Introduction

This blog is to help people form an opinion about the potential wind farm in Purbeck. Though I personally currently support the idea of the wind farm, I will try to avoid saying anything 'pro-farm'. I will try to present the facts as I understand them, and let you decide for yourself. It is intended to be an off-shoot from the main website
of the support group, giving more detailed information on the arguments, and responding to points made (either to us, or in the media).

Some of the issues are undoubtably very subjective, and each one of us needs to make up our own mind. However, I hope that this will help you make an informed opinion about the proposal.

This all comes with the caveat that I am NOT an expert. I am just someone interested who has looked into it, and wanted to to save others some time.

I would encourage you not to believe anything that I say just because I say it. If you have the time, go away and look this stuff up yourself. If you do not have the time, try to form an opinion about my objectivity, and base your trust (or lack thereof) on that.

The current state of this blog is a first offering. I will be updating the information and appearance as and when I find out more, and have time to update it.


"sorry for the crudity of the model, I haven't had time to built it to scale or to paint it" - Dr Emmett Brown




Contents:

Farm Details
About me
Why is wind being considered?
Why East Stoke?
Planning - Introduction
Potential Problems:
      
Noise
      
Birds
      
Bats
      
Shadow Flicker
      
Tax Payers Money
      
Intermittancy
      
Visual Impacts
      
What About the Off-shore Farm?
Planning Process
Responses
      01/02/10 - DART Website article 29/10/08
      10/02/10 - The Energy Markets
      11/02/10 - Why Not Nuclear?
      15/02/10 - DART Website - Costing the Earth BBC Radio 4 Documentary
      16/02/10 - DART Website Front Page 16/02/10
      18/02/10 - Daily Echo Article 17/02/10
      19/02/10 - What About Wave and Tidal?
      24/02/10 - Public Support?
      25/02/10 - Isn't Climate Change All Fake Anyway?
      02/03/10 - Reponse to Ms Crow's latter to the Echo (02/03/10)
      05/03/10 - Further Reponse to Ms Crow's latter to the Echo (02/03/10)
      06/03/10 - Parish Councils
     
26/03/10 - Public Response and Newspaper Articles
    07/04/10 - Intermittent Wind (again) and Newspapers (again)

    04/05/10 - Update and BBC Politics Show

    06/05/10 - I Agree With (Nick) DART?

    27/05/10 - Withholding Met Mast Data

    09/06/10 -Do Wind Turbines Actually Save CO2? 

    29/06/10 Withholding Mat Mast Data 2

    26/07/10 DART/CPRE Consultation responses

    30/07/10 The Portland Bird Shredder

    25/02/11a Review of Things

    25/02/11b Next Steps

  

Want to help?
Contact



Farm Details

The planned wind farm, known as the Alaska Wind Farm, consists of four 2.3 MW wind turbines in the Masters Pit quarry on the Puddletown Road. The tower of each would be around 85m high (the height of the current met mast), with the highest point of the blade reaching around 125m.

The proposed wind farm is a joint project between local wind farm developer Infinergy (based in Wimborne), and the land owner, Will Bond.

Loads of information can be found on the official website
here.
More can be found on the support group website,
here .

The wind farm is likely to generate enough electricity to meet the demand of over 4400 homes, which may be roughly ¼ of the homes in Purbeck (I haven't found the exact number yet).
For the technically minded, this assumes a Capacity Factor (a rough, conservative estimate of the windiness at the farm)of 25%, and taking the average annual household electricity use of 4500kWh.

This is enough to avoid the emission of over 10,000 tonnes of CO
2
each year.



About Me

Why start with 'About Me'? Seems a bit egotistical? Well, as I said in the introduction, I hope that you don't trust what I have written here just because it is here. Not everything on the internet is correct! I wish that everyone had the time to look into the details of this issue, but those that don't have the time have to accept information from secondary sources, such as this, and determine the degree to which they trust them. To this end, I thought that I would start by explaining why I am writing this blog, so that you can draw your own conclusions about the degree to trust the information it contains.

I grew up in Purbeck, living in Corfe and then Wareham. I have since been off to various uni's studying and working in the field of astrophysics. I was always interested in the environment and in 2007, after learning more about the true scale of the problems facing our world, took a career change to work for an environmental charity. I now work as a sustainability consultant in Dorchester, and visit friends and family in Wareham at least twice a week. So I am:
a) Reasonably well informed about the wider issues of energy and sustainability, and
b) Pre-disposed to liking the idea of wind energy

I started helping out with the 'campaign' for the windfarm voluntarily. However, it was taking up a lot of time, and so Infinergy have now hired me to work on it part time, as an educational ambassedor. This is an important point. The wind farm developers are paying me. Some may consider this to compromise my independance. However, my training as a scientist has taught me to be objective. I will attempt to portray the facts as I see them. I am still open to the idea that the wind farm is a bad idea. However, I am yet to see any evidence to back up that view, and I see a lot of evidence suggesting that it should be done. Also, though I am being paid to talk to people about the wind farm, I have absolutely no financial stake in it going ahead.
Enough about me.



Why is Wind Energy Being Considered?

Wow, thats a question with a potentially very long answer! I will try to keep it below 120,000 words.

Firstly, 'climate change'. Or, as it should be called: Anthroprogenic Climate Destablisation (man-made climate chaos). Does anyone still 'deny' this? If you do, it might not be worth you reading the rest of this bit. Skip on to the section below about peak oil and energy security.
Now that only those of you who believe the majority of scientists are reading, how many of you understand the issues? A much higher number that the deniers I suspect. I have been studying it for 3 yrs now, and I wouldn't claim to understand it!

A good place to start is always
wikipedia. An informative (and some might say, amusing) view into the world of the American right can be found at one of the many wikipedia competitors, conservipedia.

To sum up a very complicated issue in a ridiculously short way:
The Earths climate has always been in a constant state of flux. The average global temperature has varied by tens of degrees C as various factors (the sun, plate tectonics, the distribution of life, etc) have affected the balance of the perfectly natural greenhouse effect. These changes have historically occured over tens of thousands to millions of years. Over the last 200 yrs, we have taken a large store of greenhouse gases from one part of the natural cycle (locked up in the rocks), and put them into the atmosphere (i.e. burning fossil fuels). We have not added any new way for greenhouse gasses to be removed from the atmosphere, so this flow is disrupting the natural (and large) flows of carbon. This will probably lead to a relatively fast warming, which will may well destabilise the climate system, and will be be hard for many things (natural systems, many species, and our society) to adapt to.The dangers of this behaviour were raised in the 1970's, but it has taken until now for much of the population and the mainstream politicians to take it seriously.
Since our economy is based on energy, and energy has been falsely cheap for 200 yrs (i.e. we have not taken the full costs into account), all possible solutions involve things getting more expensive, and us all getting relatively poorer. It is this that many people don't like about climate change.

Since most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels to 'generate' energy (heating, electricity and vehicle fuel), we need to use less energy and generate energy from sources without carbon emissions. We'll come back to this later.

Even if you are yet to be convinced about the science of climate change (a perfectly valid point of view, if you are fully informed about all the issues), it is hard to deny the concept of Peak Oil. Oil, gas and coal are finite resources. They will run out. Probably quite soon in the case of oil, not long after that in the case of gas, and then much later for coal. This is another very complicated subject, which I urge you to read more about. Once again,
wikipedia is a good place to start. In short, everyone agrees that they will run out. The only argument is when. The problem is that our entire society and globalised comsumer economy is totally depended upon them, and growth based upon them. What would happen if oil started to run out? Everything would get much more expensive! Many businesses would become unviable. Unemployment. Recession (I am not economist, so take this guess with a pinch of salt). The worst case is that food production and transportation would slow. How would our cities survive? Look at the information provided by the Transition Movement for more info on the consequences of peak oil, and the potential solutions. Essentially, we need to become more locally-dependent, and find ways of using energy sources no based on fossil fuels. Sound familiar?

Energy Security. Similar to the last point. Even if you deny the human influence on the climate system, and think that peak oil/gas/coal is so far off that it is not relevant, it is hard to deny that the UK has become a net energy importer. The North Sea oil and gas fields are in decline. We mine very little coal. We have become dependant upon energy sources from other countries. Did anyone notice our government shouting loudly about how terrible Russia's invasion of Georgia was last year? Once again, I am NOT an expert on international relations, but did the fact that Mr Putin (sorry, Mr Medvadev) have control of the gas taps, and therfore our economy, have anything to do with it?

There is also a potential issue with our electricity supply. Many of our coal powerstations are due to be shut down over the coming years because they do not conform to EU emissions regulations (nothing to do with greenhouse gases - this is direct poisons!). Also, many of the nuclear reactors need to be shut down, as they are way beyond there design lifetimes. Once again, these are not my areas of expertise, so if you know better, please let me know (see contact details). A new generation of power stations is not likely to come online in time, possibly leading to an 'energy gap' for several years around 2015. We need more electricity generation facilities. Prefferably ones which are quite quick to build!

So, we need to use less energy, and generate our energy in less fossil-fuel efficient ways. But how much? I am writing this as the Copenhagen conference is going on, so this bit might very quickly become obsolete. The scientists of the IPCC say that world emissions have to peak sometime between 2015 and 2020 for there to be a sizeable chance of us avoiding a 2 degree centigrade rise in temperatures (which is when the nasty destabilisations might occur). The governments of the world are currently thrashing out how this will happen. However, the UK has the targets in the Climate Change Act. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050, with an intermediary target for 2020 ranging of 34%. The EU as a whole seems to be also committing to 20 or 30% but by 2020.

So we need to reduce emissions. Can we do this purely by reducing energy use? Or do we need to switch to renewable energy? At this point, I will point interested parties to the quite excellent book by David Mackay (a Professor of Physics at Cambridge) called
Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air. This free book looks ahead to 2050 to answer these questions by looking at the technical possibilities. It is a great read, and to summarise it in far-too-short a way:
An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will mean an almost total removal of fossil fuel burning. This will require the maximum possible energy efficiency measures as well as the full exploitation of all of the renewable energy sources (on- and off-shore wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass) and some combination of new nuclear power stations, large coal power stations with carbon capture and storage or a continent-spanning supergrid supplying solar energy from the Sahara. This is if we do each thing to the maximum of its potential. Not if the most economically and financially optimal solution is sought.

Even if you don't believe Prof Mackay (and lets face it, a lot of this problem comes down to people not trusting scientists), various goverment agencies have determined that renewable energy is required. The EU has given the UK a legally binding target of acquiring 15% of all of our energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This is energy, not electricity, so it includes heating and transport fuel. In the UK Renewable Energy Strategy of 2009, the Government has suggested that since the electricity system is the easiest to change, we should aim for 34% of electricity generated to come from renewable sources by 2020 (allowing the heat and transport targets to fall below 15%). This has been sub-divded by the regions of the UK. In Dorset, we fall withing the South West region. The South West has then sub-divided the target amongst its constituent counties. The result is that Dorset (inc Poole and Bournemouth) has a target to have 63 to 84MW of electricity generation deployed by 2010, and 118 MW deployed by 2020. While the 2010 target is notional, the 2020 one is likely to be officailly enforcable, and come with penalties if missed.

So, how are we doing, given that by 2010 we should have 63 to 84 MW? We currently have around 12MW installed. This is mostly made up from a landfill gas burning station in Poole and a sewage works digester in Bournemouth. So we have either 1 or 13 months (depending on how you define 2010) to deploy at least 51MW. Hmmmmmmm. It's a good job that the 2010 target doesn't come with any penalties, isn't it? the proposed wind farm is 9.2MW, in case you have forgotten.

I hope that I have got across that we need renewable energy, and we need it in Dorset. The next question is why does it have to be wind?
The answer is money. It makes the world go round. The electricity system was privatised in the late 80's/early 90's. This means that private companies own the grids, the power stations and doing the management and billing. They will ONLY build energy systems which are profitable (non-profitable investments would not be acceptable to their share holders or the banks which provide the loans).

So which energy generation systems are profitable? At the moment, in the UK: land-fill gas, sewage digestion, onshore wind, offshore wind, and some forms of biomass generation. Dorset has limited capacity for the first two, and there are issues with sourcing the fuel for biomass plants (for example my understanding is that the proposed biomass plant in Portland will be burning palm oil from tropical regions. What effect do we think this will have on rainforests?). To boil down to the point, thanks to those clever chaps from Denmark in the 1970's (who developed the technology on a usefully large scale) and some Government-administered market subsidies (see later), onshore wind turbines are the most profitable form of renewable energy system. They are therefore the easiest ones to get capital funding for, and therefore the easiest to build. So on-shore wind turbines are the first, and needed, step down a route which will lead to more off-shore turbines, then tidal stream turbines, tidal lagoons and barrages, wave power and eventually solar energy.



Why East Stoke

To break our dependence on fossil fuels, we need to exploit all renewable energy sources, and this means tapping them wherever possible. Dorset has several renewable energy deployment targets (as mentioned above, set before the Climate Change Act and Copenhagen, and therefore more likely to rise than fall), which it is miles short of achieving. There are very few sites in Dorset suitable (from a resource and planning point of view) for renewable energy generation.

Much of Dorset (and nearly all of West Dorset District) is covered by an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which procludes the construction of wind turbines. Much of the rest has houses on it (and due to noise issues, wind turbines have to be a certain distance from any home). Of the remaining sites, only a handfull have sufficient wind resource to even consider a wind farm. Several of those have already had planning permission for wind farms rejected. We could avoid constructing wind farms and wait for some technological 'silver bullet' (fusion reactors?), but to do so means ignoring our targets (which may soon come with financial penalties to the local councils), remaining totally dependent on other parts of the country, and dragging our heels over an issue which will only ever gain importance.



Planning Introduction

As a development for energy infrastructure of under 50MW in capacity, the decision to grant or deny planning permission for the Alaska Wind Farm will be made by Purbeck District Council. There are many objective planning policies which the application will be judged against by the district council's hard working planning officers. Based on how the plans compare to these policies, the officers will come to a conclusion and pass a recomendation on to the council planning committee. This committee is formed of elected members of the council, and has the final say on whether or not to grant permission.

This committee is semi-judicial in nature, and its decisions are based on an objective reading of the facts placed before it. However, as elected officals, and human nature being what it is, it has been know for the planning committees of other councils (not Purbeck, I hasten to add!) to be influenced by perceived popular opinion. More information about the specific planning process for the Alaska wind farm will be given later, or you can skip to it
here.



Potential Problems with Wind energy

Aren't there loads of problems with wind energy? Well yes, there must be, or there would be wind turbines everywhere! Many objections are raised at the prospect of any wind farm, including visual impact, noise, bird slaughtering, bat killing, shadow flicker, money wasting, and affecting house prices.

As mentioned above, as part of the planning application, there are many strict rules to prevent wind turbines being put up in locations where many of these issues are relevent. Infinergy have undertaken a full environmental impact assessment to prove, as well as can be, that none of these are a problem. The following few sections summarise my understanding of this study, and I will add to this as I learnt more. The results of the study form the Environmental Statement of the planning application, which will be assessed by the planning officers. There is a non-technical summary (NTS) for those of us who are not planners, which can be downloaded from the Purbeck District Council website.

It seems to me that most of the objections raised stem from one of these issues (normally visual impact, or the possible effect on house prices), and people then grasp any other possible negative impact they can, without being fully aware of the issues, or the full data for the specific site.



Noise

The biggest objection most people have to wind turbines is the noise they generate. Noise comes from two sources; the gearbox and generation equipment in the hub, and the tips of the blades as they move through the air. The planning system has rules about the amount of noise which is acceptable at a domestic property. This is measured as an increase in noise above a background level. This essentially gives a general minimum distance from a turbine to a house. The East Stoke turbines are all further away from any houses than this.

There are detailed standards for determining noise impacts, based around a national standard called ETSU-R-97. Site-specific studies have included detailed monitoring of the background noise levels at 4 representative locations around the site. These can be compared with the windspeeds from the met mast. This then gives a background to assess the predicted noise levels against at various different wind speeds. When the windspeed is low, nothing is turning, and so there is no noise from the gearbox, generator or blade tips. When the wind speed is high, the wind itself is generally louder than the turbines (as it rustles leaves, hits walls etc). When wind speeds are intermediate, the turbulence from blade tips' motion is the main source of noise unless you are up close. These levels of noise generation, and the resultant levels at the sites of local houses, can be predicted by complex computer programmes which model echoustic transmission. This has been performed, and the results show that noise levels will be within the commonly accepted acceptable limits.

"But who has done this modelling?", I heard you ask (I hope). Well, some noise experts. The study was paid for by Infinergy. "But Infinergy could be paying them to give them the answers that they want!", I hear (hopefully slightly fewer of) you ask. Hopefully, the professional integrity of the noise consultant means that this is not the case (if it is, then the entire planning system needs to be reformed, and probably therefore made more expensive in terms of tax-payers contribution). However, since this is such as important issue, Purbeck District Council have employed a separate noise expert to check the work of Infinergy's. They are happy with it, and they have no interest in faking compliance.

Experiments with the same model of turbine as proposed, but at a different site have shown that 350 – 400m is the maximum distance that they can be heard from.

