by Matt Ridley
Cumbria wind farm.
of our worship of wind:
They despoil our
add £6 billion a
year to our household bills
and are arguably
solution to our energy 'crisis'.
So why is the
to make it even
easier to build them?
Four per cent of total primary demand for energy was
supplied by wind power
Wind industry has been fattened on subsidies of more
than £6billion a year
Turbines to be given easier planning process ride
than housing or gas drilling
Take a wild guess at how much of the UK's total primary demand for
energy was supplied by wind power in 2020.
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.
Just think what this country and its seas would look like if we
relied on wind for one-third or half of our energy needs.
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.
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.
Pictured: Wind turbine installation in Cumbria, Lake District
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 £6 billion 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.
Indeed, the way wind power has managed to get politicians and others
to think it is uniquely virtuous will deserve close study by future
Its symbols, akin to a post-modern Easter crucifix, now adorn
almost any document that purports to be about British energy needs,
Tousle-headed eco-protesters go weak at the knees when they see an
industrial wind farm on wild land, while angry anti-capitalists
won't hear a word against the financial firms that back wind
companies, somehow convincing themselves that this is all about
re-empowering the common man.
When faced with a looming energy crisis, it's obvious that the
Government needs to act fast to secure energy self-sufficiency.
That's right, all those vast wind farms
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.
Pictured: Scroby Sands off the coast of Norfolk
But what is so
special about wind?
Why, to the exclusion of all else - in particular, fracking and
nuclear energy - has arguably the most inefficient solution been
I was once a fan of wind
power, because it seemed to be free...
But it's not.
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
This makes wind even more expensive.
As I write this article
in still, fine spring weather,
millions of tonnes of
turbines stand largely idle, generating just 3 per cent of our
Coal contributes 5 per cent.
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
Hundreds of these monsters are required to produce as much
electricity as one small gas-powered plant.
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.
If you were even to disturb a bat when adding a conservatory, you
could end up in jail.
Last week, Government ministers
were considering lowering people's energy bills
if they live close to onshore wind turbines.
Pictured: Whitelee Windfarm on the outskirts of Glasgow
The wind turbines are also near impossible to recycle, with the rare
earth metals such as neodymium that are vital for the magnets
inside most of their generators coming from polluted mines in China.
Wind turbines are
often built on hills to catch the breeze, meaning they
inevitably intrude into natural beauty.
My favorite Northumbrian view, of Bamburgh Castle and Cheviot
from the Farne Islands, is now visually polluted by a giant wind
But for those who live closer to them, life can be intolerable.
The unresolved problem of wind turbine noise can make sleep
On sunny days, the shadows of the blades create an unnerving
flicker as they pass your windows.
Being next to a wind farm won't enhance your house's value - and
I doubt any reduction in your energy bill would help.
Nor is it clear that wind farms reduce emissions significantly.
If the meager
4 per cent of our energy that came from wind in 2020 had
entirely displaced coal, we would have seen at least a modest cut in
But there are three reasons why that is not what happens.
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),
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.
First, we need
other power stations to back up the wind farms when the wind
does not blow, and these plants - mostly burning gas - are
inevitably less efficient when being ramped up and down to
support wind's erratic output.
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
A recent study published in the International Journal for
Nuclear Power, looking at Germany and 17 neighboring countries,
confirmed this erratic output.
Its author, physicist Thomas Linnemann, wrote:
'Wind power from
a European perspective always will require practically 100
per cent back-up systems.'
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.
Nuclear plants all over the world
are closing down early, or being cancelled,
because they cannot pay their way
in a world where bursts of almost valueless wind energy
keep being dumped into the grid.
Pictured: Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk
The capital refreshment cycle for these machines is very short.
A gas turbine on the other hand can easily last 30 or 40 years.
Nuclear plants all
over the world are closing down early, or being cancelled,
because they cannot pay their way in a world where bursts of
almost valueless wind energy keep being dumped into the grid.
Nuclear plants cannot 'fill a gap' when the wind drops - they're
efficient only when generating constantly.
A wind-powered grid
can be backed up with gas, or a nuclear grid topped up with gas,
but a grid powered by wind and nuclear will not work.
Wind's champions insist its costs are coming down and that its
electricity is now cheaper than from gas or even coal.
But there is a great deal of data, all pointing to industry costs
(per megawatt-hour) not falling but rising, as economics Professor
Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University has found.
Building and maintaining wind farms is about to get even more costly
because of the rocketing costs of fuel and raw materials.
The Cuadrilla fracking site
Preston New Road in Blackpool,
As for the competition, gas is currently very expensive in Britain,
but it used to be cheap and it could be once more - particularly if
we open up the
North Sea and get fracking.
Then there's the cost of 'constraint payments', which means extra
compensation paid (by you, the electricity consumer) to wind farms
when the grid cannot cope with their output.
Some wind farms in
Scotland have been paid to throw away large fractions of their
Since the introduction of the payments in 2010, the cost to
consumers has topped a staggering £1.1bn.
That's before you consider the subsidies, which data shows have
been rising for offshore wind for two decades.
When the wind industry boasts of being cheap and you challenge
them to forgo subsidies, they mutter and look down at their
This happened at a parliamentary select committee this month:
boasts of cheapness followed by protestations that subsidies
must be maintained.
Something doesn't add up.
Even these costs understate the problem because they do not include
the huge 'system costs' in reconfiguring and operating the national
grid to cope with more unreliable energy if we continue our mad dash
to wind power.
These costs would be
shared by all power sources, so wind's competitors would pay for
Here is what Professor Hughes and Dr. John Constable
of the Renewable Energy Foundation said recently:
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
Under close analysis
they disintegrate and are a disgrace to the civil service and an
embarrassment to ministers.
They are so far from the actual costs incurred... and recorded
in audited accounts that they are not worth further
consideration, except as evidence for fundamental civil service
Yet the Government dismisses them
with bluster and deflection, standing up instead
for the wind industry.
Someone needs to start standing up
for the rest of us.
Why is this so important?
'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
Ultimately (the losses) will fall largely on taxpayers and
For too long, wind power
has been championed to the exclusion of virtually all other energy
alternatives. That must end.
Thousands of words, mine included, have been written, demonstrating
the deluded obsession with wind - and the huge benefits of untapped
alternatives, particularly shale gas (accessed through
fracking) and nuclear power.
These arguments are based on reason and data.
Yet the Government
dismisses them with bluster and deflection, standing up instead
for the wind industry.
Someone needs to start
standing up for the rest of us.