The German government’s Energy Agency has concluded that wind farms are a costly way to reduce carbon emissions. This wouldn’t be so worrying if Germany wasn’t the world’s leading producer of wind energy with 15,000 turbines in place.
The UK has embarked on an ambitious programme of wind farm development in an attempt to produce 10% of our electricity by sustainable means by 2010. Unlike fossil fuel burning power stations, wind farms do not release polluting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but the German report estimates that it costs between £28 to £53 to eradicate each tonne of carbon dioxide. In the UK the Audit Office has placed an even higher cost per tonne at something between £70 and £140.
Given figures like these opponents of wind farms are saying that it is a costly way to reduce carbon emissions and the farms themselves are a blight on the countryside. The UK has only 1,034 of the giant turbine propellers but the industry is expanding at the fastest rate in the world. If all the those in the pipe-line were to be given planning permission there would be an extra 200 farms over the next 7 years (source Platts Power UK). Successful planning applications for all of them are highly unlikely but the figure of 73 new farms over seven years is very probable. In 2004 some 22 new farms were developed mainly in countryside locations but the favoured position is increasingly becoming shallow waters off the coasts.
Critics of the energy source point out that they are not only unsightly but they have to be erected in locations that do not need large supplies of electricity so expensive infrastructure to carry the power to towns and cities adds greatly to the cost. They are also unpredictable - a report by Germany's national grid highlighted that in 2003 the power output from their wind farms amounted to only just over 16% of their maximum capacity and any shortfall has to be made up by conventional means from fuel burning power stations. Conversely when the wind blows hard there isn't any mechanism to store excess output.
The citing of farms in open countryside and on the borders of National Parks has been a contentious policy on the UK but the emerging South East Plan (regional guidance on planning for the whole of the south east) promotes wind as a suitable alternative to conventional (polluting) power sources although a map of UK sites (download below) shows that the south east is currently bereft of any significant wind power electricity generation.
Given the government's public commitment to wind power, it is unlikely that the German report will have any effect on the UK’s determination to supply some of the power to our towns and cities via the wind over the next 6 years.
Meanwhile in Sussex there have been 8 major power outages affecting 16,000 homes and businesses in the last 7 months. This is unlikely to be due to a problem with supply and more likely to be infrastructure weaknesses but whichever, it is bad for business in a region that has pledged to become one of the top 15 in Europe.
Click here to download Current & planned wind farms in UK
Read related items on:
National and regional policy
National and regional policy
South East Plan