Dr. Hall Presents on Windfarms at CALC AGM

One man’s view of the day by Charles Paxton.

There was fair weather over Kendal for the 37th Cumbria Association of Local Councils (CALC) Annual General Meeting at The Castle Green Hotel in Kendal yesterday, Saturday 12 November. It was a pleasant venue, the event was well organised, well catered and attended by about 50 Councillors. There was opportunity to chat with people before the meeting and over the buffet lunch.

It has been a busy year for CALC with lots of work connected with the coming Localism Bill and close involvement with the County’s efforts to develop broadband access and preparing for demographic change. They’ve strengthened their membership base, now 94% of Councillors are CALC members.  CALC will increase membership fees by just 3%, ( less than our current inflation rate).

There was well-deserved applause for the outgoing CALC President, Mr. Melvyn Redgers OBE JP and the nominated officers were unanimously approved for appointment. With the coming of the Localism Bill and the profound changes that this will bring to Parish Council responsibilities, particularly in the area of local planning, the guest speaker for the event Dr. Mike Hall and the theme of his presentation seemed very relevant for us in Cumbria.

In his presentation Windfarms: Rape of The Countryside or Salvation of The World?, Dr. Hall began with a short self-introduction. With a background in planning, he manages The Burnsbeck Nature Reserve and he’s been a key figure in the FELLS Group (Friends of Eden, Lakeland and Lunesdale Scenery) for many years and has been involved in 7 public inquiries.

He stressed that in planning terms the siting problem has been exacerbated by increasing difficulty in mitigation, as turbine size has increased considerably over time, with applications for turbines 15-18 meters high in 1985 and recent designs being for very much larger structures (up to 165m in the UK).  The largest turbines in Germany are 183m tall.

Having drawn the important distinction between visual impact (how the turbines actually look, i.e. in terms of dominance) and landscape impact (how the turbines impact upon the landscape character), he noted that our subjective reaction to them was another matter and likely to vary from individual to individual.

He then presented us with an itemized list of pros and cons of wind farms.
Strengths:

  • Virtually no fuel costs involved in their operation,
  • No supply chain problems,
  • No Significant waste in their use

Weaknesses:

  • Reliability,
  • Dispatchability,
  • Contribution to reducing CO2,
He asked us to make up our own minds about wind farms in Cumbria once we had seen the rest of the presentation. ( CALC will make the presentation available on their website soon and I will add that link here.)
OVERVIEW
In short, the presentation showed that while Britain has been vaunted as having the best wind resource in Europe, the reality is that the resource is unevenly distributed, is unreliable and is impractical – being  poorly suited to the demands that are actually placed on the National Grid by consumers. He cited example areas in Wales where tourism business was under threat and reminded us of the importance that this industry sector has in the Cumbrian economy.  He warned that Cumbria was being targeted heavily by wind farm developers and suggested that parts of Cumbria, particularly some areas near the Solway had reached saturation point.
 Wind farms cannot provide ‘base load’ (the minimum requirements of electricity that are required to be available all the time) nor can it provide ‘load following’ generation (provision of electricity to match demand). Our electricity use varies considerably throughout the day, week and year, we can’t match our energy use to the availability of wind. Recent very cold winter weather was windless.
Dr. Hall tells us that wind farms’ failure to reliably provide energy on demand would require the equivalent of 30-40 new gas-powered power stations as back-up to ensure that there is power available when it is needed.
What about the disappointing contributions to CO2 savings? CO2 savings attributed to wind farms are calculated from the equivalent emissions from alternative fossil fuel generation prevalent at the time.  Apart from the CO2 emitted from the afore-mentioned back-up from conventional power stations, the declarable savings of CO2 from wind farms have dropped over time with the closure of old dirtier coal-fired power stations and their replacement with cleaner burning fossil fuel plants, such as natural gas and Liquid Petroleum Gas.
If the proposed wind farm sites damage natural peat carbon sinks then there is extra release of carbon stored over thousands of years from the peat to factor-in to the equation too. Peat gives off carbon as it dries and shrinks.
So where does all this leave us in relation to Dr. Hall’s title question?  It looks like rape to me. Personally, I think there has to be a more satisfactory solution.
 I think in Cumbria we’d be better off  looking at ways to improve efficiency of energy use from conventional power stations and nuclear and to supplement that generation with microgeneration and efficiency enhancement measures that have no negative landscape impact.  This way we’d maximise  efficiency from central generation, bulk purchasing of fuel and minimise negative visual and landscape impacts.
There are technologies available today for home heating and lighting that are extremely efficient and they will be the subject of my next blog post.
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