Everyone does agree that the increase in noise levels will be significant in the corner of the Scouts camping ground nearest the turbines. Even though it may not be a major issue, the turbines closest to the Scout camp will be turned off at night when people are staying there.



Birds

Wind turbines kill birds! So people shout. Rarely do people shout: “Buildings kill birds”, or “cars kill birds”, and call for the banning of either of those. In reality, both buildings and vehicles kill far more birds than wind turbines. This should not, however, be a license to put turbines anywhere.

Turbines are a risk to 2 sorts of birds: local and migratory. A detailed ecology survey of the site has been conducted, and the species of local birds have been studied. There are three main species that may be affected, including nightjars. Of all these species observed, the ones with the highest flight ceiling fly at a maximum of around 25m off the ground. The lowest point that the blades will reach is more than 40m off the ground, so it will be very hard for them to do any damage! One of the reasons for the wind farm being reduced from 6 to 4 turbines is to ensure that nightjars will not be discouraged from avoiding any potential nesting land. This is not an issue with the new configuration.

Patterns of bird migration in the area have also been studied, and the wind farm is not on any migration route (the routes normally go across Poole harbour or north past Portland.

Careful modelling of bird population densities (based on observed data from other wind farms) has shown that the only bird deaths expected over the 25yr lifetime of the turbines is two buzzards, and this is probably a conservative over-estimate bases on an over-estimate of the number of buzzards in the area.

Natural England have been consulted about the impacts of the site on wildlife, and they are happy for it to go ahead with the present 4 turbine scheme.

Many of the worries about the affect of turbines on birds stem from a wind farm in the USA which was constructed in the 1980's (I think). Since the planning system is different in the US, and was far less rigorous than our's currently is, a wind farm was built in a valley on a migration route. The turbines had more, and shorter, blades and span faster than modern machines. This meant that many birds were killed. But the lesson has been learnt, and this experience has influenced planning decisions since.



Bats

Like birds, bat deaths can be a problem with wind turbines. Unlike birds, who are injured by directly hitting turbine blades, bats are injured by the effect of air pressure differences on their lungs. This effect is relevant under the blades and therefore by the tower (which bats can confuse with a tree). Bats like flying near trees and other tall objects and rarely fly distances over open ground. Placing the turbine towers away from the nearest trees ensures that bats don't find them.

Part of the Environmental Impact Study conducted for the site, the bat population has been studied, and impacts on it estimated. It has been determined that no bats will be harmed.



Shadow Flicker

Some people worry about the flickering shadow from the blades passing between them and the sun. This can happen when the sun is low in the sky, and is important when the moving shadow is cast upon a window. The exact locations and times of when and where this will happen can (and have been) calculated and modelled.

Even though the speeds that the blades rotate will mean that the frequencies of the flicking should not cause any health impacts, the turbines will be programmed to shut down at the times where the flicker could cause any problem.



Waste of Taxpayers Money?

The wind farm will receive NO government money. The power industry has been privatised since the early 1990s and the government cannot directly interfere with the competition of the free market.

However, the government has introduced a market-based schemes where renewable energy projects are subsidised by the power companies (and therefore the cost is spread over tens of millions of customers). Without this, no renewable energy project (with the possible exception of some large hydro dams) would ever get built, as fossil fuels are inherently cheaper than renewable energy production (which is the problem!). The exact cost of this subsidy on the average household is not know to us exactly, but it is of the order of a few tens of pounds per year. Compare this to the money you can save on your bills by changing your method of payment!




Intermittancy

One argument used against wind turbines is that they are intermittent. This is undeniable. The wind does not blow steadily. However, what is deniable is that this is a problem. The grid is designed to cope with varying supplies and demands.

The demand on the UK's national grid varies from 30 to 60GW throughout the day, sometimes very quickly (all the kettles in the ad break of Corry, for example). Also, 'normal' powerstations are intermittent, either intentionally to meet the changing demand, or unintentionally when something goes wrong. Quite often, Sizewell B is the biggest source of intermittancy, as it has a habit of 'tripping out'. That is more than a GW of capacity going off-line instantaneously, and the grid copes. A few MWs varying slowly with the wind is not a problem.

As implied above, the inputs to the grid (the power stations) vary intentionally. The nuclear power stations run at full capacity pretty much all of the time, as this is the cheapest way of operating them. The coal, oil and gas power stations are continually turned up and down as the demand changes. If electricity is generated by wind turbines, these stations do not have to be turned up as much. So although fossil power stations are not dismantled, the amount of fuel they consume (and therefore the amount of greenhouse gases they emit) is reduced. The construction of wind turbines alone cannot cause traditional power stations to be total removed from the grid, as they are required to provide backup (for when it is not windy). But they can AVOID THE BURNING OF FOSSIL FUELS.

That said, grid stability may be a problem if more than 20% of our capacity was wind farms. Since it is currently much less than 5%, this is not currently an argument against building more. Even if all the wind capacity in the planning system on- and off-shore were built, the UK would not reach this level. Even if we do reach this limit, it is not insurmountable. Energy storage and trading to other countries grids can smooth out variations in the relationship between supply and demand.



Visual Impact

They are big. They move. You will be able to see them from a long way away.Is that bad?

This is where we get to the subjective. There are planning definitions of visually intrusive. I have to confess that I currently don't understand them. But the planning offices will deal with them. Since this is subjective, i will give my opinion, and leave you to form your own. I think they are asthetically pleasing. I do not know if that is because I genuinely like the look of them, or because I see them as a symbol of the fact that our species may yet be mature enough to save itself from itself.

What will they look like from where you live? Infinergy have done photmontages from many points of view, which can be seen
here.

If you do not like the look of them, I would just ask you to ask yourself this question: Does the affect on your emotional condition that you will suffer when you see them (combined with the regularity that you will see them) matter more than Purbeck/Dorset doing a little bit (much less than we 'have' to do, see above) to stop the social strife (wars?) and climatic choas that energy dependance, peak oil and climate change may lead to?



What About the Off-shore Farm?

Hang on. Isn't there going to be a big off-shore wind farm off the Dorset coast?

This is an interesting one. It breaks down into 2 questions. Will there actually be an off-shore wind farm, and is it relevant to this application?

Will there be a wind farm offshore? The recent announcements in the local and national media were about the winning of rights to build off-shore wind farms. The sea bed in national waters is owned by the crown estate. It therefore controls whether or not turbines can be built. For the last year or so, it has been recieving and analysing bids for the rights to develop off-shore wind farms in some of the deeper waters it owns. A similar process has occurred over the last 6 or 7 years regarding the shallower waters. This time around, one of the potential sites is located off the Dorset coast. It is located south of a line connecting Old Harry with the Needles, and may extend from south of St Catherine's Point to south of Tyneham. The licence was won by a Dutch company called Eneco New Energy, and is for a 900MW farm.

The key point is that at the moment all that has happened is that a license has been issued. Before anything is built, extensive surveys of the sea bed are required, along with detailed analysis of whether or not the scheme is financially viable. If the sea bed is suitable, and if the cost of off-shore turbines in such deep water comes down enough that the scheme is financially viable, it will probably be 2016 or so before anything is built. But if it is, it is likely to be 900MW. 900MW! Cool!

So we come to the second question. Is this relevant to the current application? A further 3 points. Firstly, on a technical note, it is not a material planning concern and so should not formally be considered. But here, I am not talking about the formal planning decision - I am talking about the merits of the wind farm in general. Secondly, isn't this 900MW way more than the 64, 84 or 118MW target? And thirdly, is this (and the other 30-odd GW just announced) so much that we don't need onshore wind?

Well, if the 900MW counts towards Dorset's renewable energy target, then obviously we don't need any on-shore wind. Unfortunately, it will not count. Though the farm will be off the Dorset coast, it will not be in Dorset. Also, although Dorset planning Authorities will be consulted (along with Hampshire and Isle of Wight ones) on allowing the farm to be built, they will not be the final arbiters. This decision will be made by the new Major Infrastructure planning body. So Dorset won't be able to say that they were responsible for it going ahead. The off-shore farm will count towards the UK renewable energy targets, but not Dorset's.

But this 900MW wind farm is part of 33GW of new off-shore wind! When combined with all the existing and currently-consented off-shore wind, surely that is enough? The question is, enough for what? Enough to get to the 34% electricity generation by 2020? Possibly, I have not done the calculation. In terms of generation capacity, maybe. But in terms of energy generated, I would guess almost certainly not (because even off-shore, the turbines will probably only achieve a capacity factor of around 30%). Even so, this 34% is just an arbitary interrim target. It is getting off fossil fuels by 2050 which is important. In this case, it is nowhere near enough. Our electricity generation capacity will need to increase from around 80GW to closer to around 150GW (as transport and heating become electrically-powered rather than using gas and oil). New technologies like tidal stream turbines and wave power will provide some of this, but we will also lose the 60-ish GW of fossil fuel power stations. If you want to see detailed breakdowns of the potential energy generation break-downs, I point you towards Prof Mackay's book
here. In summary, we need on-shore wind too!


 


Planning Process

The exact process that the application will go through is fairly clear, though the timings are not. Once the application is received, Purbeck District Council officially have 16 weeks to determine their response. The majority of this time will be used by the planning officers assessing the technical aspects of the application and comparing it to the relavent planning policies. During the early stage, it is likely that each Parish Council within Purbeck District will be consulted. Towards the end of the period, the officers will reach a conclusion, which will be passed to the planning board of the council (the politicians) along with some measure of the local support or resistance. Once more information is available, I will put it here, and it will appear on the main support website
here.

 


Responses

As with all contentious issues, people have numerous questions, and numerous points are made. This section will be an ongoing attempt to respond to points raised in the media.

Many of the points responded to will be from DART. Others will be local people interested in the issues. DART (Dorset Against Rural Turbines) is the local opposition group who want to see planning permission denied.

It should be stressed that both DART and the support group have the same end goal in mind. We want to protect the countyside. All they we differ on is our perception of the relative threats to the countryside.

In this section, I will attempt to respond to the comments made by DART regarding the Alaska wind farm on their website and in the local media. My motivation is not to argue, just respond with an alternative point of view, so that anyone reading this can make up their own mind.


 01/02/10 - DART Website 29/10/08

The front page of the DART website has featured an article about the Alaska Wind farm for the last year. It can be read in full
here, and I will respond section by section.

Background
"Huge numbers of objections" and "unpopular". The nature of samples, and how you draw statistical conclusions from them is a little too much to go into here, so I am not going to say that more people support than object, because I honestly don't know. Some people object. Some support.
'objection from Natural England'. Natural England have been re-consulted. When the planning officers report is published, we will discover whether or not they object this time around.

Accusations about information
I don't know what Infinergy claimed, so can't really comment on this. I haven't listened to the Costing the Earth episode (though whenever I have heard the programme, I have considered it to be excellent). On the general topic of what I imagine the programme was about: wind turbines do not generate electricity all the time, and they do recieved subsidies if they generate electricity. No-one disputes this.

Wildlife Concerns Dismissed
As i mentioned above, I am not an ecologist, and so I do not claim to understand these issues in great depth. Wind turbines can indeed pose a risk to birds. Will these turbines affect birds? Detailed studies of local and migratory birds have been undertaken (see above), and show that there will not be a significant affect.
"Nightjars flying where they risk being killed by turbine blades". The ecological surveys have indeed studied Nightjars. They have been seen flying near the proposed site. However, the maximum height that any of them have been seen to fly at is around 25m. The lowest point that the turbine blades will reach is around 40m. It is therefore just the towers that the birds might interact with. Are these towers therefore much different to trees?
"Proven research - related in the Times report of 26th August 08 and BBC online". I'll come on to the main point in a second, but as a scientist who sees things that I do understand reported by the media quite often, I would recommend a large pinch of salt be taken when reading anything about research that has been interpreted or simplyfied - even by such venerable institutions as the Times and the BBC.
"barotrauma" - I have talked to various ecologists about this, and my understanding is that it is a problem when bats spend time around turbines. The question is, will bats spend time around these turbines? Its one where we have to trust the ecologists I'll afraid. The ecological survey says that bats won't be affected.

"Infinergy have also dismissed other alternative energy sources". Once again, I am not sure what Infinergy said, so can't really comment in detail. They may have said that no other energy source can provide the required renewable energy in Dorset alone. We have two goals, the local targets for 2010 (64-84MW) and 2020 (118MW), and the goal of getting off fossil fuels as a country by 2050. For the 2010 target, there is around 12MW of landfill and sewerage gas generation, and plans for an 18MW biofuels power station (Portland) and a 10MW energy from waste biomass plant (Winfrith). I am not aware of any others (though of course that does not mean that they are not there), so it seems that we need more. And we have wind we could tap into.
DART offer alternatives like a German-esque feed in tariff. I have not looked through the DART wedsite to see what these are, but as a renewable energy consultant, I do understand feed-in tarrifs. Since DART wrote this article, a feed-in tariff has been introdued in the UK (one of the two 'green energy cash back schemes you may of heard about in the media). Homeowners will get extra payments to ensure that the financial payback time of installing renewable electricity generation is about 12yrs (unlike the current 25 to 90 yrs). An average electricity-generating solar panel (the main target of this scheme, although medium-scale wind turbines do the best out of it financially) is rated at 2kW and generates around 1,700 kWh of electricity each year. If you compare this to the 21 million kWh the wind farm will generate, you would need 11,800 homes to buy such a PV array. Will this happen in Dorset? It seems unlikely, as such solar panels would cost around £10,000 each (but we can hope!). Not that I think PV is bad. It is just not comparable to the capacity of wind farms. On the point of getting off fossil fuels by 2050, I point you towards Prof Mackay's book again (
here). Essentially, we need all possible renewable energy sources. It is not a case of either-or.

"Infinergy’s claim that transmission losses are minimal as energy produced goes into the regional distribution network not the national grid is untrue". Once again, I have to confess that I am not an electrical engineer (been of a theme developing here, isn't there), and so I don't know for sure if the generation will go into the local or national grid. My limited understanding is that it would be fed into the local distribution grid. However, the point raised to back up the statement is not really relavent. Infinergy is quoted as saying that although they "would love to see energy generated by these 6 turbines used by Purbeck residents, but as the supply of electricity is out of our hands, it becomes an issue for with the electricity supplier”. This is a sympton here of the misunderstanding that surround the energy markets. The electricity generated by the turbines will be fed into a grid, and will flow to the local sources of resistance. Physically, it will be used by the local demands (with possible exceptions due to grid morphology). However, what Infinergy are referring to is 'supplying' electricity. They mean the formal service of retailing electricity to customers. They are not allowed to do this. They have to sell the electricity to one of the retailers (E.On, EdF, Npower, Ecotricity, etc), who then sell it on to customers. So although the turbines will be physically providing electricity to local demand when the wind is blowing, they will not be contractually supplying is as retailers. This is a relection on the rather silly way that the energy markets work (but I am not an economist, so I can't really criticise).

Photomontages
It seems that DART have done a photomontage, Infinergy have critised it for not being accurate, and DART have gone away an done another one which is the top of the two shown on the page. Without getting my ruler out, I can't say either way whether it is any good or not. But it does seem to get the hubs level with the top of the mast, so can't be far off in terms of height. So it may be a reasonable representation of what it will look like. Does it look bad? Oooh, subjectivity.
In the second image, they seem to have got the height right again, but possibly made a mistake with the contrast levels. It would appear that the turbines are in bright daylight, while the background is a bit greyer. This makes them stand out more (once again, a bad thing?). Of course, it is possible. This is why their are set standards to which photomontages are made. These are applied by proffessionals and used during the formal application. Examples of the offical ones can be found on Infinergy's website
here. Just click on the viewpoint to see what it will look like.
Last point about dishonestly claiming the turbines would not be visible from 1100m while saying that they will be visible from Ringwood and Dorchester, the visibility will vary depending upon weather conditions.


As more statements from DART are publicised, I will respond.


 

10/02/10 - The Energy Markets

As alluded to above, the way the energy markets work is slightly counter-intuitive. However, to appreciate how wind farms fit into the UK’s electricity system, it is useful to understand how this system works.  Electricity generation and distribution is essentially split into two levels; the real, physical level and the contractual, legal level.

I think the best way to get a handle on how these interact is to look at how the system worked historically. Before the late 1980’s (at which point the energy sector became privatised) electricity generation, distribution and retail was run by the national grid for the government. To oversimplify a little, the electricity board owned around 80GW of generation capacity. The UK demand varied from around 30GM to 65GW from hour to hour and day to day. Nuclear power stations were run at full power all the time to meet the 30GW demand (the baseload), and other power stations (oil, coal, gas) were turned up and down to meet the rest of the demand (they are load-following). Essentially, someone sat in a central office with a big control board and asked for more or less power from each station depending on demand, location and relative fuel cost (and for those that have been involved in this, I know I am simplifying). All this electricity flowed into the grid, and the laws of physics (resistance, current and voltage) controlled where each unit of energy was used – you got power from your local source. So most of Dorset’s baseload was provided by the Winfrith nuclear plant, and whenever Poole power station was generating, energy flowed from it to Purbeck. Contractually, we all paid our bills to the Southern Electricity Board.

