Wind Farms; Myths and Misconceptions

In our work we regularly come up against a number of misconceptions about wind turbines.  Here are some of the most common:

Wind energy needs back up to work:

All forms of power need back up. A wide and diverse portfolio of energy generation is essential. One of the major benefits of wind energy is that it allows for less fossil fuels to be used to generate electricity and therefore for carbon emissions to be reduced. Government policy is to encourage and increase the use of wind turbines as a power source; in conjunction with wave power, tidal power, solar power, biofuels etc. It is in this manner that a functioning National Grid is based. No single source of energy, whether renewable or not, can be relied upon to power a country.

Wind farms kill birds:

Bird population distribution, species and migration routes are all taken into consideration during the planning process. If a turbine site would interfere with bird populations it would not be possible to obtain planning permission. The RSPB released an information leaflet in 2004 entitled ‘Wind Farms and Birds’ which stated that “in the UK we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms”.

Wind turbines are inefficient:

Turbines produce electricity 70-85% of the time on average dependent on wind speed. Over the course of a year the average turbine generates 30-40% of its theoretical maximum output, known as it’s ‘load factor’. Traditional power stations have a ‘load factor’ of less than 50%. Most of the energy produced by a traditional power plant is lost as heat. ‘Load factor’ is taken into account when the site for a wind turbine is chosen. Turbines are placed in areas where the average wind speed is sufficient to generate a viable amount of electricity.

Wind energy is unfairly subsidised:

Subsidy is necessary due to the fledging nature of wind turbine technology. The high start up costs involved mean that without subsidy the energy potential of Scottish wind would remain untapped. It is Government policy to incentivise renewable forms of energy. This is necessary for a variety of reasons; to ensure the country’s energy security, to decrease reliance on increasingly scarce fossil fuels and the rocketing prices they are subject to, and achieving the carbon emission reduction targets that have been set at both a national and international level. It is also worth noting that many other forms of energy are subsidised. Power plants receive massive state funding at the construction stage. For nuclear power stations decommissioning and the storage and disposal of nuclear waste materials are all paid for by the taxpayer.

Tens of thousands of wind turbines will be cluttering the British countryside:

Obtaining planning permission for wind turbines is a lengthy, involved, and difficult process. Many factors must be taken into account; environmental and visual impact surveys, ecological surveys, shadow flicker, decommissioning and dismantling procedure. Much of the country is entirely off limits to turbines; National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, areas surrounding airfields or military installations, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest, Forestry Commission Land, World Heritage Sites, Conservation Areas etc. A recent study has found that the UK has only one wind turbine per 100 square kilometres. This is in comparison to Denmark which has 10.85 turbines per 100 square kilometres, Germany with 5.95, The Netherlands has 5.54, Spain has 3.39.

Wind power is expensive:

The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen as capacity rises. As capacity continues to rise the price will continue to fall. It is a free and abundant source of energy. Once a wind turbine is in place there are no costs in terms of fuel, waste etc. Wind energy is not subject to market forces in the same manner that oil, gas, coal or biofuels are. In terms of cost wind is already competitive with new coal and cheaper than nuclear power.

Wind turbines damage tourism:

The UK’s first commercial windfarm at Delabole received 350,000 visitors in its first ten years of operation. Whitelee Wind Farm in Lanarkshire, Europe’s largest wind farm boasts its own visitors centre and is a tourist attraction in its own right. The Scottish Government conducted a survey in 2008 entitled ‘Economic Impacts of Wind Farms on Scottish Tourism’ which found that three quarters of the surveyed tourists felt that wind turbines had a positive or neutral effect on the landscape. 97% said that wind turbines would have no impact on their decision to visit Scotland again.

Wind turbines harm property prices:

Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC) conducted research in 2009 focusing on sales of property in proximity to the Crystal Rig wind farm in the Scottish Borders. This research found no evidence of a negative impact on property value. Prices in the town of Dunbar had risen from below to above the regional average over the past four years – during the time in which the wind farm was constructed. Property price inflation in Dunbar has continued to exceed that achieved across East Lothian.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

The cost of bioenergy: food or fuel

The price of food is soaring. Despite deforestation and improvements in fertilization, irrigation and other farming practices the price of feeding oneself continues to rise. A number of reasons have been offered for this: the rise in the global population, large shifts to a western diet – heavy meat consumption (which is far more intensive to produce due to the need for animal feed etc), extreme weather, misguided government policy, panic buying by importers, speculation on the financial markets, pro-longed under-investment in the agricultural sector. All, undoubtedly play their part. But, so does the shift to renewable energy supplies. Biofuels are in increasing demand, which means more land that could be used to grow food is being devoted to them.

