Wind Farm Myths

Myth: Tens of thousands of wind turbines will be cluttering the British countryside

Fact: To obtain 10% of our electricity from the wind would require constructing around 12,000 MW of wind energy capacity.

Depending on the size of the turbines, they would extend over 80,000 to 120,000 hectares (0.3% to 0.5% of the UK land area).

Less than 1% of this (800 to 1,200 hectares) would be used for foundations and access roads, the other 99% could still be used for productive farming.

For comparison, between 288,000 to 360,000 hectares (1.2-1.5% of the UK land area) is covered by roads and some 18.5 million hectares (77%) are used for agriculture.

Myth: Building a wind farm takes more energy than it ever makes

Fact: The comparison of energy used in manufacture with the energy produced by a power station is known as the ‘energy balance’.

It can be expressed in terms of energy ‘pay-back’ time, i.e. as the time needed to generate the equivalent amount of energy used in manufacturing the wind turbine or power station.

The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months. This compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months.

Myth: Wind farms are inefficient. They are only operational 30% of the time

Fact: A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs dependent on wind speed.

Over the course of a year, it will generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output.

This is known as its load factor. The load factor of conventional power stations is on average 50%.

A modern wind turbine will generate enough to meet the electricity demands of more than a thousand homes over the course of a year.

Myth: Wind energy needs back-up to work

Fact: All forms of power generation require back-up and no energy technology can be relied upon 100%.

The UK’s transmission system already operates with enough back-up to manage the instantaneous loss of a large power station.

Variations in the output from wind farms are barely noticeable over and above the normal fluctuation in supply and demand, seen when the nation’s workforce goes home, or if lightning brings down a high-voltage transmission line.

Therefore, at present, there is no need for additional back-up because of wind energy.

Even for wind power to provide 10% of our nation’s electricity needs, only a small amount of additional conventional back-up would be required – in the region of 300-500 MW.

This would add only 0.2 pence per kilowatt hour to the generation cost of wind energy and would not in any way threaten the security of our grid. In fact, this is unlikely to become a significant issue until wind generates over 20% of total electricity supply.

Myth: Installing wind farms will never shut other power stations

Fact: The simple fact is that power plants in the UK are being shut down either through European legislation on emissions or sheer old age.

We need to act now to find replacement power sources: wind is an abundant resource, indigenous to the UK and therefore has a vital role to play in the new energy portfolio.

Myth: Wind power is expensive

Fact: Wind energy is one of the cheapest of the renewable energy technologies. It is competitive with new clean coal fired power stations and cheaper than new nuclear power.

The cost of wind energy varies according to many factors. An average for a new onshore wind farm in a good location is 3-4 pence per unit, competitive with new coal (2.5-4.5p) and cheaper than new nuclear (4-7p). Electricity from smaller wind farms can be more expensive.

Myth: The UK should invest in other renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency instead of wind power

Fact: Wind energy’s role in combating climate change is not a matter of either-or. The UK will need a mix of new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and as quickly as possible.

Significant amounts of investment have been allocated for wave and tidal energy development, and these technologies, along with solar and biomass energy, will have an important role in the UK’s future energy mix.

However, wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy source available to generate clean electricity and help combat climate change right now.

Furthermore, developing a strong wind industry will facilitate other renewable technologies which have not reached commercialisation yet, accumulating valuable experience in dealing with issues such as grid connection, supply chain and finance.

Myth: Wind farms should all be put out at sea

Fact: We will need a mix of both onshore and offshore wind energy to meet the UK’s challenging targets on climate change.

At present, onshore wind is more economical than development offshore.

However, more offshore wind farms are being built all of the time and prices will fall as the industry gains more experience.

Furthermore, offshore wind farms will take longer to develop, as the sea is inherently a more hostile environment.

To expect offshore to be the only form of wind generation allowed would therefore be to condemn us to missing our renewable energy targets and commitment to tackle climate change.

Myth: Wind farms are ugly and unpopular

Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you think a wind turbine is attractive or not will always be your personal opinion.

However, studies regularly show that most people find turbines an interesting feature of the landscape. On average 80% of the public support wind energy, less than 10% are against it, the remainder are undecided.

Surveys conducted since the early 1990’s across the country near existing wind farms have consistently found that most people are in favour of wind energy, with support increasing among those living near existing wind farms.

Myth: Wind farms negatively affect tourism

Fact: There is no evidence to suggest this. The UK’s first commercial wind farm at Delabole received 350,000 visitors in its first ten years of operation.

A MORI poll in Scotland showed that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a wind farm.

Furthermore, wind farm developers are often asked to provide a visitor centre, viewing platforms and rights of way to their sites.

Myth: Wind farms harm property prices

Fact: There is currently no evidence in the UK showing that wind farms impact house prices. However, there is evidence following a comprehensive study by the Scottish Executive that those living nearest to wind farms are their strongest advocates.

Myth: Wind farms kill birds

Fact: The RSPB stated in its 2004 information leaflet Wind farms and birds, that “in the UK, we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms”. Wind farms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment.

BWEA members follow best practice guidelines and work closely with organisations such as English Nature and the RSPB to ensure that wind farm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites.

Furthermore, a 2004 report published in the journal Nature confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change.

Myth: Wind farms are dangerous to humans

Fact: Wind energy is one of the safest forms of producing electricity. No member of the public has ever been injured by a wind turbine anywhere in the UK. Wind energy leaves no harmful emissions or residue in the environment.

Myth: Wind farms are noisy

Fact: The evolution of wind farm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines almost undetectable with the main sound being the aerodynamic swoosh of the blades passing the tower.

There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise emissions to ensure the protection of residential amenity. These are contained in the scientifically-informed ETSU Working Group guidelines 1996 and must be followed by wind farm developers, as referenced in national planning policy for renewables.

The best advice for any doubter is to come along to Wind Weekend and hear for yourself!

References

Embrace Wind, ‘Wind farm myths’, 2009, http://www.embracewind.com/myths.html