STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Wind Farming Expands as Headwinds Blow
By Staff News & Analysis - July 09, 2013

Winds of change blowing through UK energy as world's biggest offshore wind farm opens. After the world's largest wind farm was opened in the Thames Estuary, its developer tells Emily Gosden why the naysayers are wrong. Benj Sykes is none too familiar with the red-throated diver. "I wouldn't know one if it sat on my head," he confesses. "I'm not a twitcher, I'm afraid." Financially, if not ornithologically, however, Sykes – UK manager for wind power for DONG Energy – has an interest in the fate of this little bird. The Danish company and its partners, Germany's E.On and UAE's Masdar, have just built the world's biggest offshore wind farm, the London Array. The 175-turbine, £1.9bn project sprawls across almost 40 square miles, some 12 miles north off the Kent coast. With 630MW capacity it is capable of powering 500,000 homes a year. It also happens to be close the spot where thousands of red-throated divers like to spend winter. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: Wind farming is part of the Green Revolution. The heck with naysayers.

Free-Market Analysis: Just as in the 1970s, the 2000s have offered a resurgence of interest in alternative forms of energy and transportation. And the results for the most part have been predictable.

Solar panel companies have raised lots of money and then gone out of business. Electric car companies have issued confident assessments and done the same. Doomsday predictions regarding global warming and climate change continue to flood the media without basic, confirming evidence.

Wind power has made bigger strides than most when it comes to alternative energy. But even leaving aside the damage they do to birds, it is not hard to predict that like solar power, the negatives of wind power will eventually outweigh the positives, at least when it comes to using wind as a primary energy source.

This recent one in the UK Telegraph seems more unbiased than most, and thus less favorable. Here's more:

The jury may be out on the cost to wildlife, but there's no denying offshore wind has a big cost for energy billpayers. It currently costs almost three times the market price of power of about £50 per megawatt hour (MWh); if energy policy was decided by price alone, London Array would not have been built. But ministers have backed a major expansion of offshore wind to help Britain meet its green targets.

From 3.3GW of installed capacity now, they want to see as much as 16GW by 2020. For every MWh of electricity London Array generates over the next 20 years, it will get subsidies, currently worth about £90, on top of the power price – all paid for by consumers. The Prime Minister hailed the opening of London Array as "a great day for Britain and a big win for renewable energy".

Dr John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, disagrees. "There is little to celebrate here," he says. The REF, which despite its name is a stern critic of green costs, calculates that London Array's owners could be in line for £190m a year in subsidies. "This is neither good value for the consumer nor an economically compelling climate policy," he says.

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London Array's owners won't disclose their likely profits, although Bader Al Lamki, director of Masdar Clean Energy, does say that the investment will pay for itself in "less 10 years". Sykes says the rates of return are "not stellar" but "acceptable". "We wouldn't do it if it wasn't good business," he says, but it is "not a lucrative business" like oil .

"The UK needs to step up to the plate and deliver a competitive indigenous supply chain," Sykes says. "We have to find the right balance between driving the cost of energy down and at same time making sure the UK gets benefits of this scaling up of offshore wind."

To the scepticisim of many, DONG believes it can undercut the 2020 target and reach £85/MWh. Part of the answer is scale: bigger turbines and bigger wind farms. The tips of London Array's turbines reach 482ft above the sea, making the boats that service them look like bathtub toys. Their blades span almost 400ft in diameter. But they be dwarfed by those that DONG plans to build off Yorkshire, which will have a diameter of 509ft.

Building and maintaining these giant farms is a huge logistical challenge; Sykes says DONG is considering asking the likes of FedEx or DHL for advice on streamlining operations. But it is "too early to tell" whether all these efforts will mean that future projects such as phase two of London Array, or other more ambitious projects, will be economic for the subsidies on offer."

Critics such as Peter Lilley MP argue the prices don't reflect the fact "you have to have equal amount of gas capacity built for when the wind is not blowing". Sykes bristles at this. "That shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how the energy system works," he says. "It's one of the big myths that every time we build 1GW of wind you have to build 1GW of backup." The costs of managing intermittent wind at planned levels should be "very modest", he insists – but "we would never say renewables on its own is going to be the answer".

This last statement is revealing. Sykes seems to be implying that he is erecting wind farms to supply "the answer." But what is the question? Implicit in Sykes's statement is that wind farms are being somehow built for rhetorical reasons instead of for market-based ones.

Who builds a business as an "answer"? One builds to provide a service, to fulfill a need, etc. But it is hard to escape the idea in the Modern Age that too many green businesses are being constructed to provide "answers" rather than services.

It sometimes seems as if the entire modern green industry is in the business of rhetoric – and that many efforts are responding to political and philosophical agendas rather than to market-based needs.

It doesn't help that many of the "questions" are obviously asked with an agenda. Whether it is global warming or any of the offshoots of "climate change," one can easily see that a main purpose involves increasing sociopolitical control and expanding globalist economics.

When tempted to support – or even worse, invest in – "alternative energy" or green transportation ideas, one ought to remember that practicality is the foremost consideration. If the gambit is not practical it will not be sustained, or sustainable.

After Thoughts

Couple wind energy's scanty profits with the expanding availability of shale oil and shale gas and one might well predict that there will be fewer rather than more wind farms in the future. And that may go for other forms of alternative energy, as well.

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