This year it is estimated that 40% of the United State’s corn crop will go into car engines after it is turned to ethanol. Considering that the US is the worlds largest producer and exporter of corn this is huge amount of produce that is being lost to the food markets. The, subsidized, production of biofuel from corn is increasing rapidly. Ten years ago only 7% of the corn crop was being used to make biofuels. The rapid increase in biofuel production and consumption has had a direct impact on the price of the weekly food shop.

This rapid increase is also being seen in the United Kingdom. 18% of biofuels used in the UK are being produced from corn and wheat. Two staple foods, particularly in the developing world. Just over a year ago hardly any of these types of biofuel were being used in the UK and just over a year ago the cost of food was far cheaper.

The International Monetary Fund observed in 2008 that biofuels accounted for 1.5% of the global liquid fuel supply for the year but also nearly half of the increase in food crop consumption. It is is important to understand where the majority of these crops are being produced; the developing world. Increasing amounts of arable land in areas such as Africa are being turned over to biofuels; which are invariably being produced for export to the developed world, frequently by multinational corporations from the developed world. Less food being planted leads to an increase in food imports and an increase in the global market prices for foodstuffs.

Increased prices for food and an increase in the demand for biofuels are occurring at the same time. The European Union has set a target for 10% of transport fuels to be biofuels by 2020 whilst the World Bank has estimated that between June and December 2010 an additional 44 million people fell below the poverty line because of food price rises. The World Bank President Robert Zoellick has called for the world to “put food first”. It is clear that biofuels cannot be relied upon as a large scale fuel source in the future. Increased demand will lead to increased prices for both biofuels and food.

However, this is a problem that is beginning to be acknowledged by the governments of the world. The Global Bioenergy Partnership has been formed by the G8 Countries, 5 emerging economies and 13 International organisations and has agreed guidelines for the production of biofuel that doesn’t affect food prices or contribute to climate change. The formation of such an organisation indicates that currently the biofuel industry is unsustainable.

It is clear that the biofuels currently being produced and consumed are having a negative impact on the price of food. Because of this it would be a mistake to rely on them as a source of energy. Other renewable sources, such as wind or solar do not come with such a heavy price.

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Times, Renewable Energy, and Us – Promoting the Feed-in Tariff

Our phones have been ringing off the hook this morning in the ILI-Energy office today. As much as I would like to put this down to the efforts of this fine blog I suspect it has more to do with the very positive feature about our CEO Mark Wilson that appeared in the Sunday Times yesterday. We’re rather pleased about the article as it outlines our business plan and the benefits we can bring to farmers and land-owners across the country. Perhaps more importantly it explains the feed-in tariff for Wind Energy introduced by the UK Government. Confusion about the scheme is a problem we have encountered fairly regularly so exposure and an explanation of the tariff should be as beneficial to us as getting the company name in the paper.

The article can be read here, all thanks to the writer Karl West.

Shale Gas and Scotland. Should fracking be banned?

Shale gas extraction could be coming to Scotland. The highly controversial process, known as fracking, being pushed as ‘green’ by the fossil fuel industry, could soon begin in the country if a company is given permission to begin exploratory drilling at Aith near Falkirk. This is despite the fact that the process has already been banned in France and drilling has been suspended in England.

Exploratory drilling has been carried out at site near Blackpool over a period of months but has ceased following increased seismic activity in the area. On the 27th of May Lancashire felt the rumbling of an earthquake which measured a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale. This is the second earthquake in the area since April and many experts have suggested a link with the drilling and the process of fracking – in which water and rock-dissolving chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressure to break apart shale rock and release gas. Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources (the company carrying out the drilling) commented: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts”

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

The British Geological Survery, who are carrying out the investigation released this statement on their website: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”

Whilst an increase in seismic activity seems to be one of the downsides of shale gas extraction there are other apparent dangers inherent in the process of fracking. Fracking releases methane (more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. A study published in the Climate Change letters journal extimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production escapes in to the atmosphere via leaks and venting over the lifetime of a well. It went on to conclude that shale gas had the same or even a slightly higher carbon footprint than coal which has long been considered the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel. Despite this there are many powerful lobbying groups pushing shale gas as the ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels.