Since privatisation, this model has been split in two. The physics are still the same. You still physically get your electricity from the most local source of generation (or more correctly, the one with the least path resistance. Currently the Didcot coal powerstation or the Southampton gas one most of the time). However, who you contractually buy the electricity from is entirely separate from this. The system is now run by a set of companies providing 4 different services:

Generators build, own and run power stations and sell electricity to the wholesale market. Examples include EOn, EdF, Npower, Ecotricity, Infinergy, etc.

National Distribution is performed by the company which bought the national grid – Transo. This is the nation-wide grid of high-voltage cables. These do not run to houses, but connect the power stations to the local distribution grids.

Local Distribution is performed companies which own the local distribution grids. Since there is only one local distribution grid in each area, there is on one of these suppliers. In Dorset, it is Scottish and Southern Energy. In other areas of the country, it is EOn, EdF, Npower, Scottish Power, etc

Retailers buy electricity from the wholesale market and sell it to customers (us). They are the people that send us bills. Examples are EOn, EdF, NPower, Ecotricity, Southern and Scottish Energy, etc. The amount of electricity they buy throughout the year has to be equal to the total amount they sell. But where they buy and sell the electricity to is irrelevant. They buy electricity by the half-hour (i.e. at 4pm on Tuesday 35th of Octember, EOn may buy 20MWh from an EdF coal powerstation to cover the half hour from 4pm to 4.30pm. The amount that the variable-load powerstations generate depends upon how much the retailers buy from each one. Of course, demand still varies second to second, as it always used to, so this half-hourly market system still requires a national grid chap at a desk somewhere controlling the second-by-second detailed outputs.

Sound complicated?

Well it does to me. An analogy with groceries may be useful. Imagine you are shopping online with delivery.

The owners of the power stations are the farmers. They grow the cabbages or generate the electricity. The national distribution people are the bulk lorry drivers, who move the cabbages from the farms to the shops. The local distributors are the Tesco’s delivery vans that deliver the cabbages to your door. The energy retailers are supermarket. They buy the goods (cabbages or units of electrical energy) wholesale and sell them on for a profit.

The only difference between the cabbage system and the electricity system is that in the grocery system, cabbages come from somewhere in the country to your local shop then to you. In the electricity analogy, they come from your local farm through the bulk hauler and the delivery vans straight to you, and the supermarket may be based in Newcastle and have nothing to do with them at all.

I am not an economist, so I don’t understand exactly the point of this system. It is something to do with introducing competition to drive down cost. I think is has worked in that regard. However, as pointed out by OFGEM (the people in charge of overseeing this marketplace of generators, distributors and retails) last week, it is not likely to be able to provide long-term security of supply and sustainability without more regulation.

The relevance to the Alaska wind farm is that Infinergy are a generator. They generate electricity and sell it wholesale to one of the retailers. That is why they cannot sell it directly to local people (the licensing procedure for retailers is very complicated). So although our demand in Purbeck will be physically met by the electricity from the wind farm (when the wind is blowing), your supplier will still be whoever you normally buy your electricity from; Npower, EOn, EdF, etc (and they may not have actually bought any electricity from Infinergy!). I would recommend Ecotricity as a supplier, but to explain why would take up too must space here. If enough people ask, I will expand on that point.

 


 

 11/02/10 - Why not Nuclear Power?

 

A bit of a pre-emptive response here, as this is a standard question.

An argument often used by those not wanting wind turbines is that we should just have nuclear power instead (perhaps re-build the Winfrith plant?). It is an interesting point, but not an argument against wind turbines in my view. Let me explain. Wind turbines contribute to meeting renewable energy deployment targets, reducing carbon emissions and improving energy security.

Firstly, nuclear power is not renewable (though it may be considered sustainable, depending on how you define sustainable). Therefore it does not contribute to Dorsets 2010 or 2020 renewable energy targets or the EU requirement for 15% energy from renewables by 2020.

Secondly, does it save carbon? Firstly, does it emit carbon? Nuclear reactors don’t emit greenhouse gases during operation like coal and gas plants do. They do require energy to build and decommission. Various studies (including those quoted by the IPCC) have suggested that the carbon intensity of electricity from nuclear power (averaged over its entire life cycle) is around 40 grammes of CO2e per kWh. This is much better than gas (190g) and coal (700-800g). So yes, they do save greenhouse gas emissions if they replace fossil fuel power stations. My understanding is that they are even cost competitive with fossil fuels.

However, this is not an argument against wind turbines because they meet different requirements. The demand for electricity in the UK varies from around 30GW to 65GW throughout the day (and may get as high as 200GW or more if/when we switch to electric cars and heating). My understanding (which may be based on older models of reactor) is that nuclear power stations generally run best (give the cheapest electricity) when they run at full power – their efficiency drops off if they are turned down. So they are run at full wack all the time. This is why you can sign up for cheap electricity at night.  Nuclear powerstations therefore provide the baseload (up to 30GW, and all numbers are approximate), but something else is required to meet the varying demand (to load-follow).  At the moment, controllable generation like gas and coal is used.  Wind could not replace nuclear for the base load. However, wind generation can meet some of the variable load. When the wind is blowing, electricity above the baseload is generated, and less gas or coal is burnt (so less greenhouse gas emissions). In the future, these controllable load-following systems may well be biomass or waste incineration, but the same point holds – when the wind is blowing, less fuel is burnt. When the wind blows at night, when the nukes already meet the demand, the energy can be stored through pumped storage – pumping water into high lakes to be dropped back through hydro turbines. This already happens with the energy from the nukes. In the future, charging the batteries of electric cars may fulfil the same function.

Do nukes help with energy security? To my knowledge, we don’t have many uranium deposits in the UK. However, I think that most of our uranium comes from Australia and Canada, who might be considered more agreeable than the places where fossil fuels are concentrated. It may be possible in the future to extract uranium from sea water, but that is probably decades away.

So, is ‘let’s built nuclear power stations’ an argument against wind? No.

Do I support nuclear power? Not sure. There are issues with waste disposal (until we get our space elevators http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevators), but it may be that we need it as a better of two bad options (the risk of contamination or accident vs the certainty of the damage from fossil fuels).

Enough for today.


15/02/10 - DART Response: Costing the Earth Documentary

 

One of the main things which DART point to in the discussions on their website as an argument against wind farms is an episode of Costing the Earth, a BBC Radio 4 documentary. I have now had a listen to the episode, and thought that I might spew forth some thoughts, in case anyone was interested in a response.

The programme seems to make a few main points:

1) Wind turbines are only effective is they achieve a load factor (capacity factor?) of 30%

2) energy efficiency is cheaper

3) instability of the grid

 

 

Now, I think that this is a very interesting programme, full of interesting points. By the way, I found Channel 4's 'The Great Climate Change Swindle' very interesting too. I like hearing all points of view.

A general comment: This programme suffers from the same problem as all media outputs - its limited time. As is illustrated by this blog and its relative length when compared to most websites about wind turbines and features in magazines, you cannot discuss all the issues (and I have really only scraped the surface) in a letter, or a 15 minute discussion. Costing the Earth is 30mins long, so they only have limited time to discuss some fairly complex issues. I am not going to argue with any of the facts they put forward (other than the ones that contracted themselves within the programme). I am merely going to discuss what extra content that I would have included if I was the producer and had a larger hole in the schedules to fill.

 

The first point is the effectiveness of wind farms. The programme (or at least, one of the interviewees) starts off by saying that a wind farm needs to achieve a load factor of 30% to be affective, and then points out that most of them don't. I am not going to argue that they do. As far as I am aware, very few, if any, do achieve this. I would however have included a longer discussion on what is meant by effective. If it is capacity factor that they are referring to (and load factor may mean something else, so I may be wrong about all of the following), it is my understanding a 25% capacity factor is considered ok. Indeed, when I do feasibility studies for medium-sized wind turbines, or figure out what size a turbine has to be to carbon-neutralise a housing development, I use a 25% capacity factor. Am I wrong? Possibly.

 

So what is capacity factor? It is the ratio between the actual output of a generator and its theoretical maximum output. Take for example the new gas power station in Southampton. It is rated at 800MW. This is a power. A speed at which it can pump electricity onto the grid. If it runs at full wack every second of every day of the year, it will generate 800,000 x 24 x 365 = 7008000000 kWh = 7008 GWh. If the output from the power station over a year is indeed 7008 GWh, it will have achieved a capacity factor of 100%. However, in reality it will not. It will be turned off for servicing for some of the time. It will probably be turned off completely most nights after about 11pm, as demand falls off. It will not always be run at 800MW, as it responds to its contractual obligations to the wholesale energy markets on a 1/2 hour timescale and second-by-second request from the grid. The capacity factor achieved will vary with the relative wholesale costs of gas and coal, and the functioning of the rest of the grid. I don’t know capacity factor it will achieve. If I had to guess, I would say something like 60%. Of course, most of the 40% drop is controlled, and done on purpose. This is not how wind turbines work. If the wind is blowing above their start-up speed, they start generating at something below their ‘name-plate’ capacity. As the wind speeds up, they approach their rated capacity. If the winds get too fast, they shut down for safety reasons. Sometimes they need to be shut down for maintenance, or to avoid noise or shadow flicker. So they don’t achieve a 100% capacity factor either. The capacity factor they achieve varies with the reliability of the model of turbine, and the windiness of the site. You can monitor wind speeds on a site (this is what the mast at Master’s Pitt is currently doing) to determine your likely capacity factor. From this, you can determine the likely output of the turbines, and the amount of money that the wind farm will earn (electricity sales + generation subsidy). You can never get this exact, as wind varies from month to month and year to year. However, whether or not to build a wind farm (other than planning permission) is a commercial decision. Will enough electricity be generated to earn enough money (sales + subsidies) to pay of the bank loans for building the farm and make a profit? If so, then construction will go ahead. If not, then it will not. So if a wind farm is built and achieves a low capacity factor, the developer will be losing a lot of money. It is in their interest to only build on usefully windy sites. But what is useful? Well, is has to be windy enough that sales + subsidy gives a good enough rate of return for a bank to offer finance. It is the pay-back time which is the deciding factor. My understanding is that in the majority of cases, this purely financial number is set by banks. I may be wrong, and definitely am wrong if the developer is self financing. So what is an acceptable pay-back? This is an economics question which I have no understanding of. But the level of subsidy definitely shortens the achieved payback for wind farms. Is the level too much? We will come back to that shortly.

So what is an effective capacity factor? Well, someone who wants to deploy renewable energy would say one which gives a suitable rate of return within the current subsidy regime to encourage investment (my understanding is that this is around 25% currently). Someone concerned about the world would say one which means that the embedded carbon in the construction of the turbine is paid back may times over by the electricity it generates (minus the greenhouse gas emission increase by the slight increase in spinning reserve – see below). Someone concerned with the money may say one which gives an 8% ROI? Or 12%? My overall point is that this 30% capacity factor by which the programme judges effectiveness is quite a nebulous concept. My understanding (which, as I keep stressing is not complete) is that off-shore turbines might achieve 30% or more, but then the cost of building them is 2 to 3 times as much, so the rate of return on investment is different.

 

‘The subsidies are expensive and will increase energy bills’. I am not going to argue with that – it is an undeniable fact.

‘Energy efficiency measures are a much cheaper way of saving greenhouse gas emissions’. Another undeniable fact.

However, to simply state them is a little over-simplistic (but then, I have more than a small section of a 30min radio documentary to discuss them). I will address the fact that they increase bills first. They do. £600million to subsidise wind is quoted in the programme. This is a lot of money. It is not tax-payer’s money, it is bill payer’s money. But it is still a cost to the economy. The point is that for 200 years, we have been using fossil fuels without taking full account of their cost. We have built our economy and society on the availability of cheap energy. We are now realising that it is not cheap after all. We will end paying for it in the affects of climate destabilisation. Any of the solutions (other than using less energy) mean that energy bills go up. It is a question of by how much, and what mechanism pays for it. So not doing wind because it is more expensive than fossil fuels is not an argument. Saying we should funnel that money into carbon capture and storage or solar (or tidal or wave) instead of wind is a valid argument. The variables which should be discussed in this debate would be speed of deployment (we can build wind turbines, we can’t do the others yet) and sufficient levels of risk to allow banks to invest. I don’t want to get into the debate here (maybe another day), but we have to pay for something.

 

As the programme points out, it is much cheaper to invest in energy efficiency if we are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions. £180 per tonne for wind energy is a lot. Especially compared to home insulation (I don’t know for sure, but that might be around £20 per tonne). You can’t use the definition of the various targets against this – the renewable energy deployment targets are stated in terms of percentages. So if we invest in energy efficiency, we use less energy, and need to produce less renewable energy. My personal opinion: of course we should be investing in energy efficiency. It’s a no-brainer. Two questions though: how does the government incentivise it on a sufficient scale, and are we motivated to hit 2020 targets, or aim for no fossil fuels by 2050? On the second point, I think that we should be concerned by the longer-term goal, and there is no way that energy efficiency alone will achieve that. Another relevant point is the impending peak in fossil fuel production (next year? Last year? Ten years time? 200yrs time?).

The next point is incentives. How do we increase energy efficiency? Insulate homes. Change the building regulations. Alter car designs. Switch to public transport. Make and buy less ‘useless’ consumer goods. Many of these things are personal choice. There is already plenty of incentive to insulate houses (it is economically feasible, and there grants on top). But how many people have done it? How does the government make it happen more? How does it bring forth the massive investment needed to do it enough to make it useful? One tweak to the electricity markets (the renewable obligation, the market subsidies that renewable electricity generators get) incentivises large projects that banks will fund with acceptable risk. Are they equally likely to fund a scheme for people to insulate their houses (where planning rules allow!) and then pay back out of savings which are partly based on behaviour things they don’t have control of? Maybe. I am drifting off the point here. With the subsidies on renewables, people are forced to do something (pay to make them financially viable, with little effect on peoples day-to-day lives). Going down the energy efficiency route leaves people free to choose what to do. Will they chose the right thing? Who knows. Could you force people into it? Unlikely. Of course, a £40 per tonne carbon tax would soon get people investing in energy efficiency, but people aren’t that fond of voting for people who suggest new taxes, are they? It would have to be world-wide to be fair and useful. Is that going to happen? Some of us had a hope of a meeting in Denmark.... You could greatly reduce income tax and introduce a carbon tax? Straying off the point, sorry.

Conclusion: I think we need to do both.

One of the concluding points in the programme is that energy bills may well go up by 50% by 2020. Firstly, I repeat that this is because energy has been falsely cheap for 200yrs. Secondly, not all of this is due to subsidising wind. Supply vs demand and decreasing fossil fuel supply means prices will go up. However, I don’t think that the interviewee was including this (so the real rise may be more!). This increase will go towards subsidising on- and off-shore wind, biomass, solar, tidal and wave energy deployment, new storage facilities, some energy efficiency measures, and research into new technologies and experimental carbon capture and storage. Can you argue against the need to invest in such things?

 

The final big point raised against wind in the programme is its effect on the grid. This is divided into two points; firstly that the grid connections are not there to connect many of the best sites, and secondly that wind creates instability on the grid.

The capacity of the grid: It was built mainly to get electricity from coal power stations from the country (where the mines were) to the cities. Now generation is being added in all sorts of new places, and it is struggling to cope. This is because the grid itself has suffered a lack of investment during the latter years of national ownership and throughout private ownership. This is an oversight which everyone acknowledges. The companies haven’t invested, because there was little profit in it. The government hasn’t incentived them because.... Well, maybe it has – I don’t know. But seemingly not enough. This has been recognised, and the various UK energy strategies released throughout 2008 and 2009 have repeated stated that the government is ‘taking steps to bring forth investment’ into the grid. Straying onto economic grounds again.

Instability: The programme implies that wind will destabilise the grid. This is true. IF 20% or so of our generating capacity if wind (I have to confess that I do not understand the technical arguments behind this number). I don’t think that anyone, even in the wind industry, denies this. However, we are currently at around 1 or 2 percent. So is it a valid argument for not building wind turbines? I leave that up to you. Of course, if we get the 33GW of off-shore wind that is suggested by round 3 of the crown estates license auction, then we might be approaching that level. As far as I am aware, there are several solutions to the problem – mostly involving pumped storage in valleys or tidal lagoons. Which, of course, cost money. If all the new off-shore wind farms go ahead (and I point you to my discussion above that this is no means a certainty), then it will be the job of the government (OFGEM and DECC specifically) to incentivise the markets to provide a stabilising solution. Will they manage this? Comes down to your opinion of the ability of governments to influence big business.

 

In acknowledgement of the fact that anyone still reading this will be approaching sleep, I will stop. Conclusions of my thoughts on the programme: A good, interesting discussion of the issues without a full enough discussion to give a balanced view (for which the producers cannot be blamed).

 

 


 

 

>16/02/10 – DART Website Front Page 16/02/10 Response

 

DART have become aware of the planning application, and their website (http://www.dartdorset.org/) now features an article about the Alaska project. The full thing can be found here: http://www.dartdorset.org/threatened.html#golden_rules.

I don’t want to enter into an argument with them. But what I do want to do is encourage people to look at all sides of the argument. So I will merely discuss the points raised, and you can form you own view.

