It is difficult to improve on the Duke of Edinburgh’s description of the policy of covering Britain’s countryside with wind turbines: “an absolute disgrace”. Views on the aesthetic merits of the objects, which can be over 400ft tall, may legitimately differ. But what should be beyond dispute is the simple truth that wind turbines do not, and cannot, provide a significant part of Britain’s energy needs.
The problems are legion. The turbines are hugely expensive to build and to operate, and are not a reliable source of power. The figures on their electricity-producing “capacity” are thoroughly misleading, since they are based on what the turbine would produce if the wind blew constantly at the optimum speed. But, of course, the wind on which the turbines depend does not blow constantly – and when, as often happens during some of the coldest spells in winter, it does not blow at all, the turbines generate zero power. When the wind blows too hard, they also have to shut down – and there is no financially practicable way of storing the electricity they produce when the wind blows at the optimal rate. So in order for the country not to run out of electricity on a regular basis, wind power has to be supplemented by gas-fired power stations, whose operation pushes more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The facts about wind power are obvious, and have been frequently pointed out in this newspaper, not least by our columnist Christopher Booker. Yet the Government’s energy policy is based on denying them. Onshore wind turbines are essential to the official plan to produce 32 per cent of Britain’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, meeting a European target signed up to by Tony Blair. Yet it cannot work. Even if we were to build 10,000 wind turbines between now and then, they would come nowhere near meeting a third of our electricity needs – indeed, during the coldest winter months, when demand is highest, they would supply only about one tenth of the demand. Yet the cost will nevertheless be met by every household in the country. Electricity generated by wind is vastly more expensive than that generated by gas-fired power stations. And yet the Government is determined to press on with its hopeless strategy.
We accept that there is an urgent need to generate clean electricity while cutting our use of fossil fuels. We do not accept that it should be done in such a self-defeating and ruinously expensive way. Solar power, in Britain, is not yet a feasible option, except for the production of small amounts of electricity. Generating electricity from wave power or tidal power has not yet lived up to its promise – which means that until there is a fresh technological breakthrough, nuclear power remains the best, if not the only, option for producing large amounts of electricity reliably without also adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
If the Government is committed to its green energy policy, building a series of new nuclear power stations should be the cornerstone of its efforts. But instead it is committed to generating ever more ridiculous amounts via wind power. The Duke of Edinburgh is absolutely right when he describes the claim that this can meet our imminent electricity deficit as “a fairy tale”. We hope the Government will finally take notice.
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