From the 12 August 2009 number of Country Life - with the kind permission of the magazine and of the author
(New Energy Letter for Country Life from Caroline Cranbrook) (12 August 2009)
From the Countess of Cranbrook, Suffolk
Wind farms are important as part of the nation's energy portfolio but their drawbacks as well as their advantages need to be considered before policy is finalised (Agromenes July 22).
Wind farms must be in the right place - where there is most wind. In Britain, this is offshore. Across most of the country wind speeds are low: the amount of electricity produced does not justify the subsidy required to attract developers. Historically, the energy industry perceived onshore wind as a demonstration technology to blaze a trail for big energy projects offshore, but it is now dominant since it yields large profits to developers. Unfortunately this is bad value for the subsidising consumer.
They should not be put in important landscapes, nor within a few hundred metres of houses. People live in these places. Their concerns must not be dismissed as Nimbyism but recognised as real and justified. Wind turbines are a hazard to birds and to bats. They should be distanced from important bird areas and migratory routes.
Unfortunately, wind farms provide only supplementary energy, not reliable capacity, so there are limits to their usefulness. We have to be realistic, listen to the advice of the engineers and do the job properly, offshore. Instead, we see government distorting planning guidance and instigating £1bn in bank loans for developers to push through approval for uneconomic onshore wind farms whose benefits are exaggerated and disadvantages under-estimated.
Wind has its place but is a transitional technology. More research is urgently needed into offshore wind and, even more important, into energy efficiency, electricity storage, clean coal and advanced nuclear technologies. This is where government support should be directed. A good example of an innovation is the NOVA Project wind turbine, a revolutionary British design being developed by a consortium of three British universities, with powerful commercial backing from the aircraft industry and the Energy Technologies Institute. Unlike conventional turbines, NOVA is specifically designed for offshore development.
The challenges to reduce emissions and maintain a steady electricity supply are formidable in their scale, urgency and cost. Above all, we have to reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency and reduce consumption. Government must also listen and act on the advice of its parliamentary committees, scientists, engineers, technologists, economists - and local people. Science and technology must be at the heart of government policy rather than marginalised, misused or ignored. I hope that the government will see sense and give its chief scientist a seat at the cabinet table and place science and science and technology in the cabinet office, which is where they belong.