 

The image they use. Well, again they seem to have the heights of the turbines correct (given the height of the met mast).  I am not sure that the layout they have used is correct though. I don’t think that you could see all 4 from that angle. Contrast levels seem a little off too. But none of that is a criticism. Just because they have not had the time or money to employ a professional photomontagist, doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t consider the point of view.

 

Their Golden rules. Are very good. If you do object, I don’t want to stop you! They say that keeping emotions out of it is important. Another good point.

 

Landscape Domination. They state that the turbines will “dominate the whole of the Purbeck Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts of the World Heritage site (The Jurassic Coast)”.  I have several observations to make on this statement. In some ways, this is the nub of the matter. Visual impact.

I am not sure that there is a Purbeck Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). I may well be wrong. Either way, it is merely splitting hairs, because as far as I am aware, most of Purbeck District, and all of Purbeck valley is in the Dorset AONB. And much Purbeck is undeniably of outstanding natural beauty. I will assume that they mean the areas of Purbeck which are in the Dorset AONB.

Will the turbines dominate this? Firstly, as far as I know, there is no objective definition of dominate, so I can’t really comment either way. Will they be very visible in East Stoke. Yes, of course. Will they ‘dominate’ the view of the horizon from East Stoke? Possibly. Will they be visible from bits of Wareham and Wool? Yes. Will they be visible from high vantage points further away? Yes. See the interactive viewpoints map on the Infinergy website at http://www.alaskawindfarm.co.uk/interactive-map.htm. Will they dominate the whole Purbeck AONB? I stress again, that this is an area of vagueness and interpretation, but I see it hard to believe that they will dominate anything in the Purbeck valley or much beyond Wool or Wareham. Look at the photomontage from the top of Creech hill. And even in Wool and Wareham, they will only be visible from certain places. So, is the statement that the turbines will “dominate the whole of the Purbeck Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts of the World Heritage site (The Jurassic Coast)” correct? I am not going to say no. Lacking a certain clarity? Possibly.

The site is next to protected Heathland, SSSIs and SACs. Do these areas come with protection of the views from them? I don’t know. Will the visual impact be unacceptably detrimental? Who knows. It’s all subjective. And I like the look of them, so you shouldn’t trust anything I say about visual impact.

 

Tourism impact. It is true that the turbines will not create any new permanent local jobs. The argument seems to be that not enough ‘good stuff’ (renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions savings) will be done to justify the cost to the local tourism industry. See above for an attempt to quantify the good things. On its own, this wind farm will not save the world. But with enough of them around the country, good things will be achieved. If everyone said ‘this is too small to do any good’, then nothing would get done. Couple of other points. Can you compare a financial/economic loss to an environmental loss? I don’t see how. Unless you assign a cost to the damage. I don’t think you can assign a financial cost to the moral of looking after the planet. Carbon trading or a carbon tax might work? The Stern report said that the economic cost of not stopping climate change was large (can’t remember exactly, but several percent of global GDP).

Secondly, will there be a reduction in tourism? Does anyone go to north Germany or Denmark? I suspect they do. Will people not visit Swanage or Studland beach or Corfe Castle or Durdle Door because they may have to see some turbines for a few minutes on the drive there? Will they not stay near these places because they can see turbines? Some might. A significant number? I don’t know.

 

Too close to dwellings. Too close? That implies that there is a limit beyond which they should not go. There is a distance determined by noise calculations, but the turbines are beyond this. The point made seems to be that the proximity will result in an unacceptable visual impact. i.e. the people won’t like the look of them. This is subjective, so I can’t comment. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing them near where I lived. But then I have given up driving, flying, heating and buying consumer products because of my belief in helping the people of future, so seeing something occasionally, even if I didn’t like the look of it, isn’t that much of a big step. Of course, I may well be a lunatic nutter!

The next point is about house prices. The point implies that wind turbines cause house prices to drop. Its evidence is that a house has recently had its council tax reduced to compensate for a loss of value. This has indeed happened, so it sounds like a valid argument. However, this is one house. How many houses are there near wind turbines in the UK? I don’t know myself. I would guess several thousand. This one house is near the Deeping St Mary wind farm, which suffers from some freak noise issues which no-one seems to understand and aren’t repeated elsewhere. I don’t know too much about the case, but it is a one-off because of an objective, measurable phenomenon, not an admission that seeing turbines greatly reduces house prices. The Alaska landowner has commissioned a local estate agent to do a study into the likely affects of the turbines on local house prices. I have not yet read it, but will do, and can forward it on to anyone who contacts us. I believe it says there will be no affect.

If anyone is interested and contacts us, I am happy to go into more details on the housing market.

 

Too noisy. People could claim that the turbines will be too noisy. You could. I could. I could also claim that placing their mass there will interrupt the orbit of an asteroid and cause it to crash into Earth. The point is that I don’t know anything about the specific of that scenario to claim it with any authority. While I do know a little about noise generation and transmission, I am not an expert in noise from wind farms. There are specific planning policies about acceptable noise levels. Expert noise assessors have shown that noise will not be a problem. Purbeck District Council have employed independent noise experts to assess the work of these experts. If there is something wrong, they will find it, and planning permission will be denied. Should any of us object on noise grounds? If we are noise experts, then possibly.

 

Safety concerns. These are some good points. A turbine or two (I don’t know the exact figures) have burnt when their gearboxes ceased. A couple of blades have fallen off. Health and safety should be a concern. Is this a reason for not building them? There is a risk that a building will fall down, that your car will break causing you to crash, that any number of things will break. It is all a question of risk. Would you not build a house because a small percentage (<<1%) once fell down? Well, this is not a fair analogy, as we have strict Building Regulations that govern houses. Are there equivalently strict rules for wind turbines? I don’t know. But to get insurance for them, I would guess that there will be all sorts of risk assessments and structural standards and tests.

 

Birds and Bats. This is another case of the relative weights on the opinions of experts vs ley folk. Detailed ecological surveys have been done which show that there will be no significant effect. All of the relevant regulations will be taken into account. While I have briefly flicked through the reports, I do not understand them enough to comment on ecology, other than to say that they will be checked by independent experts, and in my opinion, these people should be listened to more than member of the public who says ‘they will harm birds’. Of course, if that member of the public has a lot of experience with the local wildlife around the site, then that is different.

 

Conclusion. It is an interesting account of the issues from DART. They are encouraging people to object on visual grounds. Since this is such a subjective subject, that is fine (in fact it is genuinely fantastic – it is a fundamental of our free society. Imagine trying to complain about a wind farm in China!). However, if I was assessing objections based upon anything other than visual impacts, I would look very closely at the qualification of those making the objection. My understanding of the planning system implies that exactly this approach is taken.

 


 

18/02/10 – Response to Daily Echo Article 17th Feb

 

This article starts off stating fairly simple facts, about the consultation and the application. I will respond to the points raised by the DART and CPRE representatives who are quoted. Of course, what they said may have been miss-quoted, or edited, so this is not a criticism of them, just a suggestion of what additional points it would have been interesting to note if the article had been longer.

Geoff Edwardes says “Four other applications for windfarms have recently been refused mainly because of noise pollution to nearby houses. Homes here are within some 550m , and some residents have been driven out of their homes by the noise of a windfarm.”

The first point is an example of giving a number without context. Four farms have been turned down because of noise. Were those four all in Dorset? If so, then this may be a really powerful argument. Were they spread across England? Then 4 out of a hundred or so (and no, I don’t know the exact number, so I am guessing) is less impressive. Is it the whole world? If so, then is it really relevant.

I will assume that it means 4 across the UK. The next question is who turned them down because of noise? There are formal guidelines on how noise modelling should be carried out by noise experts. They use formal noise modelling software and defined acceptable levels. These experts report back saying the wind farm is too noisy or not. Planning councillors then get to decide to take their comments on board. The question is, in these 4 cases, did the noise experts say no to the application? If that is the case, then good. That is the point of the planning system. If the experts said that there would be no problem, but the councillors decided to contradict them, then I will leave you to form your own opinion about the validity of this decision. Should experts be listened too?

In the case of the Alaska wind farm, the expert noise analysis has said that there will be no significant impact, even to the houses within 550m. As part of the application processing, this has been checked by an second, independent noise expert. They have confirmed that there will be no problem. So is objecting to the proposed turbines on the basis of noise valid? Well, yes, if you are a noise expert who understand noise generation, wave propagation and ETSR-U-97 (the technical guidance on how to do it), and have a valid reason to question the work of two other experts who do. Otherwise, should you be listened to? I will leave you to make up your own mind.

I will move to the point raised by Terry Stewart of the CPRE. He says “Wind in Dorset is intermittent so the turbines will only produce electricity for under 25 per cent of the claimed capacity.” This is another example of information being used out of context. Of course wind in Dorset is intermittent. Wind everywhere is intermittent. Only achieving 25% of capacity does indeed sound quite poor until you look into what it means.  This 25% is the expected capacity factor. See discussions above about intermittency and the Costing the Earth documentary for more discussion about capacity factors. The point is that although the turbines may achieve a capacity factor of 25%, that is what they are meant to do! What capacity factor will the new gas power station in Southampton achieve? 70%? 60%? 50%? It won’t be 100%, as it will be turned on and off to meet demand. Other power stations do the same.  A 25% capacity factor is enough to make a wind scheme commercially viable and, more importantly, stop a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

In conclusion, the article doesn’t say anything which is factually incorrect. However, most of the quotes are misleading because they state things without explaining them. This is of course the blight of newspapers and broadcast media – not being able to devote enough time/space to an article to fully cover the subject (as illustrated by the length of this blog!). Unfortunately this can be exploited by those with an agenda – though it is never possible to tell which of these factors causes the confusion.

Enough for today.


19/02/10 – What about wave and tidal?

 

One point that I have heard several people make when discussing the issues surrounding the wind farm is that they think there is loads of renewable energy available from wave and tidal power. While this is undoubtedly true, is it relevant to the debate?

Firstly, let’s look at the technologies.

Electricity can be generated from waves by using the power of the vertical or horizontal motion of the water to stimulate electrical currents. There are several methods, including vertical pistons and horizontal ‘snakes’. The energy of the waves comes from the wind, which in turn comes from the sun.

Tidal power comes from the motion of the moon. It drives height differences and currents in large bodies of water. Energy can be extracted from the currents by tidal stream turbines (like underwater wind turbines) or from the height changes by tidal lagoons and pools (which are used like self-refilling hydropower stations).

When discussing a wind farm, it is obviously good to consider the alternatives, so these marine powers should be considered. They are both clean sources of energy that don’t affect the landscape of in-land areas.

Let’s run through how their usefulness as alternatives to onshore wind is relevant to the various motivations for the Alaska wind farm.

Firstly, the 2010 and 2020 targets for Dorset (64-84MW by 2010 and 118MW by 2020). Though there are wave machines that work on the coast, the vast majority (including the most developed) work away from land. This means that they will be in Crown Estate territory and, like the proposed Isle of Wight off-shore wind farm, their generation will not be eligible to be counted against Dorset’s targets (at least, this is my understanding. If anyone from DECC or SWRA knows better, I’d love to find out). Tidal stream turbines are also deployed too far offshore to be counted. Tidal lagoons and barrages are built on the coast, so may count. I don’t think that Poole Harbour has a tidal surge sufficient to justify the disruption to the ecosystem that would be needed to exploit it (once again, if anyone knows better, I’d love to hear from them). Which leaves tidal lagoons. This involves building see walls to encircle man-made ‘lakes’ which water can run in or out of. I don’t think there is much opportunity for these on the Dorset Coast (I am not a marine engineer, and I fairly sure that the World Heritage status of a lot of it would inhibit it). Either way, nothing will be built in time for the 2010 target. 2020? Time-wise maybe, but technical potential or legally allowable, I’m not sure. So in terms of Dorset’s 2010 and 2020 targets, neither wave or tidal power is going to be applicable (unless we do seal of Poole Harbour or build large lagoons out from the cliffs or one of the bays), so they are not viable alternatives to onshore wind.

But it is not just the Dorset renewable energy targets that are motivating this onshore wind farm. There is also the 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 which is mandated by the EU. On this timescale and level of deployment, are tidal and wave powers a viable alternative to onshore wind? This one comes down to cost. There is currently one tidal stream turbine in the UK (<2MW). The technology is in its very early days. There are no commercially viable wave generators yet. Tidal lagoons and barrages take many years to plan (think about the Severn Barrage). However, wind turbines have been used onshore for 30yrs, and are currently far more competitive than wave and tidal.

I suspect that very little wave or tidal generation will be operational by 2020. Assuming we get the Severn Barrage by 2020. It will provide around 5% of electricity demand, and so around 1.5 to 2% of energy demand (the target is all energy use, including heating and transport). Will there be anything else comparable in size also built? I’m not too sure. Something else (indeed several something elses) will be needed. Onshore wind is ready to go.

The larger motivation for onshore wind is national energy security and getting off fossil fuels by 2050 (as will be required by the Climate Change Act). For discussions on the potential of each renewable energy source to help with this goal, I thoroughly recommend Prof Mackay’s book (http://www.withouthotair.com/). I will briefly summarise how wave and tidal fit in.

Wave first: We have around 1000km of Atlantic facing coast (the waves from the North Sea are much less powerful, as they have had less distance to gain momentum  - fetch). The best machine, the Pelamis wave ‘snake’ could potentially generate 6kW per metre of coast. So the most we could get would be 6GW. That sounds a lot compared to the current targets! But how much will we need? To get off fossil fuels, we are likely to need to switch heating and transport to electricity. The exact generation capacity that we will need depends upon your assumptions about viable efficiency savings and your definition of capacity. It may be 250 to 300GW. Now 6GW sounds less impressive. Could we really get all 6GW? Remember, that involves a wave farm stretching 1000km! Being more realistic, we might get 2GW. Hardly enough to disregard on-shore wind.

How about tidal? Around 250GW of raw tidal power flows towards the UK. There are several points around the UK where this can be extracted. Indeed one of the best is off the coast from the south of the Isle of Wight to south of Portland. Technical reasons will mean that we may be able to extract around 5% of this energy (regardless of method – current stream or lagoon/barrage). Which is around 15GW (of which maybe 3GW might come from off the IoW/Dorset coast if we absolutely covered the seabed with tidal stream turbines). Will this happen? Well, it depends on the price of fossil fuels and government intervention in the energy markets. Even so, tidal + wave  = around 20GW, maybe 30GW at a push. Only 10% of what is needed. Is the potential for wave and tidal energy a reason to abandon on-shore wind? I would say not.

So we cannot rely on marine power. There are of course other alternatives to onshore wind. Biomass, solar, nuclear (?), imports, etc. I again invite you to read Prof Mackay’s book, but here I am only discussing wave and tidal.

Of course, we in Purbeck are not talking about all on-shore wind. Just onshore wind in Purbeck/Dorset. A 9.2MW wind farm is nothing compared to the potential for wave and tidal. The point is that something else will be needed as well as them, and onshore wind is one of the best options. To use onshore wind effectively, we need to harness it as much as possible. This means not excluding sites which are technically feasible and not within National Parks, AONB’s and other designated spots. It just happens that we have one in Purbeck. Should we use it, or rely on others?

 


>24/02/10              Public Support?

Do the majority of the public oppose the wind farm? Do they support? I think it is fair to say that traditionally, the majority of the loud members of the public have opposed. But are they representative?

On Saturday, several of us took to the streets of Wareham to see how many people do support the wind farm. At the beginning, I was trying to keep a record of how many were supportive, how many were opposed and how many didn’t care. Unfortunately, we were so busy that I lost count after the first 10mins. The group that I was with seemed to think that 90% or more of the people we talked to were supportive. Does this mean that 90% of the population of Purbeck are supportive. No! We didn’t ask every passer-by, and many people did not come over to talk to us. One of the other groups, who were trying to ask everyone, seem to remember (and all of this is subject to our memories and rose-tinted specs) 60% were supportive, 10% opposed and 30% ambivalent. This may be a more accurate representation.

Of course, these are not the results of a proper survey, so you can’t draw too many conclusions from them. One think you can probably conclude is that it is NOT true to say that “the majority of the public oppose the wind farm”.

 


>25/02/10              Isn’t Climate Change All Fake Anyway?

Ah yes, ClimateGate. And GlacierGate. And ForestGate. And no doubt, eventually, ScientificMethod Gate.  Some people may be raising questions over the need for wind turbines if Climate Change is all fake, as seems to have been the message from various media outlets over the last few months.

There are two reposts to that argument. Firstly, Climate Change is only one of the motivations for building wind turbines, and secondly, no, climate change is actually not all fake, regardless of what you may have read/heard/seen.

To take the first point, even if climate change was some form of giant conspiracy by the scientists to make us all poorer and reduce our liberties, there are other reasons to build renewable energy systems. Fossil fuels will eventually run out. It doesn’t matter how fast we find new supplies of gas and oil, the demand for them is growing much quicker. We are becoming dependent upon other countries for our energy needs. Is that good? These two issues – peak oil and national energy security – are both good reason to build local renewable energy systems. We have legally binding targets for renewable energy deployment too. Admittedly, if Climate Change was all proved to be fake, they may change, but they would not disappear.