Craig Bennett, policy and campiagns director at Friends of the Earth stated: “Instead of seeing shale gas as a miracle fix, the government should focus on developing the clean, safe energy alternatives at our fingertips like solar power and wind.

“Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change. Chasing after risky and hard-to-get fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands or drilling for oil in the Arctic may seriously undermine the move towards renewables as the only effective and sustainable solution to our energy challenges.”

Perhaps the most damaging environmental impact of shale gas extraction is the risk it poses to the water supply. Methane from shale gas can leak into and contaminate groundwater. In some extreme cases even rendering water flammable. Methane levels in water supplies close to shale gas extraction sites in Pennsylvania and upstate New York have been found to be up to 17 times higher than normal. 85% of drinking water wells within 1km of such sites was found to be contaminated and in some cases homeowners have been issued with gas detectors to lower the risk of explosion . One company in Pennsylvania has been banned from drilling for a year because a faulty well led to water pollution. Recent American research has found over 1000 cases of water contamination as a result of shale gas extraction.

Despite all of this a recent Commons report ruled that “There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.” Emphasis on should.

The European Climate Foundation has warned that: “Heavy dependency on gas…is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security or climate resilience…

“It will make Europe dependent on one potentially cost-volatile solution, and the successful commercialization of carbon capture and storage at an unrealistically large scale. It also reduces Europe’s energy security [Europe has far fewer shale gas reserves than the US or Asia].”

Shale gas is seemingly a high risk venture. Earthquakes, exploding water, exploding prices, and a serious risk to Scotland’s fledgling green energy sector. The Director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon commented that: “Whether the shale gas drilling and the earthquake were linked certainly needs investigated. However, we already know enough about the environmental problems associated with fracking to know that it should be banned in Scotland.

“Shale gas would be a disaster for the climate and its production could contaminate groundwater. Scotland should follow France’s example and ban it before it even gets going. Scotland should become the home of clean energy not another dirty fossil-fuel. Shale gas projects in Scotland would quickly tarnish our global claim to green credentials.”

What do you think? Should Scotland ban fracking and shale gas extraction?

Wikileaks and Wind – The need for a strong renewable energy base

It was revealed today that the United Kingdom risks becoming hugely reliant upon the importation of energy as North Sea oil and gas reserves begin to decline. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that the UK government has been aware of this looming problem for at least 3 years.

The cables state that UK oil and gas reserves are decling at a rate of 8% per year and that in less than ten years the country will be importing between 60-80% of oil and gas supplies. Such a development would leave the country exposed to potentially unreliable supplies from unstable regions and open to the political brinkmanship of corporations such as the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The then UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks wrote in one of the released documents that the UK government had already opened up talks with Norway and Qatar by 2008 to establish good relations before the anticipated massive increase in import needs. Wicks commented to the Scotsman newspaper, following the release of these cables, that Norway was a “good democratic human rights oil and gas producer”.

The cables also revealed that that had been an acknowledgement within the UK government that importation on good terms would not be sufficient to “address this deficit” and that it would be necessary to “ensure a diversity of supply”.

Wicks told the then US under secretary for economic and energy affairs Reuben Jeffery that the UK government was having to look at other forms of energy generation such as renewables, nuclear, etc:

“The UK will experience a severe decrease in North Sea gas and oil stocks by 2020, and it will need to improve its diversity of supply as well as move towards ‘homegrown’ measures such as nuclear and renewables.,

“In addition to diversifying supply, the UK is building up its ‘homegrown supply’ of nuclear and renewable energy and is moving towards clean coal and carbon capture.”

This acknowledgement of the problems inherent with the UK’s reliance upon fossil fuels at government level can be seen in the introduction of feed-in tariffs for wind and solar power by the previous administration in the years following these discussions. Renewables are necessary not only in the face of European Union carbon reduction targets but also to make up for the expected decline in North Sea production and the ever increasing cost of energy importation.

Professor Kemp, an energy expert at the University of Aberdeen, was quick to reinforce the continued viability of North Sea oil and gas extraction. He commentated that there remained “a lot of oil and gas that’s undiscovered in reserves” within the North Sea:

“We have produced about 40 billion barrels of oil and gas, and central estimates suggest that there are now between 20 and 21 billion left. But the upper estimate is that there could be about 35 billion.

