The Case against Windfarms

The Case Against Windfarms is an authoritive, referenced document written by Dr John Etherington ( © Dr JR Etherington).

The views expressed are those of the author, who is a professional environmental scientist, formerly Reader in Ecology at the University of Wales. It is freely offered for reproduction or other use providing it is acknowledged. Our website contains the complete document, which consists of 18 Sections, 2 Appendices and References/Notes. The full list is shown on the Home Page, and also at Case Sections

The website also contains a web page devoted each separate section, of which this is one. These pages start with a copy of the relevant section of the full report, followed by links to a series of articles, news items, research papers and reports which are relevant to that topic. Note that these items have been compiled by Country Guardian and are not part of Dr Etherington's paper

1. Introduction: Why wind ‘farms’ and why now?


Those who advocate wind ‘farms’ base their arguments on three propositions:


i. They produce electricity without harmful emissions - carbon dioxide (C0 2), sulphur dioxide (SO 2) and nitrogen oxides (NO x) - gases associated with either global warming, acid rain or nutrient-enrichment (eutrophication);

ii) They do not deplete finite supplies of fossil fuels;

iii) They produce electricity without the problems associated with nuclear power - such as waste storage, risk of accident, and possibility of military use.


For these arguments to be valid it is clear that wind ‘farms’, if developed in sufficient numbers, must significantly reduce CO 2 and other emissions, measurably slow the depletion of other fuels which will eventually be exhausted and produce a reliable and sufficient amount of electricity to replace nuclear power stations,


The burning of fossil fuels is a major source of CO 2 emissions. Since the Industrial Revolution atmospheric CO 2 has increased by about a third (from less then 280 parts per million by volume to 373 ppmv in 2002). The rate of emission has risen dramatically over the last twenty five years and increasing CO 2 concentration has been linked by many scientists to global warming.


'Global warming' is simplistically explained by the differing transparency of carbon dioxide to incoming solar radiation and outgoing long wave infra red radiation (radiant heat). Extra CO 2 in the atmosphere acts like a blanket preventing the escape of the heat energy which arrived on earth as solar radiation. There is scientific argument about the degree to which CO 2 will cause 'global warming' and what, if anything, to do about it. Indeed the House of Lords (2005) report on economics of climate change suggests that the so-called 'consensus' on the science is a politically created myth. A discussion of the arguments is presented in Appendix 1.


However, few would argue against reducing CO 2 emission. Release of CO 2 by human activity is, after all, an open ended experiment with our one and only atmosphere! Furthermore it is apparent that 'one day' we shall run out of fossil fuel though there is serious dissent about the time period involved.


Nuclear fission power was hailed 50 years ago as the solution to all our energy problems. Since then, for many years it has provided a quarter of British electricity - and even now a fifth. During its developmental period it was expensive but now it is running competitively with other generating technologies and without subsidy (since 1995-6). Across the Channel, France obtains almost 80% of her electricity from fission.


Why then do we need an alternative? Essentially because fears have grown that radioactive materials pose an unacceptable accident risk, because the problem of storage and reprocessing of fission by-products has not been fully resolved and because military use may be made of such materials (see Section 16. How can the need for electricity be met?).


Why have wind turbines arrived so suddenly? This is more a matter of perception than fact. The first windmills date from at least the 10th century in Persia and it is hardly surprising that once electro-magnetic induction was understood, someone would think of driving a generator with a windmill. By the mid-1930s a 1.5 MW machine had been built in the US , driven by a modern aerofoil rotor - quite similar in size and function to a 21st century machine, though without its sophisticated controls.


All that was needed was the perception of need and the ability to link to the AC grid, with its problem of frequency control. This happened in the 1980s driven by the wide acceptance of belief in CO 2 -driven climatic warming. The 'switch' was thrown when various subsidies on ‘green’ electricity became available world-wide. Nothing attracts entrepreneurs more than a free handout!


The first grid-connected wind turbine (more correctly aerogenerator) in the UK was installed at the former CEGB test facility on Carmarthen Bay, southern Wales, c. 25 years ago. We have gone a long way since then.


What 'they' say


"Clean, renewable forms of energy, such as wind power, are essential if we are to tackle climate change. They are also vital in ending the threat of nuclear power, which would leave a legacy of nuclear waste that will remain a threat to our health and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years ." Yes2Wind website


Untrue. The variable nature of wind power prevents it from displacing nuclear generation which provides continuous peak output and is best suited to ‘base-load’ supply. Wind power is irrelevant to any discussion of nuclear as it cannot provide such uninterrupted generation.