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A bracing breeze on wind

13 Apr 2022 | OP ED Watch

Matt Ridley in the Daily Mail wails that “the way wind power has managed to get politicians and others to think it is uniquely virtuous will deserve close study by future theologians.” Not because he rejects the goal of an inhabitable planet or dreams of obscene profits in apocalyptic wasteland. Because he finds wind power to be a ridiculous way of trying to achieve what its most enthusiastic proponents spend virtually all their waking hours aiming for. If you’re not already aware of Matt Ridley, journalist, businessman and yes genuinely a Viscount, we strongly recommend that you check into his writings and, if you’re a denizen of the Twitter swamp, that you follow him there. His thoughtful investigations into the origins of COVID alone make him an invaluable resource. But it’s his bracing common sense that make him such a relief even on issues where you might not entirely share his views.

When it comes to climate, that common sense is on full display. Including in this piece, that starts “Take a wild guess at how much of the UK’s total primary demand for energy was supplied by wind power in 2020.” And again, a CDN reader might do a lot better than the average citizen concerned about the environment but not fully engaged with the quantity of nonsense regularly pumped out by its self-appointed champions. The actual figure is “less than 4 per cent.”

Well? Is it so bad? Isn’t it an industry about to blossom and get rid of all that stinky diesel? No. No it is not. Instead, Ridley snaps, “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.”

The British government is still struggling to come to its senses on this file. But Ridley is keen to help.

“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…. Its symbols, akin to a post-modern Easter crucifix, now adorn almost any document that purports to be about British energy needs, signalling ‘goodness’. 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.”

He's all for the environment, of course. And for energy security. But

“Why, to the exclusion of all else — in particular, fracking and nuclear energy — has arguably the most inefficient solution been privileged? 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 power stations…. 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.”

The result couldn’t be more counterproductive if the whole policy had been designed to destroy the things it was designed to protect.

“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.”

There’s more where these quotations came from and we recommend you check them out. But the bottom line is that it is exasperating to contemplate the rhetorical divide that the climate change obsession has created. Even if we were willing to grant the alarmists their premises, that there’s this huge man-made climate crisis and fossil fuels must go, and we ask what they propose we should do, if they rush to propose something as incredibly environmentally and economically harmful as wind, and they respond to the evidence of its utter failure to date with the demand that its usage should be expanded a hundred-fold, we can only despair at the prospect of a meeting of minds.

10 comments on “A bracing breeze on wind”

  1. This is progressivism in a nutshell--find a problem, put experts in charge who dictate policies from on-high governing large swathes of society (such as economies) for the supposed betterment of humanity.
    Two points I will make re progressivism. First, it doesn’t work. We mere mortals are simply incapable of making decisions that take the complex arrays of influences, costs, incentives, consequences, etc. of complex systems such as those involving economic actors (e.g., Soviet command economics). This is just as true even at smaller scales: consider the myriad urban planning fiascos or, more to the point, trying to turn green energy “sows’ ears” into silk purses via government subsidies.
    My second point is illustrated by the joke: progressives don’t care what people do so long as it is mandatory. The authoritarian impulse is alive and well among climate alarmists. Power can be seductive even to those who are sincere in there concern for the future; but for the true believers power, and its exercise, rather than climate amelioration is their true goal, even if they themselves don’t realize it.

  2. I have been into the documents from the UK government as linked to above.
    I am amazed or, perhaps I shouldn't be, how similar the layout and language is to that of the latest IPCC report.
    I suppose we should be pleased that they are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
    The UK off-shore wind farms took 18 billion pounds sterling in subsidies up to year ending 2021.
    Hence the "hockey stick" rise in household domestic bills, not a gas pipeline shut down as they would have us believe.
    Scottish Hydro, which has been producing power without the use of fossil fuels for at least 50 years, have claimed that they need subsidies to carry out a 350 million pound sterling maintenance and refurbisment programme.
    To date they have recieved over 1 billion pounds in subsidies to help towards this.
    Hydro was cheap in Scotland, not now!
    Politicians with degrees in the classics and history or mybe humanities, are making these decisions, with the help of the woke, left wing civil service in the UK, what chance or hope have we got for a reliable future?
    I know, lets follow the IPCC and COP26 warnings and shut everything down by 2030, providing the governments provide damp proofing and water proof paint for our caves we will be living in!

  3. In case anyone is confused by my comments above, I want to clarify that they were intended to be a response to the previous article entitled "Just What We Need." Sorry for the confusion.

  4. @ Carol David Daniel

    I believe you could be mistaking the percentage share of electricity generated from wind (though I’m not sure how you arrived at 24%) with it’s percentage as a share of energy from all sources. (Note, for example, the huge amount of energy the UK derives from gas.)

  5. He is referring to total energy use. Generation of electricity is only about 20-25% of energy and fossil fuel use.

  6. Are the UK numbers based on the "nameplate capacity" of all those turbines, or are they based on what was actually produced? For instance, if we have 500 1.5 megawatt turbines, the nameplate capacity would be 750 MW. But that's only applicable if the wind is blowing just right on ALL of them, all the time. As we have seen, the wind in the UK has been anything but cooperative the last while, and little or nothing has been generated by those things in many areas.
    Propaganda. It's really good at taking facts and misrepresenting them to look like something entirely divorced from the facts.

  7. @ Dan

    It is based on what they actually produce over a given period, but as you've rightly observed, such a measure doesn't account for their inherent instability. Though the UK has almost 26GW of installed wind capacity, maximum output rarely gets beyond 15GW and has been so low as to be measured in MW rather than GW.

  8. The figure I gave is the amount generated and consumed by the grid. It's easier to see the data graphed by this website which is continuously updated; https://grid.iamkate.com/
    If you scroll down you will see the average over the past year for generation by wind (green section of the pie chart, just hover your cursor over the required segment), you will see that wind provided approx 20%.

  9. Yes, that makes sense if you are looking at total energy consumption rather than just electricity.

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