Windfarms don’t work. They produce a trickle of electricity at vast cost to the consumer. They desecrate the landscape and make people’s lives a misery. And they don’t even cut carbon emissions. They are literally a waste of space. But according to Chris Huhne – all of us here today are ‘Carmudgeons and faultfinders’ because we oppose industrial wind turbines. Chris Huhne is, of course, an expert on fault-finders and is always keen to get others to take the blame for his own mistakes. He is the architect of the UK’s latest crop of national follies.
We are all familiar with architectural follies like The National Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, or McCaig’s Tower in Oban. Scotland has quite a few which have become well-known and prominent landmarks. They were erected by wealthy landowners as symbols of their wealth and power, although they usually have no practical purpose. Well we have a new generation of follies bristling across the length and breadth of our country – industrial wind turbines! Again they have been erected by wealthy landowners and again they have no practical purpose, but this time they have no architectural merit either.
The Financial Scandal
There are currently around 3,500 turbines operating in the UK at an installed cost of a staggering £7 billion. They can generate around 5.5 gigawatts of energy; in other words little more than a medium sized gas or coal-fired power station. Another 7,000 turbines are in the planning pipeline.
But even once all 10,500 of these turbines are up and running, it will not be nearly enough to achieve the UK target of 20% renewable energy by 2020, or the even more ludicrous 100% target set by the Scottish government. To reach these targets we will need a six-fold increase in giant turbines, or 60,000 of them across the UK, many of them here in Scotland. The total cost will be in excess of £200 billion, even with economies of scale.
Alex Salmond has made renewable energy a key feature of his government’s programme. Even his newly published roadmap to independence boasts that Scotland will generate the equivalent of 100% electricity needs from renewables by 2020 in a low carbon economy that will support over 130,000 jobs…..he says. The First Minister also boasts that Scotland will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020.
I think Mr Salmond’s claims require a little close scrutiny. When he opened the latest extension to Europe’s biggest windfarm at Whitelee, South of Glasgow, he exclaimed that we were successfully exploiting a ‘free’ resource. Far from being free, this trickle of electricity now being produced by windfarms across the UK is creating hardship and fuel poverty at a time of economic austerity.
According to the latest figures from leading energy consultants Mott MacDonald, who advise Whitehall, the long-term generating costs for new nuclear plants, including safe storage of waste and final de-commissioning costs, are estimated at around £100 per MW hour. On-shore wind is roughly comparable at £96 per MW hour, and off-shore wind is completely out of the park at a humungous £190 per MW hour. Clean coal plants come in at around £145 per MWH and new gas turbines at £110. However, it is important to remember that carbon-zero nuclear power is 100% reliable, while wind turbines only operate for around 22% – 30% of their active life and require baseload backup, to ensure the lights don’t go out, meaning that new nuclear plant is a ‘no-brainer.’ But sadly, not in Scotland, where our energy policy is designed by the SNP to achieve political rather than economic goals!
In Scotland, where the SNP will not permit new nuclear capacity to be built, we will have to rely on high carbon gas and coal plants for backup, without even the opportunity to capture and store carbon, now that the experimental CCS project at Longannet has been abandoned because of costs. So the idiocy of the entire policy is sharply exposed. The big power companies are no longer farming wind, they are farming subsidies and the poor consumers will have to foot the bill. Gas and electricity prices are surging, jobs are being lost, more and more people are being forced into fuel poverty and we are not even denting our carbon emission targets.
According to KPMG, shifting from wind turbines to nuclear and gas-fired power stations would slash the UK’s energy bills by £34 billion or a saving of £550 for every person in the country. At a time when fuel bills have doubled in the past 5 years and are set to double again in the next five, savings like this are essential.
In addition, while Alex Salmond’s government trumpets that emissions have fallen to 57 million tonnes, down 13%, a new report from the respected Stockholm Environment Institute, estimates Scotland’s real carbon footprint has actually increased by 11% to 85 million tonnes. So greenhouse gases are on the rise in Scotland.
When you scrape the surface a little further you unearth many more discrepancies and double standards in Mr Salmond’s assertions. For instance, he says that Scotland will have a world-beating low carbon economy, then in the next breath applauds the fact that we have discovered massive new oil reserves in the North Sea that will keep us going until at least 2050!
He promises that Scotland will be nuclear free, while he knows full well that his policy of 100% electricity from unreliable renewables will mean that we frequently have to import nuclear generated electricity from south of the border where they are building 11 new nuclear plants. What hypocrisy! And he claims Scotland will net huge profits from selling electricity to England, but why on earth would England want to buy high cost wind-power from Scotland when they have just built 11 new efficient, nuclear plants of their own? It is an empty dream.
