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Windmills

Dominic Lawson tears into the moral cant and dubious economics of those who want to festoon the UK with windmills as a solution to so-called man-made global warming. As he says, other countries, such as Germany, have spent large sums on such alternative technologies but have not, yet, been able to retire conventional power stations at all.

I am quite a fan of tidal power, as alternatives go (although I think that no serious energy policy that sidelines nuclear power is worth considering as a practical one). Unlike the wind, which is dependent on weather, tides are as regular as the orbit of the Moon. Reversible turbines could be powered by the regular, big currents that sweep to and fro in the coastal waters of countries such as the UK, France, Germany and Spain. And unlike windmills, they would not, hopefully, create a bloody great eyesore or hazard, either.

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22 comments to Windmills

  • Spectre765

    Windmills are overated as an energy source, but I don’t understand the “eyesore” label. A wind farm off the coast has been delayed because opponents raised aesthetic and safety issues. But I think a line of tall, gleaming white mills, turning slowly in the breeze, would be an improvement over the empty, gray horizon I see today. A visible reminder of our progress, however small, in moving beyond coal and oil for our electrical needs.

    I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder.

  • Spectre765 writes:

    A wind farm off the coast has been delayed because opponents raised aesthetic and safety issues.

    I don’t know how true that is, but it inspires a thought in me.

    If one’s government fails to be swayed by rational argument, is it wrong to emote at them?

    Best regards

  • I think if we must pursue an energy policy that panders to the green eyed monsters of the environmental lobby, then our power generation should come from as wide a variety of sources as possibly (including nuclear and wind, and all the rest).
    Personally I quite like the views of the windfarms round my neck of the woods and view the nimbyism which opposes them as nothing more than small-minded fear of change.

  • Andrew Duffin

    There’s a tidal turbine in the entrance to Strangford Lough in NI – it’s a rather spectacular machine, and its output, although not very controllable, will certainly be predictable, which is a huge advantage over wind generation.

    Too many of these things, though, would have the potential to become a real hazard to navigation – after all they are sited, by design, in narrow channels.

  • Forlornehope

    Dominic Lawson does not show a lot of rigour in his approach to this subject. If you are really interested in the issue a comprehensive analysis of the potential and practical applications of low carbon energy sources has been produced by Prof. David MacKay. “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” is available as a, free, download here:

    http://www.withouthotair.com/Contents.html

    It provides a good antidote to the ill informed arm-waving arguments that appear across the blogosphere. It does contain quite a lot of numbers so if you don’t like maths you may find it challenging. But then if you can’t cope with the maths you shouldn’t be commenting about it!

  • Andrew Duffin

    “…view the nimbyism which opposes them as nothing more than small-minded fear of change. ”

    It’s not just nimbyism. I agree they have their own special beauty and the appearance, from a distance, is really rather pleasant.

    But I hate them for rational reasons – they are a completely un-necessary solution to a non-existent problem, and are a terrible waste of money.

    They would not be there except for the force-backed subsidies extracted from the rest of us, and I strongly resent being used as a cash-cow by the big business interests who construct these things and the landowners who farm the resulting tax revenue.

  • mark

    The words “festoon”, “so-called”, and “eyesore” really make this post great

  • “But I hate them for rational reasons – they are a completely un-necessary solution to a non-existent problem, and are a terrible waste of money.”

    I agree, up to a point. But I would go further. In my less wild and more settled moments, I incline to the following hypothesis (for it is as yet no more than that and should be opened to testing.)

    It is that attempts to force such things as wrong solutions to non-existent problems (isn’t the word “wrong”, a bit confusing as there thus can be no “right” solution to such a thing?) are part of an objectively and purposefully wicked belief-system, which knows this fact about itself and thus proceeds /on this very basis/ against Western Civilisation?

    In other words, the buggers are doing it to us (aesthetic considerations aside, but ruining wild vistas is a bonus for them) absolutely /deliberately/ :-

    (1) __because__ they know it is a bad thing to do,
    (2) __because__ the system will not deliver what they shout and howl that it says on the tin,
    (30 __because__ they know the truth that it will be a burden and not a nett boon, both to individuals and also to the world economy as an extra bonus again for them.

    Commentators over at mine know that I say there indeed is objective evil and objective good, and that I never miss a chance to point out where each one resides.

    As to the “firms” that provide the stuff, they are in the moral position of IG farben, Degesch and the like, and it is a shame that the Libertarian movement has never seriously attempted to lean on otherwise ordinary chaps, such as Turbine manufacturers or Zyklon-B-synthesis plants, or even Viglen, who fall over themselves to sell things to Big States in return for stolen cash. These men are quite ordinary: they have children whose wives drive about on school runs: they talk on two phones at once while teleworking to sell “systems” to “Local Authorities”: they “compete for the business” of videocamming up a whole town centre for surveillance, and so on.

