Sunday Times July 11 2004
Wind farms whip up division in WhitehallJonathan Leake, Environment Editor
A LEADING government scientist has criticised the wind farms springing up across the country as “bloody eyesores” and has said they will never supply more than a fraction of Britain’s energy needs.
Professor Howard Dalton, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said the power from wind farms would be expensive and the turbines costly to maintain.
The criticisms come as the wind power industry is gearing up for a huge expansion. There are plans for up to 2,000 more turbines on land and another 6,000 around the coasts. The existing 1,000 turbines have already sparked huge protests.
“Wind power can make a contribution but do we really want windmills all over the countryside and covering swathes of the ocean? I don’t think so. If we built enough we might get 10%-20% of our energy needs but they are a hell of a bloody eyesore,” Dalton said.
His comments lay bare a growing rift over energy policy between Margaret Beckett’s Defra and Patricia Hewitt’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which is behind the government’s heavy promotion of wind power.
Defra’s view is that Britain should be using conservation and efficiency measures to reduce energy consumption and so cut greenhouse gases rather than simply pouring billions into new generating capacity.
The DTI is so concerned about the growing opposition to wind farms that it recently awarded Porter Novelli, an international public relations company, a £2m contract to promote them via a website and through workshops and conferences. The move has enraged the myriad opposition groups fighting wind farm proposals around Britain. This week they will set up a national energy foundation, to be led by Noel Edmonds, the former television presenter.
Edmonds said: “Politicians are promoting wind turbines as a green icon but they are misleading the public into believing the propaganda of the wind farm industry. The reality is that wind power is too costly and can never meet our energy needs — but it will destroy the countryside.”
A recent study commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering showed that wind power could indeed prove expensive. It showed that coal, gas and nuclear power stations produce power for between 2p and 3p per kilowatt hour compared with 5.4p for power from land-based turbines. Offshore turbines — of which thousands are planned in the next decade — would cost 7.2p per unit.
This means that if consumers opted to buy all their energy from wind farms and had to pay the full costs, they would see their bills double, at least.
After another study Claire Durkin, head of energy innovation at the DTI, confirmed the potentially high cost but said this was justified because wind power met greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Tony Blair has said that he wants Britain to increase the energy that it obtains from renewable sources from its present 3.9% to 10% by 2010 and to 20% by 2020. Under DTI plans, about 75% of that would come from wind energy. By the end of this year, 22 wind farm projects are expected to come into use and more are planned.
In a free market such investments would fail because the power generated is much more expensive than that from other sources. But the wind power industry is protected from such forces because electricity suppliers are legally obliged to buy a proportion of their power from renewable sources. During the coming few years that proportion will slowly increase.
Such hidden subsidies have enraged many conservationists. Last week David Bellamy, the environmentalist, was among hundreds of people who took to the Lake District fells to protest against plans for some of the tallest turbines ever designed for England.
Opponents of the planned Whinash wind farm near Tebay claim the turbines will be visibl from some of the Lake District’s most popular peaks. Lord Bragg, the writer and broadcaster, and Sir Chris Bonington, the mountaineer, are opposing the proposals.
Similar divisions have emerged in the green movement over wind energy. Some groups, including the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, object to wind farms while others, such as Friends of the Earth, are in favour. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said he thought wind turbines were “quite beautiful” as long as they were sensitively sited.
“They shouldn’t be built in areas like national parks but they can complement some landscapes,” he said.