The debate about onshore wind energy projects in the UK, and in England especially, has been pretty one-sided. Protest groups have hijacked the agenda and spread countless misleading stories about wind farms. Here are just a few of the more familiar claims .
WIND FARMS ARE NOISY?
The simplest way to disprove this is to visit a wind farm. Stand right underneath the blades as they turn and you’ll find that you can hold a conversation at normal level, totally unaffected by the sound wave caused by the descending blade. At 500 metres from the turbines, you’re highly unlikely to hear any wind farm noise at all.
Some protesters argue that, as sound waves radiate outwards, so the noise of a wind turbine increases as you get further away. But that’s not physically possible.
Not only would noisy wind turbines be a public relations problem for a growing industry – they would also be indicative of energy being wasted. Renewable energy companies have been refining the design of wind turbines for nearly thirty years to ensure that they generate as much electricity as possible with the minimum amount of noise. To say that they are noisy therefore is totally misleading. They are not.
WIND FARMS ARE INEFFICIENT?
The word ‘inefficient’ doesn’t properly apply to a machine which is not powered by fossil fuels. In wind energy circles, the correct term is ‘load capacity’. Most modern wind turbines have a load capacity of around 30%, which means that they are expected to generate 30% of the energy which might be produced if they were working flat out all of the time.
30% may not sound much. But it’s about the same as the efficiency levels of nuclear power plants and coal-fired power stations, and considerably more ‘efficient’ than gas. In other words, wind farms are only about as ‘inefficient’ as nuclear or coal, but they don’t produce the same dangerous waste products as nuclear or coal, which you could say makes them even more efficient.
WIND TURBINES CAN NEVER PAY BACK THE COSTS OF PRODUCING THEM?
This is simply untrue. The average wind turbine today recoups its production costs (including transport and installation) within about 9 months of starting operation. The remaining twenty-five years or so of its operating life can therefore be spent generating clean, green energy with no costs to pay back.
WIND FARMS CAUSE HOUSE PRICES TO FALL IN THE IMMEDIATE AREA?
There is no evidence for this whatsoever – which, when you think about it, is proof that it is a myth. Various studies have been carried out in the UK and overseas, and not one has shown that wind farms have a negative effect on property values. In fact, one of the largest surveys yet carried out in the United States indicates that houses are more likely to go up faster in value near a wind farm than where there is no wind farm.
The reality is that no study has found house prices suffering as a result of proximity to a wind farm. The myth has been created by people who want to scare others by frightening them about falling property values. But if house prices really were at risk, there would be at least a shred of evidence by now. And there isn’t.
WIND FARMS ARE HARMFUL TO WILDLIFE?
Some years ago, bird populations were observed to be declining near two wind farms in the United States. Research revealed that the wind farms had been erected on what were migratory paths. Since then, wind farm developers have undertaken extensive surveys into local wildlife and migratory patterns before submitting planning applications in order to avoid any impact on birds, bats and other creatures in the area.
If wind farms were a threat to bird populations, the RSPB would not have called publicly for a massive increase in the number of wind farms or for changes to the planning process in order to avoid the foolish, time-wasting and dishonest stalling tactics used by protesters. The National Trust and the CPRE have also called for more wind farms, as all three bodies recognise that the greatest threat to British wildlife and the countryside comes not from wind farms but from climate change.
Anyone worried about birds being hurt by wind turbines should first dispose of their cars and their household pets (which cause millions of bird deaths each year) and then visit a wind farm and look for evidence of bird strikes. They’ll stop worrying about it when they find that the problem doesn’t exist.
WIND FARMS ARE POINTLESS AS THEY NEED NUCLEAR POWER TO BACK THEM UP?
For a start, any energy generated by sustainable, renewable, clean, green means is good news. The UK is perfectly capable of generating all of its electricity needs through renewables without having to cover the whole land with wind farms. The National Grid had announced that it is perfectly capable of coping with fluctuations in wind and the consequent fluctuations in electricity production from wind farms – after all, it has to deal with the sudden shut downs of nuclear power stations, and if it can handle that it can cope with the odd wind farm not working.
By the way, relying on nuclear power is a mistake, as France has found out in recent summers. And scientists still have no idea how to store dangerous nuclear waste safely for much more than a hundred years. Some isotopes in waste from nuclear power stations will be radioactive for the best part of a million years.
Even if the new generation of nuclear power plants are built, they will not be ready until about 2025. Ofgen has announced that energy bills will increase by 60% over the next ten years, and there will be power shortages by 2016.
So anyone who tries to fight plans for wind farms in their area is campaigning for power cuts, higher household bills, more nuclear power stations (which produce hideously expensive energy with terrifying safety and security issues) and greater reliance on foreign states for our energy supplies.
The sensible, logical, environmentally sustainable, efficient, inexpensive, patriotic and reliable option is renewables and wind power in particular.
Don’t let the protesters mislead you. Wind energy is safe. Wind energy is harmless. Wind energy works – and it’s here to stay.
If in doubt, why not ask David Cameron? His father-in-law has a wind farm on his Lincolnshire estate, close to the family home.
If it’s good enough for Samantha Cameron’s father, it’s good enough for us!
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