Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Constrain this...

This short post is essentially a follow on from my post of 20/8/2011 entitled Money for nothing. It seems that the bad press generated by wind farm operators receiving cash for not actually producing electricity has piqued the national psyche. The Renewable Energy Foundation (which promotes sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy) has been doing a little further digging into this and has produced some interesting research surrounding the whole process. A lot of the material for this post has been drawn from their research published on June 30th 2011. I will not repeat their content verbatim but will pick on a few relevant highlights.

There has been a total of £4.36 million in payments to Scottish wind farm operators for the non-production of electricity to date. The largest single recipient for these payments was SSE Renewables, in favour of the Hadyard Hill wind farm. The average amount received for non-production was £215 per MWh, nearly 4 times more than the individual operators would have received if they had been usefully generating electricity. Finally, the payments ranged from £300 per MWh to £150 per MWh and varied by site. I should point out that not all wind farms receive these constraint payments. The research published by the Renewable Energy Foundation really does make fascinating reading, and I encourage you to spend the necessary 10 minutes reading and digesting the implications.

I can see the need to encourage the National Grid to utilise energy generated from renewable sources as a priority and I can also see the need to apply some form of penalty when such energy cannot be used. However, I struggle to understand why the penalty should be so generously in favour of the operators or why there is such a massive variation in the amount paid per location. But, what I find truly abhorrent is that these constraint payments enable the operators, who are commercial organisations and which have probably already received significant public funds in the form of construction subsidies to effectively offset the effect of the unpredictability of the wind (and hence help offset their major risk) with a sort of insurance policy - funded by those who use electricity. It really does seem like these operators are having our cake - and eating it - twice over.

As we are now in the twilight of the summer months and are headed first into Autumn and then Winter, it will be interesting to see what happens. Will we see more constraint payments being claimed, or will these operators understand how poorly they are viewed in these austere times as a result of their greedy operating procedures? Time will tell.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Knoweside Hill wind farm # 1

This is a post regarding a potential wind farm development in South Ayrshire. It is a development that has been 'bubbling' away in the planning process for a good number of years now. The site is referred to as Knoweside Hill. So where is this potential wind farm development? Have a look at the map below, and if you are not sure of the area, zoom out a little:

View South Carrick Wind Farms in a larger map

The site itself is very close to the coastline. As best as I can ascertain, the proposed turbines have a blade tip elevation of approximately 295 feet (or 90 metres in new money). It will therefore certainly be visible offshore. Doubtless it will also be visible from the coastal road into Ayr (the A719), which visitors to the area are encouraged to follow. Also close by are Culzean and Maidens although not having seen the photomontages, I cannot say what the view from these locations is likely to be. I imagine though, that it will have a detrimental impact on the Ayrshire Coastal Path

I believe the original planning application was actually submitted in 2006, and at the time raised quite a few eyebrows. Here are just a couple of the articles published about this development at the time:

There certainly was a lot of local debate and feelings ran high. Then the application disappeared into the planning system - almost to be forgotten and things quietened down. However, it has recently resurfaced off the port bow and is now due before the South Ayrshire Council Planning Regulatory Panel on 15 September 2011. This is a significant application as I believe it will be the first time that South Ayrshire has had to make a decision about such a development. Presumably by now, the planners will have made a recommendation and circulated this along with their report. I imagine at least a site visit will be arranged, but we'll just have to wait and see.

I find this application interesting from another perspective though. If you click on the blue area on the map above, and then on the text that says 'Planning Link', you will be taken to South Ayrshire's planning page for the development. Now, most of the documentation for this application is no longer accessible (so much for 'open government'), but what is available are the names of the objectors and supporters. If I was being really suspicious, I would find the distribution of objectors and supporters curious. Why are all the objectors at the end of list? From memory, South Ayrshire's website sorts comments in date received order. If the comments are indeed displayed in chronological, then this application appears to have received a rash of late supporters that curiously outnumber the objectors. Of course, it could be the other way around in that the supporters got momentum first - or it could just be the way the data is displayed or inputted. However, I count 71 supporters and 63 objectors. Now, I haven't followed this particular application but I have never seen a wind farm application with more supporters than objectors.

Unfortunately, we don't seem to have access to the dates the comments were submitted - pity, as it would settle my highly suspicious mind at rest. But there may well still be a salutary lesson in this. If, and I emphasise the 'if', this application did indeed receive late support, it may be a pattern which is repeated with other applications - after all 5 years is a long time to drum up support and the momentum of objection campaigns inevitably dies off as the die-hard individuals driving them become battle weary.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

What's the plan Stan?