So, the major point. Is climate change (or, more specifically, anthropogenic global warming) fake? Well, no, it’s not. But why believe me, when supposedly reputable news outlets have been pointing out ‘errors’ and ‘corruption’ and ‘mistakes’ in climate science. My answer would be: don’t. Just go away and learn a bit about the scientific method and climate science. If you do, you will find that almost all, if not all, of the criticisms have come from a lack of understanding of the scientific method combined with an agenda of some kind. It is very easy to come up with a sound bite or a 100-word article pointing out ‘flaws’ in climate science, and people listen because a) it is easy to understand and b) it might mean that they can go on driving big cars, consuming loads and living unsustainably. Unfortunately, it is normally a much longer and more intrinsically complex argument to point out that the criticism’s are non-sense. So very few people listen, unfortunately.

I would love to go into each of the ‘gates’ and talk you through how if you are informed about the background and context, even the most scandalous accusation turns out to be nothing at all. However, to keep this blog under 1000pages, I will not. Anyone interested in reading a response to each mass-media article could do worse that check http://www.realclimate.org/ every day or so.

 


;2/03/10 – Response to Ms Crow’s Letter to the Echo (2/03/10)

 

Helen Crow has recently written to the Echo pointing out that some of my activities are funded by the developer and saying that my statements and the facts part company alarmingly. The letter can be read here: http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/yoursay/letterstotheeditor/5035214.One_little_gesture_that_says_so_much/

I don’t want to write back to the paper and potential pollute people’s reading with a series of tit-for-tat responses, but I thought I would put together a quick response, just in case anyone was interested.

Ms Crow seems to be making 3 points. Firstly that I am employed by Infinergy, secondly that my statements don’t fit the facts and thirdly that I have mislead people about noise issues. I will deal with each in turn.

I am not actually employed by Infinergy. However, they have been paying Ecofirst Consult (my employer) for some of my time, to prepare leaflets, answer people’s questions etc. I assume that this point has been raised because it implies that I cannot be trusted to tell the truth, as anything I say may be influenced by a vested interest. I was doing lots of voluntary work before Infinergy offered to commission Ecofirst Consult. I still do lots of voluntary work. Everyone else involved with Yes to Wind are pure volunteers. I did think long and hard about accepting any money. Not because I thought it would influence my independence, but because it might make others question my independence. I am confident that the independence of my opinion has not been compromised - many years of training in objective analysis and a determinedly open mind ensure this. I am open to the fact that the wind farm might be a bad idea. However, I am yet to hear anyone put forward a well-reasoned logical argument of sufficient strength to convince me. Indeed, I spent a good half hour talking to Ms Crow last Saturday. We had an amicable chat and seemed to agree on most of the background issues (including the urgent need to reducing consumption), but agreed to disagree on a few points.

To get back to the point, in the end I decided to take the money so that I could spend more time on trying to educate people about the issues. I have tried to be honest, and say straight away on this blog how I am related to Infinergy. All of the people involved with supporting the wind farm work full time and have numerous other commitments (including other environmental campaigns and community groups), so I decided that it would be useful to be able to spend a bit of time during the working week on stuff.

Also, I have no financial interest in the farm itself. There is a deeper point here that people seem to think that money is the sole motivation for people doing stuff. This is one of the criticisms that sceptics use about climate scientists (‘they are only interested in proving it so they get more grant money’), and while it may be true for some people, it is definitely not true for all (in my opinion).

Moving on to the second point, that my statements don’t fit the facts. Please read through the rest of this blog, go away and check stuff and form your own opinion.

The third point, that I have misled people about noise issues, is interesting. It comes down to trying to explain complicated concepts in short paragraphs or times. The leaflet that we (a group of volunteers + me) have been circulating, to which Ms Crow refers, says “While turbines undeniably generate noise, detailed monitoring and modelling has shown that this noise will not be a problem for even the closest houses. The model has been independently verified, and the model of turbines used will be the quietest available”. This leaflet is aimed at the general public, and tries to sum up many issues quickly. I would have loved to go into the technicalities of noise modelling and the ETSR-U-97 standards, but that would not have fitted the target audience. So this is a simplification. Possibly an over-simplification.

Ms Crow says that Infinergy’s noise consultants have told her that her home would be affected by turbine noise at night. Not having been present, I can’t really comment upon what they said. That may have been the case. There is potentially a miss-interpretation of ‘hearing’ and ‘noise problem’. I am not a noise modeller, I do not have access to the background noise data or the modelling software, so I cannot really comment in an informed way. It may be that under some conditions, the turbines will be audible (I don’t know), but they will not be loud enough to be a noise problem (under the definitions of the guidelines). So maybe the leaflet should have said something like: ‘within the guidelines set out by ETRS-U-97, and based on data collected from background monitoring stations, it is our (admittedly non-expert) understanding that noise will not be considered a significant impact’. I apologise if any simplification muddied the facts of the debate, or if we have actually got it factually wrong (I will be checking).

We all have something interesting to look forward to though. As part of the planning application, expert analysis of the noise study will be performed by PDC. The people doing that should know what they are talking about.

Does this mean that my statements in general don’t fit the facts? I’ll leave you to decide.

Ms Crow also suggests to readers that they should read the DART website. I would also encourage you to do so. www.dartdorset.org. It has indeed been set up and run by people not paid by the developers, and is a useful look into the other side of the debate (by the way, other than this page, the rest of this site has been set up and is run by people not paid by the developers). Take a look at both points of view and come to your own conclusions.

In conclusion, I welcome Ms Crow’s criticism and point of view. If this exchange encourages more people to go away and look up ETSR-U-97 and read the Noise chapter of the application’s Environmental Statement, then it has done some good. Also, the ability to object to things is key to our free society. But I ask people to spend some time looking into a subject before forming any opinions about it.

 

 


5/02/10 – Further Response to Letters in the Echo/Advertiser

Further to my response above to Helen Crow's letter to the Echo, I have looked into the noise issue. I haven't talked directly to the noise consultant and the answer came via Infinergy, so take this with as much of a pinch of salt as you wish (are they an evil commercial enterprise determined to steamroller local people into submission or are they a company in a capitalist society responding to government-driven incentives to invest in equipment which helps the country, world and future?).

Ms Crow says in her letter that at a consultation event, Infinergy's noise consultant told her that she would hear the turbines at night, and this brought into question the truth of my statement that noise would not be a problem.

From what I can gather (and I may be wrong), the noise consultant said that for the 6-turbine scheme (there are now only 4), the only time that Ms Crow would be able to hear the turbines would be at night. On very quiet nights. With a temperature inversion. And a northerly wind. I am not sure if they meant inside or outside her property. But the point is, these are very rare conditions, and the experts are talking about extreme worst-case scenarios to maintain completeness. Once again, I must stress that my understanding of these events are 3rd hand, so I may have completely missed something.

So it seems that there have been several misunderstandings. Ms Crow misunderstood what the experts said. I misunderstood the exact noise conditions, and I used the word 'problem' inappropriately, as whether or not noise is a problem is a subjective thing. But this does raise a deeper issue, which is a lack of understanding of, and a lack of trust in, experts.

The consultant was talking about the 6 turbine scheme (I don't think there have been any events at the Springfield since the number of turbines was dropped to 4, but once again I may be wrong). While I am not an acoustics engineer, I would guess that reducing the number of turbines will affect the noise generation characteristics. However, it might be that only the closest turbine is important, and that one may not have moved (I can't remember the locations of the turbines in the 6-machine scheme), so that is not necessarily the reason for the misunderstanding.

The next point is what is meant by saying that it would be heard. I suspect that the noise consultant was trying to imply that the noise levels will be so low that it is only at night that there will be any chance of hearing them; when the background noise levels are low. He was trying to point out how rare hearing them would be (it would need a combination of a very quiet night, a very rare temperature inversion of the local air, and a quite rare northerly wind). However, it is not hard to imagine how someone who feels passionately about protecting their home from (perceived) risk could misinterpret that to mean 'they will be heard at night'. This comes down to the nuances of technical debate. The experts cannot prove definitively that the turbines will never be heard from the houses, but they can determine probability distributions (so they know they it is extremely unlikely). Because the majority of the population don't have a good grip on statistics and probabilities, the experts have to simplify things, but try very hard not to say something which they know to be factually wrong. Which leads to confusion. This same problem is encountered all the time by climate science and those doing medical research. The interpretation of the research data is based on all sorts of complex statistical analysis, but it is reported by people that don't know a chi-squared from a t-test, to people that don't understand either. This is one of the reasons why one week we get told by the media that eating bacon is good for us, and the next week we are told that it gives us cancer. All the subtle nuances and statistical caveats have been stripped away. Anyway, I'd better stop ranting now.

Either way, the leaflets should not have said that noise would not be a problem, because noise is subjective. I apologise, but it is a bit to change them now. But there I go, being very careful not to say something which I know cannot be proven, when actually, the truth is that most people would understand what I mean. Strange thing, this human language isn't it?


6/02/10 – Parish Councils

After Wareham town and Wool parish council had both supported the wind farm planning application, it was time for East Stoke on Thursday 4th. For those not familiar with the parish council boundaries (I wasn't at all before this), the Master's Pit site is in East Stoke.

As the local parish, East Stoke are consulted about their views on any planning application within their borders. Because the wind farm is such a big thing, other parish councils are also being consulted on this occasion. The opinions of each of the parish councils will be taken into consideration by Purbeck District Council in making the final decision, with East Stoke being listened to more than the more distant ones (I think).

I went along to the East Stoke meeting hoping to learn about the opinions of the local community, and understand any objections. The first thing that I noticed was that the majority of the people there (but not all) don't want the wind farm. And they are very passionate in that desire. This is an important point. There are definitely local people that do not want the wind farm. And many of them REALLY don't want it. Their opinions should be taken into account. But so, in my opinion, should the greater good of the country/world. If things other than local feeling were not considered, I would guess that it would be quite rare for anything to get built – for good or ill.

The evening took the form of comments/questions from the public, followed by a 10 minute response by Alaska/Infinergy, and then a debate amongst the council members before a deciding vote.

The public section was the longest bit. Many locals made arguments against the wind farm. Some made arguments for. The thing I noted though, was a lack of any coherent, logical argument against it. Prof Mackay would have been disappointed at the emissions of twaddle. I don't want to go into details, but there were many statements of debatable accuracy and relevance (the windiness of the site, the viability and cost of renewable energy alternatives, noise predictions, the AONB, precedents in the planning system, house prices, how to calculate the positions of shadows, local wildlife populations, etc, etc). In such a complex subject, it is not surprising that people don't always understand some of the nuances and technicalities (and I am happy to admit that I don’t). It is also understandable that people so passionate about protecting their homes from a perceived risk might grasp hold of anything they have been told which appears to aid their cause. But there was no well-informed argument which got anywhere near convincing me that the wind farm should not go ahead. Of course, I support wind farms, and this one in general, so that may not be much of a statement. But I do still have an open mind about it.

The point is it seemed to me that the majority of those opposing seemed to be basing their opposition on misunderstood facts and incomplete analysis. Is that important? I'm not sure. But just because the argument against the wind farm is not rigorously logical or perfectly well-informed does not mean that the opinion of those making it should be ignored. If that was the case, I am not sure how any free democracy would work!

Within the 10 minutes that Alaska/Infinergy got to respond, they made a sensible, eloquent response to all of the points they had time to raise. But then I am bound to say that aren't I? I understand the issues to nearly the same level they do, and have come to the same conclusions. So have I been brainwashed by commercial concerns, or is there an inherent truth out there which can be reached by all if they take the time to learn? I don't know. I'll leave you to decide.

The debate of the parish council itself was much more sensible than the public session. They stuck much more closely to planning considerations, and did not comment on other matters. The majority of their debate centred around the visual impact, as most parish council discussions on any planning applications do. Then they unanimously voted to object on visual impact grounds. Interestingly, at no point did any of the councillors mention the amount of greenhouse gas emission that would be saved, or any benefit of the turbines. Their debate and decisions was essentially: its' big, and therefore we object. In that respect, they accurately represented the relevant planning opinions of the majority of the people in the room, so democracy could be said to have functioned properly.

This comes back to the major problem with wind farms. Most people say we need renewable energy, most people say that wind is good, but most people don't want to see wind turbines near them (or, because of that desire, have been convinced of numerous other arguments against them). I can't see how we can hit the 2020 and 2050 targets without a lot of onshore wind. So the question is; is any one spot any more special than any other? Should Purbeck be able to say 'no, we don't want it here, put it somewhere else'? Should the rest of Dorset be allowed to say the same? Devon? Hampshire? Northamptonshire? Yorkshire? Soon, there would be little space left to put them, and we would be searching around for a more expensive quick fix (we could chuck a load of not-yet-mature tidal stream turbines out with the inevitable increase in electricity bills). It is a question of weighing up the greater good verses local and personal interest. I guess that your position in the debate is dependent upon your political leaning and how aware you are of the larger-scale issues. I think we should do our bit to help out. By I don't live right next to the site. If I did, I would still think that. But am I right?




26/03/10 - Public Response and Newspapers

Yesterday, I had a quick flick through the responses that PDC have published on their website. It is interesting to see the split in opinion, and some of the arguments against (putting off the golfers is one of my favourites). But the was one thing which motivated my to sit down at this keyboard. It is that fact that quite a few people have been sending in newspaper articles which cast doubt on the usefulness of wind turbines. The one that caught my eye specifically was one from the Times, the article headlined: 'Feeble wind farms fail to hit full power'.


In a minute, I will go through the article and comment on its contents. However, first, I want to discuss a far more worrying point. That people think that newspaper articles offer definitive information. I can't believe that this is the case. I believe the popular saying goes 'don't believe anything you read in the papers', and I find it hard to believe that people don't understand how the media works. There is a wider point here about the ability to critically analyse sources of information, but I will stick to the specifics of media coverage of complex issues. I don't claim to be an expert in many fields. But I know a fair bit about astrophysics, physics, science in general, climate science in particular, and renewable energy. And in these fields, I find that the more I learn, the more I realise that any popular culture commentary on these complex issues is not to be trusted. TV documentaries simplify the complexities of cosmology (good!). Radio programmes over-simplify issues with renewable energy (see Costing the Earth, above). Newspaper articles get climate science wrong all the time. I don't want to criticise journalists. There are 2 good reasons why things that get into articles and programmes can be over-simplified to the point of verging on inaccuracy. One is limited time/space. You can't talk through the implications of a non-zero vacuum energy density on the field equations, and its affect on the spatial and temporal evolution of the Hubble flow in a 45 min programme about galaxies. You can't explain the energy markets in a 30 minute radio documentary. And you can't discuss the fine details of climate modeling in a few hundred word in a newspaper article.

A second good reason for inaccuracies is that the journalists/editors don't always understand the issues they are discussing. Which again is perfectly understandable. There is a good reason why it takes someone decades to become a world leader in a scientific field, and you can't criticize someone who only has a month or so to get familiar with it if they make mistakes/omissions/over-simplifications.

There are also less innocent reasons for what I shall term 'not whole truths'. A bias perhaps?. Trying to make money by pandering to a certain group of readers/viewers/listeners? This an important point. Most of the media exists to make a profit, not to dispense objective independent information. Fox News. Need I say more?

Anyway, rant over. In conclusion, don't trust anything you read in the papers. Have I heard that before somewhere? So definitely don't use them to make important planning decisions (in my opinion)!


The specific article: 'Feeble wind farms fail to hit full power'. It was in the Sunday Times, on Sunday 21st March, I think. It can be read about half way down this document:

http://www.purbeck.gov.uk/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100082Responses20100324.pdf

It reports a study based on OFGEM data, which reports that '20 wind farms produce less than a fifth of their potential maximum power output'. One farm is at 7.9%. Another is at 8.7%. A couple of others achieved 15.8% and 18.7%. It then goes on to quote a professor of business and sustainability (connected to the IPCC) as saying the subsidy encourages developers to put up turbines on sites they would not touch if the money wasn't there. It then quotes a Renewable UK as saying that we need all the green energy we can get.

At first site, this appears to be some fairly damming evidence against wind turbines. But less so if you look a little deeper into the story. I have read a report on the study in a different newspaper (the Telegraph, I think) which did an even worse job of covering it. But I have not read the original study. Important point alert: I am being guilty of journalistic sloppiness too!


The first thing which struck me was the number. 20 wind farms operating below 20% capacity factor. 20 sounds a lot. But how many wind farms are there in the UK? The article in the other paper didn't give this figure, but this one does. 245. So the 20 is around 8% of wind farms. Does it sound as bad now? It is all about the context in which information is given.


It says that this 8% produce less than 20% of their theoretical power output. I am about to make a very picky point. This statement is wrong. If it had said '20% of the theoretical energy output', it would have been right. Energy is the ability to do stuff. Power is a speed of energy use/generation. There is no way that you could get the power data from OFGEM (I think), but you could get the energy data. This could be an example the journalist not understanding the difference between energy and power (the second acceptable reason for mistakes). I'll be charitable and assume that it is a simplification into leyman's terms to save space (reason 1 above).