“There are still a lot of reserves and it’s not a desperate situation. Our modelling shows that there will be oil and gas beyond 2040, but there will be much smaller production by then.”

And beyond 2040? All that can be guaranteed is that production cannot last forever. There is a finite amount of oil and gas in the North Sea and there will come a time when the taps run dry.

The issues of declining North Sea production, ever increasing fossil fuel prices, and the inevitable instability of some energy supplies means that the development of a strong green energy industry in the UK is both a matter of necessity and urgency. Renewable forms of energy generation such as wind are removed from the issues of importation, foreign policy, and fluctuating or ever-increasing cost.

The documents released by Wikileaks can be found here and here

European Drought – Another Nuclear Disaster?

A drought in Europe this summer could expose the Nuclear Industry to yet more bad publicity following the disaster at Fukushima. The driest spring for a century has hit France particularly hard, leaving French agriculture facing a reduction of 11.5% from their average wheat harvest and could lead to blackouts across mainland Europe.

With water urgently needed by French farmers and river levels rapidly dropping the French nuclear power industry is preparing for a potential worst case scenario. France produces 75% of its electricity from nuclear power and traditionally exports some of this power across Europe. However if river levels drop further then many nuclear plants in France will no longer be able to cool their reactors, forcing them to reduce power output or even to shut down completely. Thomas Hondre, head of nuclear reactors at ASN (the French nuclear watchdog), commented that “we are in a drought situation that could prolong – and in case of a severe drought, if water levels go below set limits, power output has to be cut or completely stopped.” Indeed such situations have already come to pass; in the heat waves of 2003 and 2006.

The problem is further exacerbated by the dramatic change that German energy policy has undergone in recent months. 7 of the country’s nuclear power plants have been shut down this year and are not expected to go back online. Indeed, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that by 2022 Germany will have shut down all of its nuclear reactors. This shortfall was expected to be bridged in the short term by importation of French nuclear power.

The French energy grid is not just under pressure from possible nuclear shutdown and increased export demands. French hydro-electric plants are also rapidly coming under pressure from reduced water availability. It has been estimated that 2.1 terawatt-hours of hydro-electric power have been lost over the past three months due to increasingly low water levels. 20% of French power capacity is generated through hydro-electricity. French coal power is also under strain as further reductions in river levels could mean that it would become increasingly difficult to transport coal to the plants.

With the threat of blackouts across Europe beginning to become a possibility the Nuclear power industry claims of reliable, dependable, safe power look set to take a further battering. What are your thoughts?

 

Ili-energy outlines local community scheme

Exciting times today in the Ili-energy office…

Exciting times today in the office as we received some positive press in the Dundee Courier. The article outlined some of the sites we have in planning at the moment in the Dundee area but more importantly it outlined our cash for the community scheme; of which we are very proud. This scheme commits us at Ili-energy to donating £5000 per Megawatt annually to charities local to our installed turbines for as long as they’re spinning: which is expected to be for 20-25 years. In times of spending cuts and austerity measures this is sure to be welcome news to our vital and increasingly squeezed charities.

Ili-energy is committed to local communities

Of course, it’s good news for Ili-energy too. A wee bit of positive publicity, hopefully some goodwill, and maybe planners up and down the country with a tear in their eye. But, don’t be fooled, this isn’t a sudden outpouring of the charitable spirit. Here at Ili-energy, we are committed to helping, and becoming a part of, the communities in which we work. Just as, over time, our turbines become just another part of the landscape. Our sister company, ILandi already donates 5% of their annual profits to vital institutions such as St Andrews Hospice.  It is vital for the wind energy industry to reach out to, the at times, sceptical communities in which they are erecting, or hope to erect, turbines.

Who do you think Ili-energy should commit to?

The important thing is, of course, that our cash for communities pledge is as beneficial as possible. Which types of charity do you think would be most appropriate for us to commit to? What are the community services that you feel are most under pressure and are most in need of funding? Here in the Ili-energy offices we have been discussing it all day. Personally I would offer the opinion that services such as hospices are chronically underfunded and are coming under increasing pressure as aging communities need them more than ever. That is my opinion, what is yours?