By Ian Bradford
I wrote in my articles on the myths of climate change and the politics behind it, that many European and Scandinavian countries were not building any more wind farms because of the economics.
There was the high cost of building. They could only supply energy when the wind was blowing and when this was the case other energy forms had to be used, and energy had to sometimes be obtained from other countries with such alternatives as nuclear. As a result, consumers in many countries had huge power costs.
Likely limitations of the new North Canterbury wind farm
As I began to write this, a headline in my local paper read: Wind Farm to be Built. This wind farm of 22 turbines is to be built in Nth Canterbury and stretches an unbelievable 7.5 km along a ridge. It states that it will generate 93 megawatts when at full capacity-enough to power 40,000 homes. The truth is it will hardly ever be at full capacity. In fact much of the time well below that. If the wind is too strong they will all be disabled. The supply will be very unreliable. If the wind doesn’t blow then there is no power.
Worldwide, the average output of a wind farm is just 25% of its theoretical capacity. So this particular wind farm in Nth Canterbury will power 10,000 homes at best, NOT 40,000. The biggest wind farms in Europe of 160 turbines cover 1000’s of acres and together they take a year to produce less than four days output from a single 2000 MW conventional power station. Britain would need 32,700 turbines to produce just 10% of its energy needs.
They need a lot of space
Wind farms require about 400 times the land area than the average natural gas or nuclear plant. Taking pristine NZ countryside out of commission is a serious issue. Often trees have to be removed. Then there’s the wildlife problem. Even in that one proposed farm in North Canterbury, lizards have to be shifted.
In order to build one of the biggest wind farms in California, the developers hired biologists to pull threatened desert tortoises from their burrows, transport them in trucks, and cage them in pens where many ended up dying.
In Scotland, the government revealed that nearly 14 million trees have been chopped down to make way for wind turbines. That’s ironic isn’t it, as trees help to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and the production of the concrete required in wind farms emits CO2.
What about the birds? Turbine blades have killed birds in high numbers. The most susceptible ones in NZ will be hawks, kea, falcons, owls, and migratory birds. Turbine blades weigh up to 1.5 tonnes and the tips are moving at speeds up to 290 km/h. In California, wind turbines in Attamont Pass have on average killed 200-300 red-tail hawks and 40-60 golden eagles each year and it is estimated 7,000 migratory birds are killed per year at other wind turbine sites in Southern California.
What about safety and noise?
Then there’s the safety factor. Pieces break off the rotating blades from time to time. These pieces can travel up to 400 metres. If the turbines are erected on high hills or mountain tops, then ice can form on the blades and this also can be thrown off. These bits of ice can land with an impact speed of 270km/hr. If a piece of blade or larger piece of ice hits a person, death will probably result.
There is a large amount of noise generated from a wind farm. Most of the noise comes from the aerodynamic properties of the rotating blades.
Those living near wind farms find the noise utterly unacceptable. Just 350m from the nearest turbine, the thump of the blades drives people to distraction. Houses can vibrates with sickening sound waves. The noise disrupts sleep at night. Even 1 km away the noise penetrates the walls and double glazing. Some of the worst affected residents become physically ill. While the visibility of wind turbines will reduce the value of a property, the noise will render it unsaleable. Wind farms turn tourists away from the countryside.
TV reception can also be affected. Turbines cause a reception shadow of up to 10 km when they stand between a TV transmitter and dwellings with TV aerials. When there is a chain of TV transmitters serving a series of relay stations, a wind turbine disrupting signals in any location can cause interference all down the chain.
Building turbines affects the environment
The erection of turbines can crack the bedrock and divert natural watercourses. The hole excavated for a single wind turbine has a volume equivalent to that of a 25 m swimming pool. The excavated soil and rock has to be taken away and the hole filled with sand, aggregate, and concrete. The foundations may be 5-7 metres deep and have 30,000 tonnes of concrete. The production of this amount of concrete gives off a considerable amount of CO2 . Several km of roading has to be formed for the trucks to cart the concrete. This further ruins the environment, and the visual impact.
Turbine blades can be larger than the wings of a Boeing 747. They need to be sawed into three pieces so that they can be taken away at the end of their life. Tens of thousands of blades will be in landfills. The fibreglass blades are difficult to get rid of. Recycling is not an option at present. Only one at a time can be carried on a truck, so removal is expensive.
In the UK wind farms reduce the global CO2 emissions by between 0.004% and 0.009%.
This will have no effect on climate. The environmental and social cost of the development of wind energy is quite out of proportion to any benefit.
Subsidies for an unreliable power source
All around the world, wind farms have been subsidised. There is no reason to think it is any different in New Zealand. Eventually subsidies will stop and the energy companies will find it too uneconomic to continue, so the farms may well be abandoned. We could be left with all these unsightly monuments to a failed experiment.
Supporting a technology like wind, which is unpredictable, intermittent and dependent on machines whose output is derisory is a dangerous distraction and a piece of green window dressing. It is pointless to address difficulties caused by a wasteful or extravagant use of energy by creating another polluting source of energy supply. It is unacceptable that our landscapes should be heavily industrialised in a futile political gesture.
Wilderness is a non-renewable resource crucial to the sanity of a pressurised and overcrowded world. There are far more effective and less costly strategies than visually polluting landscapes.