Lets move on to the report. I can't remember who it was by, but it is based on OFGEM data. I am not sure, but I guess that this means it is based on the RO report, which publishes the number of ROCs each generator has received in the last year and therefore the amount of energy generated. The article implies that the lack of performance is due to wind being inherently not very good on these 8% of sites. However, the OFGEM data (that I am thinking of – I may be wrong, of course) does not include any information about breakdowns, maintenance, commissioning or other non-weather related reasons. This article does point that out, unlike the similar Telegraph (?) one. So are these bad generation results because un-wind sites are being built on? Not necessarily, no.


The sites that are achieving a very low capacity factor will be costing the developers who built them lots of money. The bank loans that funded the construction of the turbines will be demanding interest payments. But with so little electricity being generated and sold, very little subsidy will be being received (you only get subsidised for the electricity you generate, not for having the turbine there), the farm will be losing loads of money. This is how mistakes are punished in a free market economy. The entire electricity system is privatised, so this is what is meant to happen.


The article does do a good job of giving a context for what the numbers mean. Less than 20% of maximum output does seem quite poor if you think that they should achieve 100%.However, not even the nukes achieve this, and the coal and gas power stations definitely don't (though for controlable reasons, not the weather).


The former IPCC lead author (and that doesn't mean he is a climate scientist, but does mean he understands some part of the affects and mitigation of climate change) is quoted as saying that sites are being used that wouldn't be if their wasn't a subsidy. He is entirely right. If there wasn't a subsidy, no sites would be used, as no turbines would be built, because electricity from wind is more expensive ( at the moment) that electricity from more traditional sources. The quote implies that the subsidies are essentially bribing developers into building turbines on sites which aren't windy enough. But the subsidies are for electricity generated. So the ones not generating much electricity aren't getting much subsidy, and are losing loads of money. If the subsidy was for installed capacity (i.e. building the turbine in the first place, not for the electricity generated), then this argument holds up. But they are not. The level of the subsidies may have made developers take a greater risk than if they had been lower, but they are not getting them. So, as with all these things, it is not as simple as is implied. Indeed Professor Jefferson may well himself agree that this is a complex issue that could be misunderstood. But he was only given a few sentences (reason 1 above).


Even if some sites have been mistakes (and there is no definitive evidence in this article that this is the case), it does not mean that the Alaska one will be. The met mast has been there fore 2 years. Infinergy know all about the winds, and are still interested in investing the millions of pounds needed to build it.


Now, it may seem that I have purely criticised the parts of this which imply that wind is a bad idea. But I am not unquestionably pro-wind. I am pro-thought. So I will have a quick pop at the Renewable UK chap too. He is quoted as saying we need every bit of green energy we can get. This is something I disagree with too. We don't need every bit of green energy we can get. Lets take an extreme example: Someone wants to wack a MW turbine in Parliament Square. Lets overlook the noise and visual intrusion for a minute and look at the energy balance. The emission of many tonnes of CO2 is caused by the construction of said turbine. It may generate some electricity and therefore emissions savings. So under the point made in this chap's quote, we should do it. However, he wind speeds in central London are quite low, and the Victoria Tower and the one housing Big Ben would add a lot of turbulence to any wind that did flow through. So not much energy would be generated. What if the emissions it saved over its whole lifetime (around 25 yrs) didn't total the amount that its construction caused? Then it would be bad for the world (as well as VERY bad for the developer). So we don't need every bit of green energy we can get. We need every bit of energy which provides a net emissions savings that we can get. I would say that an emissions payback time of one third of the facilities expected lifespan would be a sensible limit to use, but others might have better-informed opinions. Of course, it may be that the Renewables UK chap was over simplifying the point to make best use of limited space. But that doesn't happen, does it?


I could go into many more points, and in much more detail, but on the off chance that anyone is still awake, I will let you go.


In conclusion, it is an interesting article. I had always intending on looking up the numbers from the OFGEM data. Now I can just find the report by someone else. It appears that some wind farms aren't working too well. However, my opinion is that it does not offer any reason at all not to build wind turbines, so it is not relevant to the debate about the Alaska wind farm.



 

">07/04/2010 - Intermittent Wind (again) and Newspapers (again)

Another week, more arguments against wind turbines in various media outlets. I noted with interest the Bournemouth Echo article about CPRE’s response to the Times article commented on above. News about a bloke who read an article about a report based on some data which said that the worst 8% of wind farms aren’t especially good. Many, many Chinese whispers! Relevant? I’ll leave you to decide.

Of special interest was the quote from the CPRE rep (the story can be found here: http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/districts/purbeck/5415138.Study_deals_blow_to_wind_farm_bid/) who is quoted as seemingly contradicting himself. “The wind in Dorset is intermittent, and in the recent cold period there were many days with no wind at all. The developer is motivated by the massive subsidies that they can receive from erecting these visual monstrosities”. But the subsidies are for electricity generated. So if the fact implied by his first statement (about there being very little wind) is true, then very little electricity will be generated, and there will be very little subsidy. So either he doesn’t understand the issues, or one of his statements is incorrect. Actually, if you look closer at the wording, you see than the statements are actually correct, but they don’t actually say what they appear to say. The first says that it is not always windy in Dorset and that there was no wind during the cold spell, which is undeniably correct. However, it is not saying that little electricity will be generated by the wind farm, it is merely implying it. The second statement, that wind farm developers are motivated by massive subsidies that they can receive is also factually correct – without the subsidies, no one would be motivated to build turbines anywhere. It is the word ‘can’ which is important. They can receive subsidies, if they generate electricity, if there is wind. Which is what the first statement implies is not true, but does not actually deny. So this quote is self-consistent, but doesn’t seem to hold an argument against wind farms.

Of course, he could have just been miss-quoted!

Anyway, this raises an issue which seems to be coming up a lot recently – the intermittency of the wind and the amount of electricity generated. See posts above about Capacity Factors (CF) and intermittency (including Costing the Earth post). A common statement made by DART/CPRE is that ‘Wind in Dorset is intermittent and therefore the turbines will only produce 25% of their rated capacity”. Of course wind in Dorset is intermittent, it is intermittent everywhere! And this is the reason that no wind farm ever achieves a 100% CF (but then no other form of generation does either). Is this first half of the statement an argument against wind farms in Dorset? Well, no, not unless it is an argument against all wind power (which it might be, but not a very good one). The turbines will only achieve 25% of their capacity. Well, yes, they will (or it might be slightly more, or slightly less, depending on how windy a year it is). But is this bad? No. Do coal or gas power stations achieve higher CF’s? Most of them do, yes. Some less (but they do so in a controllable way). Wind farms generally vary between 20 and 30%. It is all about context, and understanding context involves knowing facts, which is something a lot of people don’t have! So is 25% bad? No. Is it an irrelevant statement made by someone not understanding the facts, or trying to manipulate others who don’t understanding those same facts. Yes, in my opinion.

This argument is in part due to the convention of using a single number to rate power generation plant. In the past, it was useful to give a single maximum generation capacity, as this was the limit of a plant’s usefulness to the grid, and the actual energy generation could be controlled. With non-controllable renewable energy systems now being used to reduce the amount of fossil fuel burnt, it is a less useful way of defining a system. A 20 million kWh per year wind farm would be a better way of putting it, in my opinion. It is the difference between energy and power, which is something that most people don’t want to/need to know about.

Anyway, the 6.5 m/s site wind speed implies that around 20 million kWh will be generated per year. In terms of energy, this is 20% of the domestic consumption of the Purbeck district. In terms of power, at times of reasonable wind and moderate demand, the wind farm will provide for all of this power demand. At times of low wind, this number will of course be less. Is this a simple enough message? 20% of Purbeck’s annual domestic electricity demand. Is that number small enough to justify refusing permission? Time for you to think again....

 


04/05/2010 Update and the BBC Politics Show

May the 4th be with you!

An update for anyone reading this and interested: the decision on the Alaska wind farm will not be made until late June at the earliest, possibly late July. I think that all of the ecology-type consultees have responded and essentially said that there is no problem.

Anyone still reading this blog might be interested in reading this: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/172845/Global-warming-is-a-load-of-hot-air as an example of the rigour of the arguments against wind farms. I would say send in a list of inaccuracies and non-rigorous logic on a postcard, but I don’t think that they make large enough post cards.

Interested people may have been reading comments posted on the PDC website as part of the consultation response. I haven’t been responding to them all because there are so many, and a good number of them are repeating objections which have been dealt with above. I think I remember a response from someone opposing saying that they agreed with the 20million kWh yield estimate after doing independent calculations with some online Danish tools, but I can’t remember exactly. Anyone interested in my opinion (or PEAT’s) about any of them should email us, and we’ll respond (details below).

Anyway, you may have seen me and several other PEAT members on the BBC South Politics show on Sunday.  It can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/the_politics_show_south. For those not familiar with the format, the idea is to get a load of local people together with several local MPs (or MPs and parliamentary candidates in this case) to talk through the local issues. Sunday’s programme was about the rural issues faced by Dorset. Farming and housing was discussed, with little in the way of future policy involved in any of the answers. Most answers were just well, we think XXX is a problem, and we think that YYY is how things should be. However, there was rarely any mention of the all-important step of how one gets from XXX to YYY.

Anyway, we (and members of DART) were there to talk about wind farms. Firstly, well done to the BBC for picking this up as an issue in rural Dorset. And well done for making a programme that looked quite professional with the little planning allowed by live TV (the plans were changing minute by minute). The wind farm question was meant to be fourth on, so both myself and Chris from DART (a nice chap) were quite surprised when Peter came to us. Chris made standard DART complaints about ugly industrial wind turbines in the beautiful countryside in his question, which is understandable given his stance.

Also understandable were the vague answers of Sue Farrant (Lib Dem candidate, Dorset West) and Jim Knight (Labour Minister, South Dorset). As politicians, they didn’t want to alienate those on either side of the debate.

What was less understandable was the fact that Bob Walter, the Tory MP for North Dorset, repeated more standard DART stuff about it not being windy, and implying things about the subsidies. On the positive side, at least he stated a definitive opinion (no wind turbines in the countryside). It was refreshing to see a politician clearly saying something, even if I totally disagree with both his conclusion and reasoning. His comments about micro-generation, offshore wind and two kW-scale hydro schemes being a sensible alternative beggared belief, as did his repeated statements about the lack of wind in Dorset. Either he doesn’t understand renewable energy (a subject he seems to have a strongly-held position on), or he was consciously not telling the whole truth (or at least spinning the facts to fit his agenda). Which one is worst from someone in a position of political power? I am not sure.

Of course, actually his attitude is entirely understandable. He is a politician, and politics is a popularity contest, not a quest for logical conclusions. He was seeking to represent what he thought was the views of the majority of those likely to vote for him. In that way, he did his job very well. I wonder, however, how many of them would take this stance if they weren’t fed stuff (about lack of wind, murdering of birds and turbines being unbelievably noisy) by people in authority.

A point which seemed to come across on the day was that the younger members of the audience were in favour of wind power and renewable energy, whilst the older members were against. Other than Bob Walter, the politicians were uncertain what the most popular stance was (though it was noticeable that both Jim and Sue said that they support on-shore wind in suitable locations).

A final note on DART. I had a nice chat with Chris from DART. We seemed to agree that we are all actually trying to do the same thing; protecting our environment. The only thing we differ on the relative importance of the threats. We agreed on the need for renewable energy, and the need for large investments in marine and biomass energy. The only things we disagree on are the opinions (facts?) surrounding on-shore wind. DART don’t want wind turbines in the Dorset landscape, and we want Dorset to do its bit to solve the wider/longer problem, with wind turbines being the best option at the moment.


>6/04/10 – I Agree With (Nick) DART?

I found myself reading the DART website this morning, and agreeing with an article (well, most of one). Of course, there is the major point that we agree on the need to protect our countryside; the only difference is that they see a local impacts as more of a threat than the larger-scale issues we are concerned with. But that is not what the article was about. It was about the Dorset Green waste biomass CHP plant, and can be found here: http://www.dartdorset.org/combined-heat-power.html.

The plant is proposed to be situated inside Dorset Green (Winfrith Technology Centre), and ‘burn’ waste material to generate electricity and heat. The waste comes from the black bins bags of Poole and Bournemouth (I think), is sorted at Canford, and its organic components are brought to Winfrith by truck. The remainder is sent for recycling. This material then undergoes pyrolysis – i.e. it is converted to gas at high temperatures without oxygen being present. The gas produced is syngas; a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide which can be burned in engines like natural gas (methane). They plan for 5MW of electricity generation initially (expanding to 10MW in the future), with another 5MW (10 in the future) of heat being made available to the buildings around Dorset Green via a set of heat pipes.

DART seem to think that this is a good idea. This is where I agree with them. I haven’t seen a full emissions calculation that takes into account the transport and actually predicted heat use, but within my limited understanding, it sounds a fantastic use of resources. The heat demand will probably offset any transport emissions may times over.

DART seem to be supporting the plant as an alternative to wind power in Dorset. This is where I disagree. How much energy will this produce? If it uses all the heat, around 158 million kWh per year (that’s with a 90% CF). The wind farm is projected to generate around 20 million kWh per year. So in terms of total generation, the CHP is far higher. However, is it an alternative? How much energy does Dorset use in a year? I have no real idea, but I do know that it is a lot more than 158 million kWh.

The houses in Purbeck District use around 100 million kWh per year (this is only electricity, I think).So I suppose that it could be argued that with this biomass CHP plant, Purbeck could be seen to be ‘doing its bit’. However, I think we need to think in a wider context.

All of Dorset would be something like 16 times this Purbeck figure? (total guess: multiplying by 8 for the houses in the other districts in Dorset – double weighting Poole and Bournemouth – and again by 2 for the non-domestic?) This is roughly 2,500 million kWh per year. I may be totally wrong, of course, but the point is that it is way more than 158million kWh, so the biomass CHP plant does not magically mean that we don’t need any other renewable energy.

The other way of looking at it is the renewable energy targets. These are set in terms of electricity generation capacity; 64 to 84 MW by 2010. We have 12MW (landfill and sewage gas). The CHP plant is 10MW under this measure. There may be a 20MW ‘sustainable’ biofuels plant in Portland. We are still short of even the low-end 64MW.

This leads us on to a very good point that Bob the Tory MP from North Dorset made on the BBC Politics Show on Sunday. He said that he thought the targets were silly. In this statement, I totally agree with him, though we probably disagree on how any revisions should be made. They are silly in that they are only electricity (we use energy for heat and transport too). They are silly in that they are measured in terms of power not energy (see above for the difference). If both of these were changed (so that they included all energy, not just electricity, and they measured useful energy produced and not just nameplate capacity), the biomass CHP plant would contribute more, and the wind turbines would contribute less. However, they would still both contribute, and both be needed. The last silly point about them is their utter lack of ambition. They are carved up versions of a regional target which does not seem to be related to either the national legal need for renewable energy, the actual energy use within Dorset/the South West, or the realities of climate change and peak oil. I suspect that Bob thought that they were silly and Dorset’s should be revised down (to stop the destruction of the countryside). I think that they are silly and should be revised upward hugely. But then I am extreme environmental nutter. Or am I someone who has a passing grasp on the larger-scale issues? Or am I someone so enthralled to maximising person wealth that the chance of the company I work for (not a shareholder in) getting paid to do some PR work for Infinergy means that I have no objective perspective and would say anything to support wind power? Make your own judgement.

One last point about the DART article, and it’s a subjective one, I’m afraid. When talking about wind turbines in the caption to the picture, this is said: “cannot possibly justify the huge sacrifice of that most finite resource - our countryside”. It is interesting to note the terminology. Bob the North Dorset Tory also said something along the same lines, something like we need renewable energy, but to get it we don’t sacrifice our countryside. Allowing the existence of turbines sacrifices the countryside. Sacrifice? Is the countryside going to be utterly destroyed by 4 turbines? 6? Two sets of 10? I am not sure that anyone could argue that. Are some views of the countryside going to be affected? Undoubtedly, yes. These are big things (125m to tip) that will be seen from far away. Is there going to be anything left of our wonderful countryside? Yes. Will the emotional perturbation people suffer when they see turbines affect their enjoyment of one aspect of the countryside (the view)? Maybe. It is this small emotion effect, caused by seeing something, which seems to be the main reason behind most of the objections. Can we as a society possible give this more weight than the good that turbines do, and still have a clear conscience when it comes to the inheritance we pass on to future generations and the affect we have on other parts of the world? That is a subjective question which we each have to answer...

However, within my limited understanding of the pyrolysis CHP plant, I agree with DART that it is a good thing. 

 


 

;27/05/2010 – Withholding Met Mast Data

There have been many requests by members of DART, and indeed interested people inside and outside the council, for the data from the met mast to be released. At first glance, this seems a reasonable request.

One of DART’s repeated lines that it is not windy enough in Dorset for wind turbines to be justified, and that they are only being considered because of the ‘huge’ subsidies. See numerous entries above about the subsidies, but Infinergy not publishing the data seems to play into the hands of DART. If the data shows that it is windy enough to warrant the turbines, then there is no reason for the data to remain secret. Surely this lack of transparency is an admission that it is not windy enough?

This seems a sensible argument. However, as with most things, if you look a bit deeper, it is not this clear cut.

