This page is open for moderated public comment. Please put your comment at the top of the page, and sign it with name and address, otherwise it will not be accepted. Note that you can also send your comment directly to the wind farm company: http://www.totnescommunitywindfarm.com/Totnes_Community_Wind_Far_1./Contact.html
Going forward with sustainable energy
by Tim Padfield, 28 Feb 2013
It is gratifying to hear so many opponents of the Langridge Cross wind turbines assert their support for sustainable energy generation, in general terms. Let us harness this outpouring of enthusiasm to some real projects.
The neighbourhood plan for Harberton parish is an obvious vehicle for this enthusiasm. We welcome collaborators in this project (see the Neighbourhood plan page).
To look rationally at the sustainable energy scene, one needs some basic data on the theoretically available energy, and the energy density from each technique. Then one looks at the cost per kWh of methods which pass the test of being able to provide enough electricity.
In terms of energy density, wind can provide at most 20 kW per hectare, averaged over time and assuming a very large array of optimally spaced turbines. Photovoltaic panels provide about 50 kW/ha. This seems to be better than wind but remember that the space under the turbine array can still be used for food production. The land under solar panels may well enhance biodiversity with shade loving plants and voles sheltering from owls. Electricity from burning wood, which is the most effective way of using biomass, comes in at about 3 kW/ha average. Other ways of transforming biomass into gas or liquid fuel have a smaller yield per hectare.
Britain covers about 24 million hectares, so the wind energy available, if optimally exploited, is 24 million x 20 kW = 480 GW. We need about 100 GW altogether. Let's assume turbines with 0.5MW average power (2MW written on the tin). We need 200,000 turbines, that is one turbine per 120 ha (= 300 acres), which is less than one per square kilometre. 10% of Britain is urban area and maybe another 10% unsuitable for other reasons. At worst we need two turbines per square km of suitable land to provide all our electricity, but at a variable rate, which I revisit later. At a higher price, we can put the wind turbines offshore. The wind is stronger but the waves are powerful and salt spray is corrosive to the fine machinery. It is a large price for putting turbines out of sight.
The corresponding calculation for photovoltaic panels is 2 million hectares = 8% of Britain's land area. This also is feasible, but it removes maybe 5% of cultivable land from food production. Offshore solar panels are not yet a feasible technology.
Electricity from wood would take more than the whole area of the UK under forest cover. It used to be like that but returning to coastal hunter-gathering society would be painful for many, delightful to a few.
It is difficult to state the cost of these alternatives, and compare them with fossil fuel and nuclear because the true cost of production is manipulated for commercial advantage, being probably overstated to attract state subsidy. It seems that combined-cycle gas generators are the cheapest to run (the combination is usually a gas turbine generator whose exhaust gas boils water to run a steam turbine). They are also quick to start and thus are well suited to back up wind power on calm days and solar voltaic at night. In principle they can be fuelled by biogas, but this gives no advantage, because of the low yield per hectare of biogas. The energy density of fossil gas is very high, so hardly any land is taken up by the power station, though if shale gas is used there may well be drilling rigs scattered around, but surely not as many as the wind turbines.
The highest energy density is provided by nuclear fuel, though uranium extraction makes big holes in the ground, outside the UK. The high energy density seems to require such exotic safety precautions that the cost is surprisingly high.
So we have basically two alternative, but not mutually exclusive electricity sources - gas and nuclear plants hidden out of sight of almost everyone in the UK, or wind and solar voltaic with entirely free fuel but needing either a lot of land or presenting a strong visual feature in the rural landscape almost everywhere. We can of course import electricity from Europe, particularly Irish on shore wind, but then we have to pay, and export some stuff to maintain the balance of payments.
Because storing electricity is not yet feasible on a sufficient scale, wind and solar voltaic will not provide all our electricity, even if we exchange electricity with Europe, so rapidly adjustable gas and/or nuclear will be needed. If one stops at half of the UK supply being wind and solar, that would need either 4% of rural areas covered with solar panels, or one wind turbine per square km, or any combination in between.
At first glance, gas and nuclear seems the way to go. However, gas prices are predicted to rise and so will the price of nuclear fuel as other more populous countries increase their standard of living. Wind energy is the best of the truly everlasting and local resources. Because of variable production it mainly saves on fuel cost rather than capital installation cost. One turbine in every kilometre square, on average, hardly seems intrusive but the Brits seem unable to accept this change in the look of the landscape, however rapidly this is constantly changing anyway with the economic pressures on agricultural practices.