On the 23 September 2010, First Minister Alex Salmond announced a new renewable energy target for Scotland. On that day, he announced that "80% of Scottish electricity consumption was to come from renewables by 2020". This was an increase from the original target of 50% announced in 2007. However, more recently the 80% target has been increased to 100%. So, by 2020, Scotland is expected to be generating the equivalent of 100% of its electricity consumption through renewable sources. This sounds lauadable (in principle) but rather ambitious. Perhaps had this been announced by Jim Hacker in an episode of 'Yes Minister', Sir Humphrey would have raised an eyebrow and suggested to the hapless Jim Hacker that the policy was indeed - 'bold'.

With such a major policy shift, I think it is perfectly natural to expect someone (anyone?) to have a plan; how are we going to get from where we are now to where our incumbent First Minister wants us to be? What specific steps will enable such a transition? What will be the energy mix?

As of the time of posting, there is no real plan telling how we get to 100% or what the energy mix will be. However, there was 'a plan' for the 80% target, and if we look at that, perhaps we can learn something. First of all, I would like to make reference to an independent report published in 2008 by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. In this, the authors Wood Mackenzie forecast that in 2020, the consumption of electricity would be 45.9 TerraWatt hours (p28 refers). We need to remember that figure, as I will make reference to it at the end of this post.

Next, I need to introduce a term you may be familiar with. Load factor. This is the difference (usually a percentage) between a turbine's rated output capacity and what it can actually output in real world scenarios. There is a significant difference between these two figures, since wind turbines need 'the right sort of wind' - get 'the wrong sort of wind' (ie, too little or too much) and there will be no electricity generated.

Now, onto 'the plan'. The first stop is to get some data, and the Scottish government has provided this very usefully in their Draft Electricity Generation Policy Statement 2010. At the end of the report, there are two tables of exceptionally useful data. I have combined the two tables, and reproduced them here:

Table 1Table 2
Pumped Storage7407401040134011.11.62.1
Offshore Wind05001500300001.85.410.6
Onshore Wind1915500065007500513.417.119.8
Renewables as % of total installed capacity/consumption29%53%61%76%25%52%76-80%94-100%
TWh = TerraWatt hour MW = MegaWatt
Data reproduced from Draft Electricity Generation Policy Statement 2010 © Crown Copyright 2010

Table 1 (the left hand side of the data labelled Capacity) shows us the mix of energy types expected to get us to 2020 and beyond that to 2030. The right hand side of the table (labeled Output) shows us how the different types of generational capacity will produce the required output leading to 2020 and beyond. The first thing to note is the scales for the data sets. Table 2 is in TerraWatt hours, and table 1 in MegaWatts (don't mix them up, since 1 TerraWatt hour = 1,000,000 MegaWatt hours). Also note that both tables assume that the 80% target was still applicable. Finally, the generational types in green are those that count towards our 2020 targets and are my addition to the table.

How can we relate Table 1 to Table 2? Well, it's pretty easy and the relationship is primarily governed by the load factor. I took a complete guess at what load factor had been used, and got it right first time; what do you think it is?

If we look along the Onshore Wind row of Table 1 and read off the installed target capacity for 2020, we get 6500 MW. Now we turn this into an output figure, by multiplying it by 24 (number of hours per day) and then 365.25 (number of days per year). We get 56,979,000 MWh. Thats a lot of electricity. However, we now need to apply the load factor, how about we use 30%? Taking 30% of 56,979,000 MWh, we get 17,093,700 MWh. Now, we need to turn this MWh figure into a TWh figure. We do this by moving the decimal place to the right 6 places, and end up with 17.093700 TWh. If we now round this to 1 decimal place, we get 17.1 TWh.

If we now read off the anticipated 2020 output covered by Onshore Wind (Table 2), we see that it is the same, 17.1 TWh. So what? I hear you ask. Well, primarily the calculation we just performed demonstrates that a load factor of 30% has been applied to the expected ouput figure to estimate the installed onshore wind capacity required to achieve the 80% 2020 target - and the significance of that will now be explained.

