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Wind power: what really happened when the Ayrshire turbine caught fire?

As Scots surveyed the damage after the fierce winds of 8 December last year, many newspapers carried a striking picture of a wind turbine in flames.

The drama at Ardrossan windfarm in North Ayrshire – which was caught on film – became a defining image of hurricane-force winds that peaked at 165mph, bringing down power lines and leaving about 60,000 people without electricity.

For some, the fire symbolised all that is wrong with wind turbines. Sir Bernard Ingham, secretary of the Supporters of Nuclear Energy group, said: “They are no good when the wind doesn’t blow and they are no good when the wind does blow.”

The Daily Mail columnist Alexander Boot quipped that turbines were more use as firewood.

While the turbine grabbed attention, a power line running into Hunterston power station, also on Scotland’s west coast, was brought down by the gale, causing the 460-megawatt B-8 nuclear reactor to cease generating for 54 hours.

Infinis, which owns the windfarm, and EDF Energy, which owns the power station, both refused to disclose how much energy they were unable to generate.

But Dr Ian Lange, director of the MSc in energy management at Stirling University, says the impact of the nuclear outage was much more significant.

He points out that while the blazing windfarm hit the headlines, “severe weather can affect all types of energy generation and nuclear is not immune to it”. He estimates that Hunterston lost around 17,388 MWh compared with the turbine’s 1,210MWh even though it has now been out of action for many weeks.