It is a mystery to me that these slender devices arouse such animosity. If our attitude does not change we will suffer in our electricity bills, but maybe not at a catastrophic rate that will force a change in attitude.
As for the alternatives: the truly sustainable alternatives are either unable to meet a significant fraction of the demand (tide, wave, hydro) or require an unreasonable amount of land taken out of food cultivation.
An often cited alternative - that we should use less electricity, is against the natural human instincts for displaying wealth and procrastinating over house insulation improvement.
So there we are, having shot down the wind turbine proposal - what alternative does anyone suggest?
TRESOC comments the day after TCWF application is turned down
Chris Bird, TRESOC member, commented after the meeting, "Most of the concerns expressed by the anti-wind campaigners were rejected and it all came down to the views of English Heritage on the impact of the turbines on views of and from the local church and some concerns about bats. This latter objection was unclear since it was based on guidance from Natural England who had not objected to the turbines."
Ian Bright, TRESOC MD, said, "We are naturally disappointed by the SHDC decision but not surprised. It shows clearly that local planning authorities do not yet have the insight and tools to balance parochial concerns against national strategic objectives for deployment of renewable energy. Most wind farm planning applications are decided and won on appeal. There are different ways to appeal and the cost is potentially greater than that of preparing the planning application. The TCWF partnership will be exploring all of our options over the next few weeks."
TRESOC sees this as an opportunity to keep the conversation going. Jane Brady, TRESOC Communications Director, says: "The Luscombe Cross site remains by far the best site for windpower generation in the South Hams. We are encouraging people to write to MP Sarah Wollaston and their ward councillor and ask them this:
We understand that SHDC is preparing a renewable energy strategy and we are curious to learn how they propose to support attainment of the national 15% renewable energy target without large scale wind turbines and what measures they propose to support community-led initiatives like TRESOC? And, when will the community see a draft?"
As TCWF moves to the next stage, TRESOC is looking forward. Jane continues, "Based on the fervour in the room yesterday for renewable energy in general, we look forward to seeing Harberton and Harbertonford residents showing by their actions and not just their words that they believe in renewable energy, including community engagement. We would particularly welcome any ideas for projects that we can work on together."
TRESOC would like to thank Steve Munday and Tim Padfield who spoke for the application at the meeting, and their members and supporters who, as Ian Bright noted, "turned out in numbers in such bad weather to show TV and the press that community-owned wind turbines – of a scale required to meet national objectives – are supported by a majority in this community".
Jane Brady, 14 February 2013
Thursday 14th February: a victory for our landscape - and rationality
Anthony Harrison writes:
Unable to attend the decisive meeting of the Planning Committee yesterday, I learned last night that the Luscombe X turbines application had been rejected by a very decisive majority. In my opinion this was the wholly right and proper decision: the deciding factor seems to have been the potential impact on the landscape, which is very true, but for me the decision represents a bulwark against the onward march of a technology, a social issue, that is not only wrong headed but negative and even malign in its impact. The odd turbine erected to meet the power requirements of an individual home might seem benign; but the idea of erecting turbines en masse, in the pretence that these can provide the huge amounts of reliable, consistent, long term energy necessary to an advanced economy, is grotesque.
"En masse" is the operative term: even to supply the equivalent power of just one major conventionally-fuelled power station would require literally thousands of turbines - and the conventional power station would have to be permanently on call as backup for when the wind fails to blow, or blows too strongly... The idea of blanketing our landscape with turbines to provide an erratic, unreliable energy source that would still in all likelihood be in a permanent state of trying to catch up with escalating energy requirements represents criminal folly.
It seems to me that much of the pro-turbine argument was based on sentiment and wishful thinking, very much in line with the charming but batty side of alternative Totnesian attitudes. The turbines would be a "wind farm" - not an industrial unit; they would belong to "the community" - not largely to an energy conglomerate; they would help to "save the planet" - from what: from humanity and its energy needs?
The case officer's report usefully highlighted the divide in opinion: the great bulk of turbine support came from outside the parish, while submissions regarding the application from within Harberton Parish were largely opposed. The "Totnes Wind Farm" would have been Harberton Power Station (part time, sort of), a fact recognised all too clearly by local residents whose lives & landscape would have been blighted by these towering structures.