In March 2011, The John Muir Trust published an absolutely fascinating report they had commissioned into the efficiency of windfarms. All but two of the locations surveyed were Scottish and onshore. One of the main conclusions drawn from the report is that the output from the surveyed wind farms was well below 30% of their maximum rated output, when averaged out over the survey period. Yes, there were instances when 30% was achieved, and on a few occasions exceeded, but such events were most certainly the exception not the rule. Page 9 of the report shows that the output, averaged over the survey period was 24.08%. Clearly, wind farm output is not what was promised, expected and planned for.

Below is a graph showing what the onshore windfarm installed capacity would need to be be to achieve the 17.1TWh total output figure for 2020 for a range of load factors:

If the wind farms continue to only manage a 24.08% output in relation to their installed capacity, we would need an installed capacity of 8098 MW to reach an output of 17.1TWh. Comparing this number to the planned installed capacity of 6500 MW, we see an enormous jump of 1598 MW. To be totally accurate, I should have plotted the net output from the windfarms rather than their metered output, which would reduce their overall contribution since they do consume some electricity in their operation. Unfortunately, I cannot find the necessary data to do this in the public domain and I don't know if the Scottish Governments forecasts allow for this consumption.

The real problem however, comes when we consider that we now have an even higher target to meet. Remember that the calculation we just went through was for the 80% target and that we now need to generate the equivalent of 100% of our electricity through renewable resources by 2020 (that's an extra 25% of the 80% target). Now, I could do a rough (and it would be rough) estimate of the onshore wind generational capacity required to achieve our new 100% 2020 target based upon percentages, but I would be making far too many assumptions. So I won't. Instead, I will leave you with the following thoughts: wind farms would need to hit a load factor of 30% to make the 80% 2020 target, using the equivalent of 6500 1 MW turbines, and that the Scottish Government actually expects (para 5) us to exceed our new 100% target by implementing an as yet unpublished plan. Let us not forget that there is in reality no published plan beyond the Draft Electricity Generation Policy Statement 2010, and that really is just a statement of policy or intent. The actual locations and sizes of onshore wind farms are, as far as we can tell, being dictated by commercial considerations and aren't being coordinated by a central authority to a publicly available plan or timescale.

Finally, remember that figure we extracted from the SCDI report of 2008? Why is there a difference of 7.7TWh between the Scottish Government's 2020 ouput forecast (53.6 TWh - Table 2 refers) and that consumption figure provided by Wood Mackenzie? Somebody seems to have got their forecasts rather wrong - which one was it? The answer could make a massive difference to just how many turbines will eventually be required - or there could be a far more interesting reason: does the difference between these two figures represent electricity destined for export, for example?

It will be interesting to see the 'new 100% plan'; doubtless it will be another great work of creative genius.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Size matters

Just how big are the large turbines that the landscape in South West Scotland is beginning to sprout on an all too regular a basis? In an effort to try and answer that question, I have created a graphic showing the relative sizes of the wind turbines from the following (operational and proposed) wind farms:

  • Kilgallioch wind farm - 480 ft (146.5 m)
  • Assel Valley wind farm - 415 ft (126 m)
  • Hadyard Hill & Mark Hill wind farms - 360 ft (110 m)
  • Tralorg Hill wind farm - 328 ft (100 m)

To try and help add some scale, I have also added the relative heights of the following landmarks:

The final image is shown immediately below (with elevations in metres):

A version with imperial dimensions is here:

The proposed turbine elevations for the Breaker Hill wind farm and the Straid Farm wind farm at 326 ft (or 99 m) are just 2 feet below those of the Tralorg Hill wind farm level (at 328 ft or 100m) and have only been omitted to prevent the overall image from becoming too cluttered. I have included a representative image for the Girvan Community Hospital so that there is a readily identifiable reference for those familiar with South Carrick.

Remembering that Hadyard Hill wind farm and Mark Hill wind farm are both operational sites, we have a real basis with which to compare the relative sizes of all of these developments. For example, the turbines proposed for Tralorg Hill wind farm (just a stone's throw from Girvan) aren't a lot shorter than those already installed and operating at Hadyard Hill wind farm, whilst those proposed for Assel Valley wind farm are taller than the those at Hadyard Hill, and very nearly as tall as than Science Centre Tower in Glasgow. Kilgallioch's proposed turbines dwarf all of the benchmark landmark sites and turbines shown.

