Windy Promises

The first large scale study of wind farms in Britain has found out that actual power production is not even close to projections. Some of the actual production figures are laughably low compared to what proponents stated. Now long term readers around here know that my background is in the field of power engineering. They also know that these kinds of problems are right in line with what I expressed in a wind power primer I wrote not long after I started  Blue Crab Boulevard.

The first independent study to rate farms according to how much electricity they produce shows that wind farms south of the Scottish border are not generating as much as the Government assumed when it set the target of producing a tenth of Britain's energy from renewables by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2015.

Despite millions being spent on wind turbines, the study by the Renewable Energy Foundation shows that England and Wales are not windy enough to allow large turbines to work at the rates claimed for them. The foundation, a charity that aims to evaluate wind and other forms of renewable energy on an equal basis, based its study of more than 500 turbines now in operation on data supplied by companies to Ofgem, the energy regulator.

The study shows that even wind farms in Cornwall on west-facing coasts, which might be expected to be the most efficient, operated at only 24·1 per cent of capacity on average. Turbines in mid-Wales ran on average at only 23·8 per cent. Those in the Yorkshire Dales ran at 24·9 per cent and Cumbria 25·9 of capacity. The only regions with turbines operating at or above 30 per cent of capacity were in southern Scotland, which averaged 31·5 per cent, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland at 32·9 per cent and offshore (North Hoyle and Scroby Sands on opposite sides of the country), which came in at 32·6 per cent.

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The foundation's report found some real "turkeys" in lowland England – some attached to the offices of high profile companies. Worst of all is the turbine close to the M25 at Kings Langley, Herts at the HQ of Renewable Energy Systems, the green energy division of Robert McAlpine group. This produces 7·7 per cent of the electricity it would if there was enough wind for it to run continuously at full power.

The study says the turbine at GlaxoSmithKline's pharmaceutical plant at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, which is in a built up area and uses second-hand turbines, operates at 8·8 per cent of capacity. "We are really talking about a garden ornament, not a power station. These are statements about the company's corporate social responsibility, not efficient generating capacity," Mr Constable said.

The foundation says that too much subsidy (£45.50 per megawatt hour under the renewables obligation which gives wind farms 60-70 per cent of their annual income) has encouraged wind development in poor sites.

What a surprise. Throwing subsidies at the projects leads to bad projects. As I have stated in the past, wind power certainly has a place, but it simply is not a magic bullet as some people try to claim it is. There are real drawbacks here and real insurmountable engineering problems. And they are insurmountable, it is not possible to throw enough dollars at the problem to repeal the laws of physics.

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