Box: The Eight Most Irritating Comments for Wind Farmers
1. ‘I don’t like the look of them.’
Who cares what you think? The classic ad hominem argument, and a point of view (literally) expressed in ignorance of all the other factors that need to be weighed up in a planning decision. I might not like the look of your house, but I’m not asking you to pull it down. You tell me that wind turbines are fundamentally changing the landscape. If we don’t have renewables, and fast, you’re really going to see what it means to have the landscape changed.
2. ‘I think they’re quite beautiful.’
Again, that’s your perspective. Really, why are we having an aesthetic debate about a power station? No one objects to a nuclear power station because it doesn’t look very pretty. In the context of global warming, it’s like having a gun to your head and wondering whether your blood will make an attractive pattern on the wall.
3. ‘They don’t work as well as … [take your pick from] nuclear, gas, “clean coal”, fracking, energy efficiency…’
Maybe, maybe not. Depends where you are, how windy it is, and so on. But that isn’t the point. You’re looking for a “silver bullet” solution, and there isn’t one. Each energy solution has advantages and disadvantages, and those depend on its situation and the market in which it operates. To focus only on the solution that has the disadvantages you personally are prepared to discount or ignore, and to focus on the advantages that you personally think are more important than others is wantonly thickheaded.
4. ‘They’re subsidised by the taxpayer. Why should I pay for someone else’s morals?’
Wind farms are not subsidised by the taxpayer. They are, in fact, subsidised by the consumer. So if you don’t want to pay, turn your lights off. Forms of energy that are or have been subsidised by the taxpayer include gas, coal, petrol, diesel, nuclear and now fracking.By the way, the rise in retail energy prices has almost nothing to do with renewables. It is in large part to do with the rise in the wholesale price of oil and gas.
5. ‘They’re noisy, aren’t they?’
Like all energy production facilities, they make a bit of noise, but… (and this is where I tend to get a bit shouty)… ONLY WHEN IT’S WINDY AND THEREFORE NOISY ANYWAY! In any case, have you ever listened to an oil derrick, or a coal-fired power station, from a hundred yards away?
6. ‘They don’t work all the time, and can’t deal with the base load requirement.’
A prime example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. It is true that when the wind isn’t blowing, turbines do not turn, and thus the base load requirement of the national grid cannot be entirely met. But there are other requirements than the base load, with which wind is capable of dealing. Just because something does not solve the entirety of a problem, that does not mean it should be discounted from dealing with any of that problem.
7. ‘Why can’t they be put offshore?’
They can. Offshore must be part of the mix, although it’s not as if there are fewer environmental considerations out at sea – it’s just that they are of less concern to you. The trouble is it’s very expensive. Piledriving 200 tonnes of concrete into the seabed is no mean feat (and no fabulous boon to the seabed), but it’s really with the maintenance of the turbines that it gets expensive. If an onshore turbine goes wrong, a man or woman with a spanner walks up the middle of the tower and fixes it (roughly speaking). Offshore, you need a £40m bespoke barge, deep-sea divers with electrical engineering degrees, and you need the weather to be right. All the time you haven’t got those things, the turbine isn’t producing electricity.
8. ‘Wind turbines kill birds.’
Avian mortality (in the US) per million, by cause: Wind turbines 0.02 Aircraft 0.08 Fossil fuel power plants 14 Communications towers c.50 Cars 100 Windows 976 Cats 3,700 Take your moggy to the vet and have him/her put down before telling me I can’t have clean energy.
Whirligig (published by Short Books in April 2013, priced £7.99) is Magnus Macintyre's first novel, and is a wind-farming comedy. He is also the founder and a non-executive director of the Wind Energy group of companies.