And Alex Salmond promises 130,000 jobs in his low carbon economy when in fact the soaring costs of electricity, directly attributable to his mad race for renewables, is driving more and more businesses and industries to the wall. The number of companies going bankrupt in Scotland increased by 17% in the first quarter of this year, while the number of individuals declaring themselves bankrupt rocketed up by an astonishing 25% over the same period.
Even his rash of windfarms are not creating Scottish jobs. If you visit any of the windfarm erection sites in Scotland you will be hard pushed to hear the English language being spoken by any of the workers. And no wonder, the majority of the steel towers are delivered from Germany and Denmark on left-wheel drive trucks. The site workers are foreign. The turbine blades are built in Scandinavia and the gear boxes in China.
This is why our gas and electricity bills have rocketed by between 10 and 20% in the past three months, while gas and oil prices globally have fallen by over 22% since March this year. The big power companies are raking it in from the consumers and posting profits that have soared to billions every year. It is estimated that Britons will face an extra £500 on their fuel bills over the next four years to meet the crazy climate change targets. What makes this even more unpalatable is the fact that two-thirds of the turbines currently disfiguring Britain are owned by overseas companies, who are trousering hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies paid by the poor Scottish consumers every month.
The main driver for this disaster is the crazily generous ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates) and feed-in tariffs that throw money at the power companies and landowners. That is why Scottish and UK landowners are so keen to have their farms and estates industrialised.
The feed-in-tariffs net millions annually for the big estates, that’s why the Earl of Glasgow, the Duke of Roxburghe, the Duke of Beaufort, the Earl of Moray, The Earl of Seafield and Lord Inchcape are all cashing in. The Duke of Roxburghe will net £720,000 a year from his 48 – four hundred foot high turbines at Fallago Rig in the beautiful Lammermuir Hills. Sir Alastair Gordon-Cumming will earn £435,000 annually from 29 giant turbines on his Altyre Estate near Forres in Moray. The Earl of Seafield will get £120,000 a year from 8 turbines on his estate near Banff. The Earl of Moray receives £540,000 a year from 36 turbines that have trashed the landscape at Braes O’Doune near Stirling. And Crown Estates, one of the richest bodies in the country, will net billions from leasing large tracts of seabed for offshore wind developments.
And the energy companies and landowners are even paid for NOT producing electricity. The money just pours in, whether the turbines are operating or not. In fact a total of £9,453,249 was paid out to energy companies in September alone to keep their turbines switched off because the grid was overloaded! This is quite simply scandalous.
What we are witnessing is a dramatic transfer of money from the poor to the rich; from the beleaguered consumers to the wealthy estate owners and power companies. In July, the Department of Energy in Whitehall revealed that rising bills have pushed 5.5 million households into fuel poverty – one fifth of British homes. The most vulnerable people in society will be forced to make the choice between food or fuel…..between heat or hypothermia. This is a scandal of unparalleled proportions and one which is beginning to rear its head more and more in the media, as jobs are lost and elderly people die of cold.
While I can sympathise with farmers who have suffered years of economic hardship and are attracted by the wild promises of endless profits by the snake-oil salesmen of the renewables sector, I would caution them to take care. This summer, Proven Energy, who have erected more than 600 turbines on farms across Scotland, issued a safety alert over the blades on their machines, warning of catastrophic mechanical failures that cause the blades to fly off and asking all of their clients to shut down their turbines without delay. The company then called in the administrators, admitting it could not cope with the anticipated losses. So 600 farmers who have contributed up to £50,000 each for their Proven turbines, now have rusting bits of kit disfiguring their farms and communities and earning them not a single penny!
Impacts on Tourism
But it is not only jobs in business and industry that are at risk from the relentless march of industrial wind turbines. Scotland has more than half of the UK’s installed wind turbines on its territory right now. We also have more than half of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes. It seems that nowhere in our pristine landscape is safe from the avaricious attention of the industrial wind developers. From Shetland to Lewis, from Dava Moor on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park to the shores of Loch Ness, from the beautiful Scottish Borders to the unspoiled Ayrshire coast, from Machrihanish to Tiree, nothing is sacred.
The government has given approval to the controversial Beauly-Denny overhead line, necessary to carry wind generated energy to the national grid, despite the fact that it will scar some of Scotland’s loveliest scenery and run right past the iconic Stirling Castle.
This summer, plans were unveiled for a monstrous windfarm development overlooking Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. A series of planning approvals will lead to more than 150 giant turbines sprouting across the moors around Loch Ness, Scotland’s most famous loch, renowned worldwide and a major source of tourist revenue.
