of detailed analysis of windfarm output in Scotland over a 26-month period between November 2008 to December 2010 using data from the BMRS (Balancing Mechanism Reporting System). It’s the first report of its kind and draws on data freely available to the public.

This data challenges five common assertions made regularly by wind industry and the Scottish Government that:

Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year
The wind is always blowing somewhere
Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent
The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight
Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods

In fact, the report finds that:

On 124 separate occasions from November 2008 to December 2010, the total generation from the windfarms metered by National Grid was less than 20MW (a fraction of the 450MW expected from a capacity in excess of 1600MW+). These periods of low wind lasted an average of 4.5 hours.
Actually, low wind occurred every six days throughout the 26-month study period. The report finds that the average frequency and duration of a low wind event of 20MW or less between November 2008 and December 2010 was once every 6.38 days for a period of 4.93 hours.
At each of the four highest peak demand points of 2010, wind output was extremely low at 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.
In fact, the average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.
The entire pumped storage hydro capacity in the UK can provide up to 2788MW for only 5 hours then it drops to 1060MW, and finally runs out of water after 22 hours.

The report also found that during the study period, wind generation was:

below 20% of capacity more than half the time
below 10% of capacity over one third of the time
below 2.5% capacity for the equivalent of one day in twelve
below 1.25% capacity for the equivalent of just under one day a month

At the moment, the rapid expansion of wind farms represents the biggest threat to our remaining wild land.

Wild land helps to sustain human life as well as plant, bird and animal life. Our wild landscapes provide the foundation for our tourist industry. That’s why we’re concerned about emerging questions regarding the efficiency and environmental impact of large-scale wind power developments, and about the proportion of our energy that they’re intended to supply. If wind is not delivering adequately, it will be a pointless sacrifice of Scotland’s natural assets. AA

Source:  Andy Anderson, forargyll.com 12 October 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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