    These men are as culpable morally as the PPE graduates in the GramscoFabian State whose arses they brown-nose, and ought to feel pressure.

    I am afraid I must continue to urge that Western Libertarians are not behaving seriously towards our ideological opponents at all. And we slept in the 90s while Rome fiddled.

  • Kevin B

    Forlornhope:

    I’ve had a quick peruse of the chapter on wind power at your site. I even managed to make sense of some of the numbers! It struck me on first glance to be a lot of predictions based on some dodgy assumptions, (one could almost say arm waving.)

    It occurs to me that one way to show the utility of wind power would be to observe the performance of the UK’s wind power generation over the past winter.

    If you could ferret out the following numbers, then these would give us all some solid facts on which to base our opinions.

    Installed capacity, Available capacity, Delivered capacity for the 90 days from Dec 01 2008 to Feb 28 2009 for all the large windfarms in the UK, (ideally on an hourly basis, but a daily basis would be useful.)

    If you could work out the cost per kilowatt hour, taking into account the subsidies, maintenance costs and replacement costs of the windmills that would be a bonus.

    Collating these figures would give everyone a solid basis on which to build their case for/against windpower and, perhaps, put an end to the ill-informed arguments you point out.

  • mike

    “In other words, the buggers are doing it to us (aesthetic considerations aside, but ruining wild vistas is a bonus for them) absolutely /deliberately/”

    I doubt that that is true of most politicians (I suspect there are some exceptions), but I’m quite certain it applies to a great many academics and leftist activists.

  • In response to the request for thorough, clear data on actual wind farms’ production across the whole of the UK… – quite a lot of nice public work has been done on this by REF (the renewable energy foundation). I have taken their data and a bunch of OS maps and worked out what the average power per unit area of wind farm is, for anyone who is interested.

    You can find that summarised here: http://withouthotair.blogspot.com/2009/05/wind-farm-power-per-unit-area-data.html
    For REF see: http://www.ref.org.uk/Pages/4/uk_renewable_energy_data.html
    For additional raw data see OFGEM:
    https://www.renewablesandchp.ofgem.gov.uk/

  • I’d have expected Samizdata readers to be smarter than shown here.

    Windmills are an utter boondoggle. No matter what the design they are ugly because they are an ugly scam and an economic drain.

    Fortunately when the world comes to its senses it won’t take much C4 to put the damn things on the ground. We ought to keep a few in strategic locations (blades not turning) to remind everyone of the episode of irrationality that overtook the world.

    If you are serious about alternatives, fission is currently the only way to go.

    Not that you have to be. Our unplanned planetary experiment in increasing CO2 levels is a good one with many benefits.

  • Forlornehope(Link) writes: “But then if you can’t cope with the maths you shouldn’t be commenting about it!”

    If we can’t cope with the math, then we can simply emote(Link) at the issue. Heck, that’s what everyone else does!

    Re Nigel Sedgewick’s question(Link), let’s turn it around:

    If a nation’s citizenry fails to be swayed by rational argument, is it wrong for the government to emote at them?

    Oh, wait….

  • Nuke Gray!

    And how much is the weather changing anyway? Here in Australia some excerpts from your papers imply that things are just as soggy in London as in days of yore, and that 2003 was a freak year, not an omen. Any comments?

  • Bruce Hoult

    Quite a number of windmills have been going in here in New Zealand but there are no subsidies. They are generally being installed by local power distributions companies (thus giving them some generation capacity), using their own money, in the expectation of commercial profits.

    If the wind power is not in fact economically viable then a) the power companies will find out soon enough, and b) they’ll take a loss and it won’t affect the rest of us at all. Maybe they’ll put their prices up, but in that case customers will just pick up the phone and call someone else.

    These days, by the way, I’m buying my power from a purely online electricity company who are selling power in a variety of packages and from a variety of suppliers. You can even buy some of your needs for future months in advance at fixed and hopefully discounted prices. Certainly power bought now for the spring and summer is cheaper than the current price. They haven’t been going for a year yet, so we’re yet to see how much power for use “now” will cost in the summer.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Bruce, what are things like under the self-made man, Prime Minister Keys? Any freeing up of the economy? How do most enzedders feel about libertarianism?

  • Bruce Hoult

    I think it’s too soon to know what effect Key will have. His government has only been in power for six months and it’s been an unusual six month period to be in. Like everyone else they’ve been under pressure to be seen to “do something” and they’ve brought forward some infrastructure spending while delaying income tax cuts that had been promised for April 1 in order to keep the deficit under control.