I spoke at an anti-windfarm rally in Inverness a couple of weeks ago and the room was packed with mountaineers, hill-walkers, cyclists, ramblers, hoteliers, self-catering & B & B operators, all of whom were appalled at the visual pollution of our landscape which is wrecking scotland’s tourist trade. Tourism is one of Scotland’s largest business sectors, employing over 200,000 people and generating visitor spending of more than £4 billion a year. Even SNH, who more often than not aid and abet the Scottish government in trashing our countryside, admit that nature-based tourism generates over £1.4 billion per year and supports 39,000 jobs.
A 2008 study by Glasgow Caledonian University showed that the development of onshore windfarms will damage the tourist sector in Scotland. 68% of tourists questioned said they wanted a windfarm free landscape. The survey even found that tourists would be prepared to pay up to 25% extra to have a view unspoiled by windfarms from their hotel or B & B accommodation. The report proved that tourism and windfarms are just not compatible. Indeed, we can forget our fabulous Scottish landscape featuring ever again in stunning blokbuster movies. There is no place for industrial wind turbines as a backdrop to a Jacobean melodrama! Nor can you have Rob Roy taking shelter from the redcoats behind a giant steel windmill! Scotland’s USP is its scenery. Destroy it and you destroy the tourist trade.
That’s why it is all the more surprising that the Scottish Government has repeatedly ignored calls for a national strategy for windfarm developments. I first asked for this 8 years ago. It would have been simple for the government to design a map of Scotland, the way they did in Germany, which showed where windfarms could be built and where they could never be built. But all these pleas have been consistently ignored.
So now we have a free-for-all, where opportunist energy companies, keen to cash in on the lucrative subsidies, submit planning applications for projects in locations that are wholly inappropriate, such as overlooking Loch Ness or Culzean Castle, forcing local councils, communities and concerned members of the public to expend enormous amounts of time and money fighting against plans that would ravage our landscape and destroy our tourist trade.
We had a case recently in Ayrshire where an English energy company applied for planning approval for a windfarm on the highest hill overlooking Culzean Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic tourist attractions. Culzean was designed by Robert Adam to fit into the surrounding hills and bay as an architectural masterpiece of global importance. Even to consider erecting industrial turbines in this unique location was almost a criminal offence. But the local council and community had to withstand several years of cost and anxiety as they fought against the plans, until finally, in August, the application was withdrawn and the company walked away. And now the landowner has applied for a series of individual turbines dotted across the same hills, so the whole tortuous war of attrition will start again.
In the meantime, South Ayrshire Council had racked up tens of thousands of pounds in costs dealing with this egregious planning application…costs that the local council-tax payers will have to bear. Why are these energy companies not forced to pay compensation in such cases? Why are they allowed to apply to build windfarms in such locations in the first place? The whole system is a shambles and it is Scotland’s renowned tourist sector that will suffer.
So What is the Answer?
I don’t want to end on a negative note with people accusing me of attacking renewable wind energy without offering any viable alternative. I believe that we can save 75% of the energy we currently use by being more efficient. It is shocking that we still allow homes to be built in Scotland with single-glazed windows and no loft insulation. Triple glazing and proper insulation would cut our energy bills dramatically.
I also believe that we should be investing much more into developing the new sunrise technologies such as the hydrogen economy. So far, no-one has invented an efficient way to store electricity. But hydrogen, which is the lightest and most abundant chemical element in the Universe, can be readily stored and can provide an effective energy source. In Germany they are building hydrogen powered cars, trains and ferries. Hydrogen powered homes are under construction. We need to cut our dependency on fossil fuels and look to the future.
We are also on the threshold of a whole new era of methane extraction in the shale gas industry. Methane has half the CO2 of natural gas and the UK is sitting on vast reserves. The fact that shale gas is vehemently opposed by the Greens is the best possible signal for me that it must be a viable energy source!
In the meantime, it is sheer madness to turn our backs on nuclear power. With our remaining nuclear power stations at Hunterston B and Torness nearing the end of their working lives and a large and skilled workforce only too ready and willing to develop a new generation of nuclear plant, it is perverse to slam the door in their faces. Don’t listen to the siren wails of the Greens who cite Fukushima as a reason to abandon nuclear technology in Europe. The EU does not suffer from 9.2 Richter-scale earthquakes and tsunamis. What we do suffer from is the current renewable wind blitzkrieg invading our country with industrial structures of concrete and steel, all for a small, intermittent trickle of electricity at vast cost to the consumer and no benefit to the environment.
STRUAN STEVENSON, MEP
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland. He is Chairman of the Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development Intergroup in the European Parliament.
Video: Windfarms and the Rape of Britain, Bretwalda Books:
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