Take a wild guess at how much of the UK’s total primary demand for energy was supplied by wind power in 2020. Half? 30 per cent? No, in fact, it was less than 4 per cent. That’s right, all those vast wind farms in the North Sea, or disfiguring the hills of Wales and Scotland, give us little more than one-thirtieth of the energy we need to light and heat our homes, power our businesses or move our cars and trains.
Last week, Government ministers were considering lowering people’s energy bills if they live close to onshore wind turbines. They’re also considering relaxing the rules so that onshore wind farms no longer need the backing of local communities and councils in order to get planning permission. This will give wind farms an easier ride through the planning process than new housing — or shale gas drilling sites. More importantly, it means further privileging an industry that has cost a fortune, wrecked green and pleasant landscapes and made us dependent on the weather for our energy needs — and thus more wedded to natural gas as a back-up.
The wind industry has already been fattened on subsidies of more than £6billion a year (paid for out of green levies on your electricity bills), it has privileged access to the grid and is paid extra compensation when the wind blows too strongly and the grid cannot cope with the energy output.
It takes a lot of expensive machinery to extract useful power from the wind. And once turbines are up and running, they’re not reliable. Because you cannot store electricity for any length of time without huge cost, wind farms need backing up by fossil-fuel power stations. This makes wind even more expensive.
As a source of energy, wind is so weak that to generate any meaningful electricity output you need three 20-tonne carbon-fibre blades — each nearly the length of a football pitch — turning a 300-tonne generator atop a gigantic steel tower set in reinforced concrete.
In terms of land covered, wind takes 700 times as much space to generate the same energy that one low-rise shale gas pad can. It is not as if wind turbines are good for the environment. They kill thousands of birds and bats every year, often rare eagles on land and soaring gannets at sea.
The wind industry promises that the more wind farms we build, the more likely we are to find there will always be a breeze somewhere. But experience shows the opposite. Last week, for instance, was virtually still everywhere; the week before was windy everywhere. A recent study published in the International Journal for Nuclear Power, looking at Germany and 17 neighbouring countries, confirmed this erratic output. Thomas Linnemann, wrote: ‘Wind power from a European perspective always will require practically 100 per cent back-up systems.’ Second, wind turbines themselves are built and maintained using fossil fuels. Analysis of audited accounts suggests that many wind farms will not work for much more than 15 years before the cost of maintaining the machine eats into income and it has to be scrapped and replaced. But there is a great deal of data, all pointing to industry costs (per megawatthour) not falling but rising, as economics Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University has found.
Here is what Professor Hughes and Dr John Constable of the Renewable Energy Foundation said recently: ‘The assumptions which underpin the BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] estimates of the cost of generation for wind and solar power are fanciful, and do not withstand even cursory scrutiny; under close analysis they disintegrate and are a disgrace to the civil service and an embarrassment to ministers. Why is this so important? Professor Hughes explains: ‘The Government is creating a situation in which it will have no option other than to bail out failed and failing projects to ensure continuity of electricity supply. ‘Ultimately [the losses] will fall largely on taxpayers and customers.’