Firstly, let’s look at it purely from a planning point of view. If the data was required by PDC as part of the planning application, what would they do with it? Do they have the skills to analyse it and correlate it with the power curves of turbine models to see if they are viable? No, of course not. If this was a requirement, each planning department in the country would have to spent loads of money training people to do complex analysis (and given the national finances and the fact that the planning system is not a ‘front line’ service, I can’t see this money appearing). They could employ consultants to analyse it for them, of course. But again this costs money. To avoid all these costs, central government policy (including PPS 1 Supplement and PPS22) states that the feasibility of a renewable energy plant is not a planning concern. If a developer is willing to risk millions of pounds on building something, planners have to trust them that it will work (note that the people who wrote these policies understand the subsidy regime). So the planners don’t actually have any power to demand the data, and Infinergy are under no obligation to share anything about it. However, Infinergy have shared the ‘headline numbers’ with the council, in an open letter than anyone can read (however, I can’t find it at the moment. Once I do, I will post the link). In it, they say:

                         The data collected from the met mast to date has shown

   an average annual wind speed that exceeds our threshold of 6.5 m/s, as we would expect from the information above.

   A range of speeds from 0 - 22.5 m/s. In terms of excessive wind, the turbines are programmed to shut down at speeds exceeding 25 m/s. So for the year’s data we have there would have been no shut down due to excessive wind speeds at all.

   The prevailing wind is West South West, with a very strong bias to the W, WSW and SSW sectors.

   The turbulence measured is very low, ideal for our purposes

This shows that the turbines are viable. Unless you think that Infinergy are lying to help get planning permission, then hoping that subsidies will help make up for the fact that they won’t generate much electricity. If you think this, the only thing that will convince you would be to have access to the data and somehow perform the analysis yourself. So it comes down to the full release of the data.

Either way, Infinergy have already released more data that they need to.

So why haven’t Infinergy released the full data (other than the fact that they don’t have to). If it would remove one of the apparent main arguments of those opposing, surely they should, regardless of what they are obliged to do. Are they merely hiding the fact that there isn’t enough wind, and lying about it? Or is there another reason?

Well, the reason is this. The power generation industry is a commercial, competitive market. This means that individual companies take risks and make investments in return for the money they make selling electricity, which should eventually make a profit. In the case of wind turbines, the investment is finding good sites, checking the wind speeds, getting planning permission, getting a loan for the cost of the turbines and servicing that loan. To get the loans from the banks needs a detailed report about the yields, proving profitability. This in turn needs the data from the mast and some expensive analysis. If the data from the mast is made public, someone else in the future could potentially use it for a wind farm nearby or in the same place (if, for example, this farm is turned down, and then something like peak oil motivates a change the planning laws in the future). In this case, whoever that company is can save themselves a large cost by just using Infinergy’s data. The data is therefore commercially sensitive, as it is worth many tens of thousands of pounds. So are Infinergy hiding the fact that it is not windy? Or are they behaving in an economically rational way in a competitive market? Once again, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

My opinion about the whole thing? Well, within my limited understanding of economics, I think that the whole energy system should be re-nationalised. In that case, there is not conflict of interest, and all the data could be made freely available. However, this is not going to happen. So, although I can see that releasing the data would help counteract some of the arguments of those opposing (though I suspect that it would convince very few people to actually drop their opposition), I can understand Infinergy’s position. I do, however, think that this is another issue where everyone needs to look at it in a little more depth before coming to a decision. Same as everything else then…… 


10/06/2010 – Do Wind Turbines Actually Save CO2?

If you read the DART website, you will be told that wind turbines don’t save CO2. I can’t resist myself from asking: save it from what? Are the NOx’s ganging up on it? But there is a serious question here. Do wind turbines actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity system? There are various individuals and books which claim that they don’t. So what do you find if you look into this issue in a little more depth?

The first question to ask is: why would the government be pushing wind via the ROCs, national planning policy and polite suggestions made in the Renewable Energy Strategy if it didn’t save emissions? Well, it could be that these measures are the ramblings of an insane administration which has now been kicked out because it lost a popularity contest. Or it could be because one of the legal obligations we have to the EU is a level of deployment of renewable energy generation. This could mean that we are putting up turbines to hit that target and not caring about emissions. Or the government might be pandering to a powerful lobby from the mega-rich wind firms. Or possibly, they do save emissions. Let’s, for the sake of argument, go down the route of doubting the government.

Have any power stations been shut down because of the extra turbines? No. This is an argument that some wheel out against turbines, and it is true. No power station has ever been shut down because of the increase in wind turbines. And none will be any time soon. But does it mean that turbines don’t reduce emissions? No. Other than the nukes, the output of all power stations go up and down to follow the varying demand. I have recently found a really cool illustration of this. The National Grid publish all the data from their control room. It can be found here:

http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm, and is a fascinating page if you are a little geeky like me. Towards the bottom, there is a ‘Generation By Fuel Type’ graph. It shows the last 24 hrs of electricity generation and how it was generated. You can see the demand changing (the totals going up and down) and coal and gas inputs varying. Wind is there as the orange sections of the total. As it increases, the other bits can decrease. So when the wind blows, fewer of them have to go up, and so less fuel is burnt; i.e. less CO2 is emitted. So more wind = less emissions. Other power stations are still there, and still operate, but they just don’t burn as much fuel and generate as much energy. An important point to note about this graph is an error I made in a previous post. I think I said that we were already at our maximum nuclear capacity. This graph clearly shows that, assuming demand profiles stay the same, we could have around 3 times nuclear electricity as much as we currently do (more if we switch to night-time electric car charging). But it is still not a direct substitute for wind, as it would not be able to do the variable bits.

Back to wind. How much CO2 is saved? Well, that depends upon which power station was turned down as the turbines started generating, and so varies from day to day based on the price of coal, gas, and French electricity (the dark blue bits in that chart). You can work out a historic average of the carbon intensity of the grid and multiply this by the amount of energy a turbine has generated to estimate the savings. For the proposed Alaska wind farm, this is 20,150,000 (the number of kWh generated with the expected capacity factor of 25%) x 0.568 (this grid averaged carbon intensity) = 11,444 tonnes (which most people I think would consider a good thing. Mind you, I have met people who would think it would be a terrible thing!).

So that’s it then, sorted. Well, actually, no. As with all things, the deeper you look, the more complicated it gets. The main justification that DART and their counterparts across the country give for their ‘wind turbines don’t save CO2’ stance is based on an appreciation that the situation is indeed not as simple as described above. If you look again at the ‘Generation By Fuel Type’ graph on that National Grid data website, you will see that the demand changes quite considerably from one half hour period to another. Across a day, it is fairly predictable (see the ‘System Demand’ graph higher up on the same page), but on the timescale of minutes, it still changes quite a bit (see the ‘Rolling System Demands’ graph). This is caused by things like everyone turning their kettles on in the ad break of Corrie. So how does the grid cope? Well, the long term variation is coped with by different generation and supply companies buying and selling more or less energy in the wholesale markets. In the short term, it is National Grid themselves that buy and sell extra energy to keep the whole thing running smoothly. They not only buy energy, they pay for quick response reserve; i.e. they make sure that a variety of sources are available to be switched on at short or very short notice. This is called the operating reserve, and it is made up of all sorts of energy generation, including spinning (but not generating) gas turbines and the pumped storage lakes. The exact make up depends on the cost of the fuels and the speed of the likely variation. Note that this reserve is needed to cope with changing demand, and so is present regardless of wind turbines. The point on the DART website, and elsewhere, is that since wind is unpredictable, this reserve has to be increased, meaning that more fuel is burnt keeping the reserve ready (without actually generating anything), and that this wasted fuel constitutes nearly as much CO2 emission as that saved by the turbines working in the first place. Is this correct? I did briefly ask Infinergy, and they said that the forecasting is good enough that this doesn’t matter. But, attempting to retain a little independence, I looked into it myself. I had a chat with a nice chap in the National Grid control room. What follows is a simplified account of my potentially limited understanding of what he said:

How does the grid cope with wind? Very good forecasts is the answer. Six times a day, a reasonably advanced wind forecasting model is run to give 13 estimated outputs from the wind turbines over the next 2 days. The results of these models can be found in the ‘Wind Forecast Out-turn’ graph on the National Grid website link above. The green bars are the predictions from the latest forecasting run. The yellow are from a previous run (so the difference between the two illustrates how much forecasts change closer to the time). These forecasts are quite good, and allow the market to determine how much power (and therefore energy) will be generated at each time, and therefore how much of the other forms of electricity to buy to hit their demand. The problem comes when the forecasts are wrong. And, of course, they often are. On that same ‘Wind Forecast Out-turn’ graph, you can see the actual energy generation from wind, the red line. The green bars do not get it right. It is the difference between the green forecast bars and the red actual output line that the National Grid has to guard against with extra operating reserve.

Just to stress that point, the amount of extra operation reserve is dependent upon the errors on the forecasts, not on the amount of wind power being fed into the grid. So, if the forecasts have 100% errors on them, the spinning reserve would need to be 100% of the capacity of the wind turbines, and as much CO2 would be wasted as is saved. If this was the case, DART would be right; wind turbines would not reduce emissions. But what are the real errors on the forecasts? Well, look at that ‘Wind Forecast Out-turn’ graph on the National Grid website. I am currently looking at settlement periods 1 to 48 on the 9th June 2010. The errors on the forecasts are not 100%. They are around 10%. So the amount of operation reserve used is around 10% of the wind power output (and of course, not all of this is CO2 emitting stations, some of it is hydro). Simply put, this means that the emissions savings are around 90%. So, yes, wind turbines do save CO2 (ha ha, those pesky NOx’s are defeated!).

Have I misunderstood though? Am I so biased towards ‘yes to wind’ that I look into info only to sufficient depth that I get the answer that I am looking for? Well, just in case, I asked that chap at National Grid directly. Does the increase in operational reserve mean that the CO2 savings from wind turbines are small? No, he said, any increase in CO2 emissions from increased operating reserve is likely to be insignificant compared to the savings they make.

He then pointed me to page 33 (of the pdf, page 29 of the actual document) of this:

http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/32879A26-D6F2-4D82-9441-40FB2B0E2E0C/39517/Operatingin2020Consulation1.pdf. On this page, there is a graph of the short term operational reserve requirements of the grid from 2011 to 2026, assuming that we get the 35GW of new wind that was suggested in Labour’s Renewable Energy Strategy (note that the Coalition document says that they want to increase the renewable energy targets). The red bars are for no wind; i.e. if the turbines aren’t built, or for days/times when it isn’t windy. This is therefore the amount of operation reserve needed to cope with demand variations and unexpected generation variation (one of the nukes tripping out, for example). The blue bars show the amount of operational reserve needed for very windy days. The difference between the two is the extra reserve needed because of the wind turbines. On the windiest days with the maximum amount of wind (35GW), this difference is 4GW. This is just over 10% of the wind generation, but it certainly isn’t anywhere near enough to make the savings from the wind generation negligible. And remember that not all of this reserve will be fossil-fuel burning. So, the forecasting is forecast to be good enough that emissions savings continue to be made. Indeed, if you read the page above the graph (p 28/32), you will see that they think that rms errors of 6 to 10% in the 4 hours-ahead forecasting are achievable. So all will be good.

Of course, all this information has come from National Grid. They could be in on the conspiracy too.

In  conclusion, do wind turbines reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Yes. So, why does anyone ever mention that they don’t save CO2? Could it be that they don’t understand? Could it be that I don’t understand? Could it be because they have a position and are trying to back-justify it? I’ll leave you to decide.

Those who will make the decision don’t have to worry about all this (as national planning policy, in the form of PPS 22, says that they have to be of the opinion that if someone is willing to risk the money to build something, it has to be useful), but I feel that it is important information for those of us lucky enough not to be saddled with the burden of having to make the decision. 


29/06/2010 – Withholding Met Mast Data 2

A mercifully short post today for anyone still reading this. In the Withholding Met Mast Data post above, I said that I would post the link to the letter from Infinergy to PDC regarding wind speeds etc. PDC have now published loads of their correspondence about the application on their website. The letter that includes the wind data can be found about 80% of the way down this link:

http://217.154.121.34/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100083corresBinder1red.pdf, and is dated 6th April 2010. Section 3 is the relevant one.

Still no news on a date for the decision.

 


 

>26/07/2010 - DART/CPRE Consultation responses

Lots of activity on the response front recently. Some of my thoughts about a few of them below.

DART Consultation Response (dated 11th June)

http://217.154.121.34/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100082ConsulteeDartv3.pdf

An interesting response this one. Most of it seems to be about ecology, which is something that I am not too hot on. However, it seems that there is a distinct lack of trust in the work of the appointed experts (Natural England and the RSPB). While I am all for questioning authority, is this justified in this case. I honestly don’t know, so can’t really comment.

There is an interesting point that wind turbines should be off shore. We have the potential for around 35GW of offshore wind around the UK. Our current electricity use varies from 25GW to around 50GW. In the future, this will go up as heating and transport are electrified (maybe by a factor of 2 or 3). So do we need something other than off-shore wind? Yes. Should this be fossil-fuelled? I think most people agree not. Should it be nukes? Some would say yes, but they have flexibility issues (as does wind). Should it be other renewables? If so, which ones? Which are the most commercially mature? On-shore wind turbines are defiantly in this category (along with the various sources of biogas).  So is having all wind turbines offshore a viable plan? Do we need any on-shore? Well, no, we don’t need any. We could have PV farms and wave machines and tidal stream turbines. The problem is that the market hunting for the cheapest solution will not build these for many years (except the PV farms, many of which are currently being planned, because of, guess what, enormous subsidies).

 

CPRE Response on 19th June

Another CPRE response was recently published here: http://217.154.121.34/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100082ConsulteeCPREv15.pdf

This response seems to be another case of “here’s a newspaper article that implies that turbines are bad, it must be right”. It quotes an article in the Western Morning News (a publication known the world-over for its unerring objectivity and tireless analysis) which points out that wind turbines are subsidised. I will not comment on the amusing sensationalist language, and examine the content.

Firstly, it is not taxpayer’s money which is subsidising renewable energy systems, it is electricity bill payers. Of course, they happen to also be tax payers. But under that definition, taxpayers money is supporting also subsidising Andrex, Doritos and Manchester United. I suppose, because the government is forcing this subsidy on people, this is not a totally fair analogy, but the subsidies do not come from taxes.

Secondly, renewable energy needs subsidies because it is not cost competitive with fossil fuels. This is because of a flaw in our economic system where the full cost of fossil fuels is not included (this is part of what the Copenhagen conference was meant to solve, but failed (mostly due to the influence of the American Republican Party from what I saw). Is renewable energy a good thing.............

The subsidies are not secret. Anyone interested in learning about them can find out. You can even find out how much each power company was fined/subsidies. Do a search for OFGEM ROC report. They are not a stealth tax. The power companies are forced to pay the subsidies (via the ROCs), but I don’t believe that they are forced to pass this cost onto their customers. They could accept a reduction in profits. But they don’t, they past the cost on. It is then up to electricity users to select a power company who deals with this in the most suitable way.  I may have got hold of the wrong end of the stick here; I haven’t read the full licensing rules that surround ROCs. Of course, this statement about it being a stealth tax is a quote from a professed anti-wind turbine activist – well know for objectivity. There seems to be a lot of criticism in the article, including from MP’s, of the subsidies for wind, without any alternative offered. So are they saying that we shouldn’t subsidise renewable energy? CHP is mentioned, without much mention of the subsidies it gets or the fuel it uses, or the capacity available, etc, etc.

The amount raised by the levy has apparent soared. Good. That means that the amount of renewable electricity has also soared (from a pathetically small number to only a disappointingly low one (subjectivity alert, subjectivity alert)).

There seems to be an attack on the ROC system. I kind of agree with this. I am sure that there are more cost-effective ways of getting renewable energy installed. If we had a sensible economic system, it wouldn’t be needed anyway......

To be fair to the journalist, they have then explained how the RO works. So the news in this article is that a person who doesn’t like wind turbines also doesn’t like the fact that he has to pay £13.50 a year to subsidise them (and other systems). Is this something which should be given any weight in a planning application? Exercise for the reader.....

 

CPRE Response 21st June

Another CPRE response can be found here: http://217.154.121.34/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100082ConsulteeCPREv16.pdf

It is another ‘look at this newspaper article’ one. Dedicated readers (reader?) may have gathered my opinion of the accuracy of journalism in general, but this one is quite good if you read it and ignore the headline. The headline is about wind farms being paid to be turned off. It starts off criticising the fact that some turbines have been paid to be shut down, then criticising the un-controllable nature of wind power. It then gives a very quick (and therefore not very accurate) overview of the balancing mechanism and then asks someone involved with the actual switch-off.

Is wind un-predictable? Well, half is the answer. The grid expect 10% errors in the 4-hour forecasts (no more than the errors in the demand forecasts). Is it un-controllable? Yes. We cannot control when the wind blow, or how much it blows (unlike and coal, gas or oil power station, where we can).

The National Grid do fear that wind turbines may generate more electricity than needed during warm summer nights. However, see the data here:

http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm (you want the generation by fuel type near the bottom). You will see that the summer night-time demand is around 25GW. And there is around 1.5GW of wind. So can this occur? No.