This issue will not go away, but yesterday's result is cheering and a great relief. It is possible that Infinergy will appeal; but at government level the onshore-wind tide seems to have been turning and there is less kneejerk support for the speciously "green" credentials of wind. Perhaps politicians - notoriously short-termist - are realising that unless something radical is done very soon to ensure our future energy supplies, they might not survive public anger when the lights start going dim... This island still sits on huge reserves of coal, and the abundance of our shale-gas reserves becomes clearer every day; we used to have a world-class nuclear engineering industry, which can be revived; new technologies such as thorium and fusion continue to be researched (something we are still good at) and fresh priority must be given to these.
Windmills are just so eighteenth century - an ephemeral infatuation of those who prefer style over substance. Let's hope the Luscombe Cross scheme has had a stake driven through its heart.
Megaliths versus Megawatts
This is the address given to the South Hams Development Management Committee by Parish Councillor Tim Padfield, supporting the Langridge Cross wind turbines, 13 February 2013
The planning officers' report is admirably fair in testing the opponents' exotic flights of fancy against mainstream science.
This leaves their only grounds for recommending refusal a vaguely described European wildlife directive and the opinion of English Heritage, which claims to have a metric for a fundamentally subjective and personal judgement: if you can place yourself anywhere on public land where a historic structure is visible in the same field of view as a wind turbine - the turbine must go. This message is reinforced by instructing us that turbines are 'crude industrial design', itself a crude, repeated sneer, revealing a shallow prejudice in a public body.
Industrial devices provide to all the opponents of the turbines both their immediate surroundings and their enviable standard of living. Their televisions, toasters and hair dryers may not be crude in design but we can be sure they have all been made somewhere over the horizon, out of sight.
The electricity to activate these industrial devices, also comes from power stations over the horizon, out of sight.
Some people here like it that way, defending their arcadian idyll, none of whose practical comforts have been made anywhere near their green acres. Other people, I am glad to say, see an opportunity to contribute back to the common good by using our local natural asset - abundant wind, to fuel the most benign and graceful technology ever devised to generate electric power.
In 1968, Garrett Hardin published an influential, now classic article entitled 'The tragedy of the commons'. This is the phenomenon that individual selfishness and greed in exploiting an asset common to all mankind eventually destroys that asset. We see this happening now, in our exhaustion over a few generations, of fossil fuel accumulated over millions of years. Now, the opponents of wind turbines are adding a further bitter twist to this tragedy, by opposing exploitation of an inexhaustible natural asset - the wind passing over our land.
When you vote in favour, both electricity and a powerful message will go out - over the horizon.
Note: the two parish councillors' 3 minute presentations were a break with normal planning procedure, but were on the instructions of the district council, for obscure reasons, which need clarification.
The rush to build wind turbines has parallels with the 1950's and 60's. The fashion then was to build high rise tower blocks. Clearing streets of terraced back to back houses and replacing them with gleaming high rise tower blocks seemed an idealistic and principled improvement for the community. Taking their cue from Le Corbusier and the German Modernist Bauhaus School of Architecture a massive building programme was pursued across the country in the post war period. In reality the tower blocks proved unpopular and only succeeded in encouraging social problems. Although architects had intended the opposite, tower blocks quickly became the 'slums in the sky'. Much time and money has since been spent pulling down all the high rise tower blocks in our major cities and reinstating the terraced houses.
What are the lessons for now? Turbines like Luscombe Cross are the tower blocks of the 50's, gleaming spires, built in haste, repented at leisure. Few people dispute that energy production must move to a low carbon solution. Furthermore, our Government have signed a treaty that determines the change must happen by 2020/40. The danger now is in just doing something, because it is fashionable or because “we must do something”.
In reality, onshore wind is unpredictable, it requires substantial backup from conventional sources, graphically described here http://colinmcinnes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/energy-and-environment-news-from-state.html. If onshore wind is to be viable without vast subsidies paid by the public through their electricity bills, wind turbines need to be sited in areas of consistently high wind strength, this means offshore, coastal regions and the high moors. It must be remembered here, that we are talking about generating industrial quantities of electricityas cheaply and efficiently as possible, if it is to offer a genuine contribution to energy production.
Strangely, Government guidance does not allow planning committees to comment on the viability or efficiency of any proposed wind farm. Were they able, they would note that the mean wind strength at Luscombe Cross is 6.4 m/s (metres/sec) @ 10 metres height and 7.3 m/s @ 45metres height NOABL wind map http://www.rensmart.com/Weather/BERR This is just below the usual margin for viable electricity production – 7.5m/s. Fortunately the substantial subsidies would make this a financially viable project even if ineffective for the primary purpose of generating electricity.