    You’ll find very few people claiming to be libertarians here. A good chunk of the voters are now young and most of the young call themselves “socialist”. It’s quite interesting though that for those too young to remember life here before 1984 (anyone under 30 or even 35 I guess) “socialism” seems to consist of maintaining the status quo, not going back to the much more socialist economy we had before.

    The age old debate continues, but the reference mark has shifted permanently to the right. I think pretty much everyone is happy with the floating currency, with our unilateral free trade declaration with the whole world, and with the fact that our properly deregulated banks (which are all also Australian banks) are among the strongest in the world.

  • Marc Sheffner, at July 22, 2009 01:26 AM, spins my earlier question thus:

    If a nation’s citizenry fails to be swayed by rational argument, is it wrong for the government to emote at them?

    That may be neat, but it struggles with validity. Might we not be right in requiring government to act rationally, and be seen to act rationally? This is a much stronger expectation, surely, than that any particular sector of a nation’s citizenry (or even non-citizen ‘immigrancy’) should act rationally, or in the nation’s overall interest.

    Government spends much of its time selecting or compromising between different views; for example where to build a landfill site or motorway service station when, almost invariably, those nearby each candidate site want it elsewhere. The choice needs to be some compromise on more modest ‘blighting’ versus the additional cost over the cheapest option, together with the true need for and benefit of the facility against alternative solutions.

    In the case of windmills, there is first the unsubstantiated belief that CO2 emissions from energy generation have a catastrophic effect on the environment, and so CO2-free energy generation is essential. Secondly there is the belief that much more expensive and occasionally available electricity (from windmills) is better overall than cheaper electricity from nuclear and other sources, admittedly each of which has its own risks. But those other sources provide much cheaper electricity, that is continuously available and their risks are tolerable within the cheaper overall cost. Thirdly, there is the need for reduction of supply risk, by generation from a variety of fuels; for example from running out of natural gas or being ‘blackmailed’ on price or to other national disadvantage by a foreign supplier: in our current circumstances in the UK, this gives the need for both (carbon based) fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generation.

    In planning for such things as energy supply and defence, because of their long-term nature, there is no useful substitute for rational decision making by government.

    Best regards

  • The Register discusses a report that suggests that reliance on wind power will be either very expensive or prone to blackouts:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/22/wind_intermittency_study/(Link)

  • mike

    “Might we not be right in requiring government to act rationally, and be seen to act rationally?”

    Not until we see an end to demagogeracy. The government acts to maintain and expand its’ own power base – that is the bottom line.

    “Government spends much of its time selecting or compromising between different views; for example where to build a landfill site or motorway service station when, almost invariably, those nearby each candidate site want it elsewhere.”

    Which is why the argument needs to be made for the abolition of central planning.

  • Paul Marks

    As I never tire of poining out…..

    James Lovelock (the “Gaia man” – founder of the modern British Green movement) has a simple question for those who claim to be concerned about C02 emissions.

    “Are you in favour of nuclear power stations?”

    If the reply is not a clear “yes – get rid of the regulations, have lots more nuclear power stations” then they are not really concerned it is (to use the term of Tom Wolfe) a radical chic pose.

    As James Lovelock (and so many others) have pointed out many times – wind turbines will not make any real difference to C02 emissions.

  • TomC

    “…A visible reminder of our progress, however small, in moving beyond coal and oil for our electrical needs.”

    Rubbish. Windmills have absolutely nothing to do with human progress or moving to any kind of new market related energy sources. As coal and oil become more depleted and therefore more expensive new energy sources will naturally take over and be more easily financed without money having to be stolen from the taxpayer. Why are people so ignorant of economics?

    “…I strongly resent being used as a cash-cow by the big business interests who construct these things and the landowners who farm the resulting tax revenue.”

    You’re forgetting that to be exploited by the “big business interests” and evil “landowners” you have to have a government with a monopoly on coercive force and the ability to perform institutionalised theft in order to make people pay for their schemes. Without these, your imaginary enemies are powerless, and meanwhile you give unthinking credibility to your real enemy, statist government.

    Windmills and CO2 emissions are not real issues and have nothing to do with human progress, but rather the contrary. Many of those that deplore the construction of windmills and nuclear plants are environmentalists themselves. They are not interested in energy production or the planet as ends, but only as a means to their aim of the destruction of capitalism, technology, freedom and human progress.

    These are socialists who, faced with the triumph of capitalism that marked the end of the soviet empire, have had to move to other, similarly evil ideas, replacing materialism with moralism in an effort to further their corrupt world-view and hatred of human ingenuity. It’s all just propaganda and has been for decades. The question is, when will people do themselves a favour and stop listening? Or if you must listen, be more critical.