The Renewable Energy Foundation (a self-confessed anti-turbine group) then criticise paying wind turbines to be turned off. Surprising? No. But are they criticising that this happens to wind turbines, or the fact that it happens at all? Coal and gas power stations are often paid to not generate. Large users are paid to not use. This is the Balancing Mechanism, the quite complicated method by which National Grid match supply and demand.

There is then a criticism of the fact that renewable energy system is subsidised. Hmmmmmm.

Then, at the end, the article actually quotes someone who was involved with the news event that it’s about; someone from National Grid. He says that it was a trial. It was a test to see if turbines could be turned off as part of the balancing mechanism if needed. As mentioned above, summer night-time demand is around 25GW. The nukes, which need to be on all the time at full power, are currently at around 5GW. So, if we had 20GW of wind, and it was very windy across the whole country (and surrounding waters) at night in summer time, then these turbines might need to be turned off. Have we got 20GW of wind? No. Have we got 2? No. Well, maybe. I don’t know exactly, but it is definitely less than 5. Of course, this number is set to rise over the next decade, possibly up to 35GW. So the turbines being shut off was a test to see how the energy markets will help the balancing mechanism in 10-15 years time. With this amount of wind generation capacity, there may indeed be a problem if it is windy across the whole country and the north sea, all at the same time, when demand is low. How often is this likely to happen? I honestly don’t know. On the National Grid website, there are some forecast probability density graphs, but I haven’t got time to go through them now. So, at some point in the future, we may get a situation where wind turbines need to occasionally be turned off. The electricity system is a competitive, private market, so to turn them off, their owners need to be paid to turn them off. So, can this be done? Yes. That was the point of the trial. Is it very expensive to do so? Well the article seems to think so as it quotes it costs of £180 per MWh to turn off wind during the test verses £20 per MWh for coal and gas. It certainly does seem expensive!

Of course, this was only a test, so this figure might not be representative of what the real market would need. But there is a very important point that this comparison is missing. Sharp-eyed readers would have noticed that in the circumstances where wind turbines would need to be turned off, no coal or gas stations that would be running anyway. It would only be the nukes. So the key thing is, is it more expensive to shut down the wind or the nukes? I don’t have the cost for the nuke; the article doesn’t give it. However, I would be very surprised if it is not hugely more than the wind turbines. But are people saying that we should not have any more nukes because of the cost of grid balancing on summer nights? No. Though perhaps this is because there are other arguments against them.

Of course, you could ditch the wind, have loads of nukes, and make up the difference with coal and gas. In this case, as long as we kept up are wasteful use of energy (25GW at night!) and kept the nuke fleet below 25GW, we wouldn’t need to pay anyone to stop generating (any more than already happens). But of course, then we’d have to pay the extra money for the non-wind renewable (there is a reason that wind is the most prevalent one – it’s the cheapest because of the effort put in by the Danish government in the ‘70’s), the EU fines for not deploying sufficient renewable energy, and/or the costs of run-away climate change.

Anyway, it is a complex subject, where the conclusions are not always the same as those in the article if you look into it in more detail. Where have we heard that before?

So the news in this article is that a trial to see if large numbers of wind turbines would upset the grid in 10 years time (if the same market and balancing mechanisms were retained) showed that no, they wouldn’t, and that people who don’t like wind turbines don’t want to have to pay anything towards them. Is it therefore an argument against the Alaska wind farm? Hmmmmmm.....

Anyway, enough for now. I note that the next response from CPRE is based on a report from some engineers, so I am likely to learn a lot. Cool! There is also a response about the Portland bird-shredder, so nice and relevant.


;30/07/10 – The Portland Bird Shredder

I haven’t had time to look at DART’s really cool engineering review of wind turbines yet, but their response about the Portland turbine is a quick one to deal with. Their response can be found here:

http://217.154.121.34/Planning/Web%20Importer%20Attachments/35023/620100082ConsulteeCPREv18.pdf

The response is another ‘Here’s an article about a wind turbine killing birds. It supports our objection to the Alaska wind farm’.  The story, from the Echo, reports on a turbine in Portland that has been taken down because it was killing loads of birds. We’ll ignore the quality of journalism for now (the capacity of the turbine is quoted as an acceleration of energy). At first glance, it seems like a pretty strong argument. A turbine taken down for killing birds. That is clear proof that turbines kill birds. It is clearly a very strong argument against turbines, and therefore the Alaska project by association.

But before we all start shouting about stopping the application, shall we examine what happened in more detail? The turbine in question was put up by a school 18 months ago. Over the last 6 months, it has killed 14 seagulls. I don’t think that anyone would argue that this is acceptable (other than many of the residents of Portland who don’t like the seagulls, but that is an entirely different argument). The question is, is this story relevant to the Alaska application?

The Portland school’s turbine was a Proven 6kW turbine. These come on 9 or 15m towers and have rotor diameters of 5.5m. The blades are thin and quite sharp. As the speed of the wind increases, the blades go faster (they bend in a little). They are essentially bird shredders.

The 4 turbines planned for the Alaska site are Enecon E-70’s. 80m towers, rotor diameter of 90m. The blades are thicker, and the rotational speed is slower. As the wind speed increases, the torque on the inductor increases (rather than the blade speed – I think). Though it is possible that they could possibly kill a bird if it hit them at the right angle at the right time, they are not bird shredders. They are a completely different thing. Saying that they should not be used because a 6kW Proven has killed some birds is like saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to drive milk floats because Ayrton Senna got killed driving a F1 car.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they do have razor-sharp edges and no speed limiters. Is there anything else different about the cases? It seems obvious with hindsight that the 6kW Proven should not be put up where there are lots of birds. So the Portland one was obviously put up in the wrong place. Is that the fault of the school? Possibly? The turbine company? Probably? The planning authority? Possibly. I don’t know if an ecological survey was done (if it was, it obviously wasn’t very good). If it wasn’t, whose fault is that? I honestly don’t know. If the council didn’t get one done, then perhaps that is because they didn’t have the skills to deal with a turbine application (with is forgivable, unless we all want to pay more council tax). So, either an ecology survey wasn’t done, or it wasn’t done well enough.

How about Alaska? Bird surveys have been taking place on and off for 2 years. Ecologists have studied the site in detail. Natural England (the government’s ecology experts) and the RSPB have been consulted at length. Once again, the situation is completely different. Of course, the ecology surveys may have been completely incompetent (as mentioned before, I am not too hot on ecology). But the fact that the surveys and results have been checked by independent experts means that any incompetence that makes it through is systemic and nation-wide, and of an importance far beyond this application.

So, does the fact that a (for whatever reason) poorly-placed 6kW turbine in Portland killed some birds have any bearing on a planning application for four 2,300kW turbines at master’s Pit? I am not convinced. I think that the fact that it has been mentioned at all reflects more on the ability of those opposing to analyse information than it does on the relevance of the incident. But then I may have completely misunderstood, or may be so biased towards wind power that I can’t see the relevance. As I said at the beginning, you have to decide on my objectivity.

Right, the engineering report next! Yepeeeeee.

 


>;25/2/2011a – Review of things

On the off chance that anyone is reading this, you may have noticed that the blog of responses to DART/CPRE comments has been somewhat quiet of late. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, as the whole application dragged on, the number of DART comments dried up, so there was less to respond to. Secondly, their comments started repeating themselves, and thirdly, I was very busy.

As you would have seen from the front page of the Yes to Wind website, things have gone quite well since. The final tally of letters to PDC had around 75% in favour. The parish council responses were fairly evenly split, but many of the reasons those opposed gave were somewhat dubious in their accuracy. The planning ‘officers’ recommended refusal essentially on visual impact ground. Amusingly, the first version of their report stated that the turbines would not make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Unsurprisingly, a second version was soon published, with the word ‘not’ removed, along with an apology. Freudian slip?

So we came to the decision night on 30th November. It was at the Purbeck School, in the evening. The hall holds around 400 people, and it was close to full (at the public meeting about the potential supermarket in Wareham, it was massively over-crowded). Of these 400, I got the impression that the slight majority were in favour.

A quick review of the evening:

Firstly, the whole thing was very civil and well-organised. I have heard tales of, and indeed seen, these meetings descend into chaos and less-than-impeccable behaviour. Although there was some uncertainty over who could speak (the landowner only discovered that he was allowed to speak as we sat down, and Infinergy only found out how long they had to speak a day or so before), the evening was well-run, without overrunning speeches or long delays. Both sides were very courteous to one another, with polite applause and no booing or well-timed coughing. Two hours was scheduled for public speaking, with a list of long speakers published in priority order, with priority determined by number of people being represented and proximity to the site. Many of those both for and against made good points. Some of the points made could have been better researched, or could have more closely adhered to the rules of a planning meeting. However, everyone was so well-behaved in terms of planning that I got to speak, even though I was the penultimate speaker on the list (if everyone had taken their 3 minutes, it would have lasted 2.5 hours).

I am not going to comment on all of the points made by those opposing (we’ll let them off for the factor of 2 they forgot in their press release regarding the distance to the scouts). However, one did stick out. A resident of Trigon claimed that Trigon had been completely ignored during the consultation. This stuck in my mind as a quite important point. If it was true, it would be a very important oversight, and sign that maybe Infinergy aren’t the nice bunch of people they appear to be, but the evil profit-hungry developer that DART sometimes try to paint them. So I did a little digging. Chapter 6 of the ES does discuss Trigon. Paragraph 6.185 explicitly discussed it. But, of course, something 185 paragraphs into the 6th chapter of a very long planning document which is written in quite obtuse planning language is quite easy to miss. However, Infinergy did do photomontages from several of the properties in Trigon. These were not included as part of the formal planning application, as they did not have explicit permission to publish them, and did not want to risk the resident’s privacy. But they were shown to the residents. So, Trigon itself was not ignored. Perhaps the person who raised the issue on the night was not from one of those houses surveyed, and had not talked to their neighbours. Or perhaps they were talking about something else. I am not sure.

The evening then moved onto the debate. Cllr Quinn (representing East Stoke) spoke up against the turbines, and several other non-planning councillors made statements either supportive or non-committal. Fairly early on in the planning board’s discussion, Cllr Barnes moved for refusal. However, Cllr Johns proposed a counter-motion, for approval. After some discussion with legal counsel, it was determined that a direct counter-motion was not allowed, and the motion was changed to ‘minded to approve if suitable conditions can be met’. The debate continued with comments of various relevance and accuracy on both sides from various councillors, and Cllr Barnes was threatened with having his microphone turned off as he became increasingly frustrated and loud. Eventually, a vote was taken at around 11.30. From memory they voted like this:

Cllr Barnes: no, referred to turbines as monstrosities

Cllr Budd: yes

Cllr Cake: no, though his only comment was about interference with TV signals

Cllr Critchley: yes

Cllr Drain: yes

Cllr Green: yes

Cllr Johns: yes

Cllr Lovell: yes, but concerned about trees

Cllr Marsh: no, and I have to confess I didn’t understand the comments she made

Cllr Wharf: abstained in role of chairman

Once again, the reception to the decision seemed very civilised, though I zoned out a little and didn’t pay too much attention.

That left the conditions. There has been 2 consultations on the conditions; one about what should go in them and one about what is in them. In the interim, DART and CPRE have made various claims on their website. Once again, I’ll cherry pick the highlights. My favourite one is “A local resident reported that that construction work has already begun, with turbine footings and vehicle tracks in place. He pointed out that councillors, who had recently been on site visits, must have known this.” This is another one that, if true, is really important. Guess what? It turns out that it is not important. I am not sure what they were trying to achieve by implying that the councillors are corrupt, or at the very least, hideously incompetent, without any evidence to back up the accusation.

Another good one is that hall on decision night was full of students and lecturers that had been bussed in from Southampton Uni. As far as I can tell, there were two people in the room with a direct association with Southampton Uni. The first was Prof Steve Turnock, a lecturer of renewable energy, so fairly relevant. Oh, and he also lives in Wareham. The second one was me, as I still have some mildly-official status there (the quite undefined position of ‘Visiting Researcher’, which means I can get into the buildings and play for the staff cricket team). And I come from Wareham. Cllr Barnes also claimed on the night that people had been bussed in from Southampton Uni. I wish I could say that this was a clever miss-information campaign that we had devised to distract the opposition from the only real issue they could argue over (the aesthetic impact), but it was not. They distracted themselves, and showed what seemed a little disrespect to the hundreds of local people who had turned up.

The last one is the ‘Sssssssssssh Wind data’ article on the DART website. They are complaining that whilst the met mast has come down, the data it revealed is secret, asserting that the secrecy is an implicit admission that the site is not windy enough. It signs off with the phrase ‘Because for some unknown reason, the figures are secret’. If you look further up this blog, you will see that I explain why it is secret. Though this blog may not get an enormous number of readers, I am fairly sure that anyone can read it, if they want to. So the reason that ‘the reason is unknown’ is that the writer of that article hasn’t bothered to find out what the reason is. They are therefore equating ‘there is no answer’ to ‘I don’t know the answer, but I haven’t actually tried to find out’. I find this an interesting insight into the level of rigour in the thinking of most of those opposed to wind turbines.

 


 

>;25/2/2011b – Next Steps

As discussed in the post above, the decision about the wind farm seemed to be positive, but was not final. There are still conditions to be decided upon, and the planning board councillor will get to vote on them.

Infinergy think that the suggested conditions are quite onerous, but are happy to comply with them. It seems likely that the final decision will be made at a meeting of the planning board on the 31st March. Let’s hope that is as amicable as the last meeting (and with a similar result). I am not sure who will be allowed to speak, or even if anyone will be allowed to speak. I guess that it will be during the day and it is on a Thursday, so it should be a lower-key affair.


   

Want to Help?

I hope that I have convinced you that the issue is not as simple as: they are noisy and kill birds. I hope that you do not believe me, and to go and look up all this stuff yourself - to find out how the energy markets work, and to read the Non-Technical Summary of the Environmental Statement (or the whole thing if you are very brave). If you haven't got time, I hope that you have found all this interesting, or at the very least useful. Should you want to help, read on.....

You can help!
Wind farms are often turned down because a few people raise loud objections while the majority who support the farm remain quiet. We need to ensure that this does not happen in Purbeck. There are several ways you can show your support. In priority order:

Write to the Planners: Write a letter to the Purbeck planning department expressing your support. Write to Alan Davies, Planning Department, Purbeck District Council, Westport House, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 6PP. It will only take 5 minutes, and is the most important thing you can do! See below for some guidance.

Contact Your Councillor: Write a letter to your local councillor expressing your support, and asking them to support the farm on your behalf. We can help you with contacting them. Just drop us an email.

Come to your Parish Council Meeting: Each Parish Council will be asked whether or not they support it. We will try to have a presence at each meeting. You could come along too to lend local support. More details on the main website.

Come to the Decision Meeting: Purbeck District Council will meet sometime in March to decide whether or not to allow the wind farm to be built. The more people we get to attend the meeting, the more obvious the support will be! See our website or sign up for emails for more info.

Events: We may well organise an event or two to support the wind farm. You could come along. See our website or sign up for emails for more info.

Write to Your MP: Your MP can express your support to the Council

Sign a Petition: If you really don’t have the time to do any of the above, please sign a petition of support. We will arrange one closer to the time.

Letter Writing

If you want to let the council know about your support, but don't have time to write a letter, you can use Infinergy's online tool at http://www.alaskawindfarm.co.uk/support-letter.aspx. If you do have the time, we'd hope that you write a letter.....


So, do you want to write a letter? Not know what to write?
This is to help you write to the planners at Purbeck District Council to support the wind farm on the Puddletown Road. Firstly, thanks! There will probably be some people shouting very loudly about their objections, and we need to show that they do not represent the majority. This is the single best thing that you can do to help (there are other things – see above). The opinions of everyone in Purbeck are important – not just those right next to the site, so grab your pen and paper!

Background Information:
Many people like the idea of a carbon-free energy source, but have doubts over the potential problems with wind turbines such as noise, shadow flicker and the effects on wildlife. For more info on these issues, see our main website or the rest of this blog above, but in brief: extensive studies have been performed as part of the planning application to show that none of these will be a problem and that there will be no significant risk to anyone or anything from the wind farm. The results of the studies can be found in the Non Technical Summary of the Environmental Statement on the Purbeck District Council website. The only contentious issue is how it will look.

Who to Write To:
Alan Davies, Planning Department, Purbeck District Council, Westport House, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 6PP

What To Include:
Your letter will have much more weight if you write it yourself instead of just signing a standard one. Things you could include are:
• Your Contact details (so they know where you live, and that your opinion should count)
• That you are writing to support the wind farm
• That you care about future of the planet, and think that steps need to be taken to reduce carbon emissions
• That you understand that the Climate Change Act and the EU renewable energy targets means that onshore wind turbines will have to become more common
• That Dorset and/or Purbeck should do its bit and not rely on others
• That you like the look of wind turbines, or that you don’t mind the look given what they do
• That you hope that Purbeck District Council grants permission for them to be built
• Anything else you think relevant
• Signature




Contact

If you have more questions, want to learn more, or want to help further, you can contact us at wind4dorset@hotmail.co.uk

Thank you for your time.

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