Living in this area of the UK, we are surrounded by water. Water is 750 times more dense than air and a much smaller turbine is required, indeed planning has already been granted for a small hydroelectric scheme in the River Dart. I personally favour the Severn Barrage, which it is estimated, would produce 10% of the UK energy requirements. Not a new technology, a tidal barrage opened in the1960's on the Rance River near St Malo generating maximum of 240MW ie 100 Luscombe Cross Wind Turbines.
On shore wind enjoys the lowest capital cost of all renewables, yet it receives a feed in tariff nearly twice times that of solar energy. So whilst the Luscombe Cross Turbines may be ineffective at generating low carbon power, they would prove to be excellent generators of money, for the landowner and the developer. On shore wind offers the biggest financial return for the least outlay. If approved, the rest of us will be left to pay the levy in our electricity bills and gaze at the Luscombe Cross wind turbines, the “high rise tower blocks” of the 21st century.
David Thompson Hallalen Harberton Totnes TQ9 7SS
Turbine spin on TT
Andrew Dodwell writes to the Totnes Times 9 January 2012 saying that "Denmark's giant... power company has banned ...onshore turbines for reasons of health problems...". This is, to put it mildly, an embroidered interpretation. The company referred to, Dong, decided in 2010 to pull out of onshore wind to concentrate on offshore, in the Thames estuary among other places. It never had power to ban anything. The decision was based on several economic and societal factors. A press report with exact citations from the director is here http://ing.dk/artikel/111490-dong-dropper-vindmoelleparker-paa-land. One contributing reason was that the Danish government ordered compensation to be paid for loss of house value, making the economics of onshore wind more difficult to predict. However, onshore turbines are still being put up in Denmark, the principle operator being the Swedish company Vattenfall, which has just negotiated to erect twenty two 3 MW turbines in north Jutland (http://ing.dk/artikel/135390-danmarks-stoerste-vindmoellepark-paa-land-faar-groent-lys). There were no protests at the public hearing. This seems to be because Vattenfall engages in years of patient negotiation with the local people to allay anxieties and to ensure benefits to the local society. Vattenfall has so far set up 265 onshore turbines with a total capacity of 220 MW so it is not a fringe operator. It still sees a good future for onshore wind. The lesson from this is not that Denmark has lost it lust to put up wind turbines, rather that Tresoc has been clumsy at persuading the local community of the benefits accruing both to the national power supply and to local wealth. Denmark is a more consensual society, arriving at decisions which affect many people through a process of negotiation rather than using the adversarial methods of English decision making. That is not to say there are not opponents of onshore wind in Denmark but the debate holds closer to verifiable and measurable facts than to wild exaggerations and third hand citations from blatantly partisan newspapers. If Mr. Dodwell is really interested in following the instantaneous performance of the various Danish power sources, fossil, wind and imported/exported, he can study http://energinet.dk/Flash/Forside/index.html
Dodwell continues in dogmatic sloganising style "[Denmark] failed to close a single conventional power station...". On 1 January 2013 Denmark closed two power stations, Enstedværket and Stigsnæsværket. This resulted in Denmark no longer always having sufficient generating capacity within its own borders. When it is not windy, it imports electricity. On further examination, he would discover that the thermal power stations adjust their operation to provide district heating rather than electricity when there is good wind power, thus replacing thousands of individual oil or gas burners in houses. Surplus wind power is also being used for heat pumps to replenish hot water reservoirs for district heating, which is being extended at a rate which shames the UKs torpidity over infrastructure improvements. Over Christmas 2012 the wholesale price of electricity in Denmark fell below zero, because factories were closed, the weather was warm and windy. The claim of high Danish electricity prices has nothing to do with wind energy - it is a high taxation, high wage economy which returns much of the revenue in enviable public services. It is a widespread journalistic trick to use carefully selected, or downright wrong, foreign statistics and foreign language statements because of the near certainty that they will not be checked by the average reader in UK.
Finally, the noise regulations criticised by Dodwell regulate the noise allowed, regardless of the size of turbine so need no revision to take account of increases in size and power. And there are silent refrigerators, so crude analogies are silly.
Tim Padfield, 22 January 2013
From the editor to the correspondent writing on 4 January: anonymous posts are not accepted, you must give your name and address. We want to keep this website as a forum for local information and opinions. Please resubmit, or send your post to the editor if you wish your address not to be revealed.