I accept that the blade length to tower height proportion may not be correct (since this will vary by turbine model) and have therefore not included a horizontal scale to show blade diameters. However, the overall effect is clear. I could go on comparing relative elevations but in the interests of brevity, I'll say no more and let you draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Kilgallioch wind farm # 1

This is a first of a series of posts about large wind farm developments under consideration by the Energy Consents and Deployment Unit (aka, the Scottish Government), and we start with Kilgallioch. To help you pinpoint its intended location, its the area in the centre of the map below - if you're not sure where this is, just click the minus button a couple of times:

View South Carrick Wind Farms in a larger map

What I'm really interested in doing here is to start to demonstrate the scale of these large scale wind farms and in this case, the sort of quantities of materials involved in their construction so you can judge whether you feel such developments are appropriate.

All of the figures quoted in this post have been extracted from the Environmental Statement submitted as part of the planning application. I have quoted the source of each statistic for those of you who may be sceptical about the numbers.

Turbine foundation slabs are each expected to require approximately 525 cubic meters of concrete and 77 tonnes of steel reinforcing (ES, vol 1, Chr 4, page 2, para 17). Now, let's say that a cubic metre of concrete weighs 2.4 tonnes (source), which means each foundation slab will require 1,260 (2.4 X 525) tonnes of concrete. With 132 turbines planned for Kilgallioch, the tower foundation slabs total 166,320 tonnes overall (132 X 166,320). Let's not forget the steel reinforcing, which comes to 10,164 tonnes (132 X 77). Totalling all of this up, we have 176,484 tonnes of materials for the turbine foundation slabs. Wow! I accept this amount may increase or decrease depending on ground conditions, but that is clearly a massive amount of materials and let's not lose site of the fact that the steel will have to be bought in by road, as will the cement for the concrete. Finally, if we are expecting 69,300 (525 X 132) cubic metres of concrete to be poured into the ground, that much material will have to be dug out first.

It is estimated that approximately 1,020,000 cubic metres of stone will be required for the construction (ES, vol 1, Ch 4, page 7, para 67) and yes, you read that correctly - 1 million and twenty thousand. Unfortunately, we have no information on the density of this stone, so we cannot turn this volume into a mass and will therefore just have to accept this figure as is. Now, this material isn't going to be shifted by road. Instead, 'borrow pits' will be used. These are essentially areas of ground that have been identified as consisting of the required grade of material, from which the desired materials will be extracted as required. Upon completion of the works, 6 of the 8 eight identified borrow pits will be backfilled and partially contoured (ES, vol 1, Ch 4, page 7, para 71). So, having extracted the materials that are required the borrow pits will be 'landscaped' with materials to hand (presumably that'll be the 69,300 cubic meters of material removed for the preparation of the foundation slabs).

Lastly, I'll have a quick look at what what will be required in terms of new tracks & roads. There will be (ES, vol 1, Ch 4, page 5, para 40):

  • 5.5 km of new spine road
  • 35.7 km of new primary track
  • 35.4 km of new minor track

Totalling that lot of, we have 76.6 km (or 47.5 miles) of new road/track.

So, is this the clean and green way forward for renewable energy? The quantities and volumes of materials that will be required to build the Kilgallioch wind farm are truly mind boggling. Don't forget, those concrete volumes and steel tonnages are just for the foundation slabs. In future posts, I will continue to look at the Environmental Statement in more detail, however in the meantime if you want to make your thoughts or feelings known with regard to this development, you will need to write to:

Energy Consents and Deployments Unit
Scottish Government
4th Floor
5 Atlantic Quay
150 Broomielaw
G2 8LU

or email You may also like to consider lobbying your local MSP.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Breaker Hill wind farm #1

Breaker Hill lies immediately to the North West of the small Scottish village of Pinwherry in South Ayrshire. To help you pinpoint its location, the map below is centred on it with the proposed wind farm development boundary shown in blue:

View South Carrick Wind Farms in a larger map

Currently it is a commercial forest. However, plans are afoot to change that. Specifically, Wind Prospects Developments Ltd is proposing to transform this wooded hillside into a wind farm. The site boundary for this wind farm extends to approximately 680 acres, and as part of the development, approximately 667 acres of this woodland would be clear-felled. 15 turbines would then be sighted across the cleared area, standing approximately 326 feet (or 99 metres) above the level of the ground on which they would be sited. Once the sight has been clearfelled, the harvesting detritus (that is the branches and bark stripped from the felled trees, and the trunk stumps) will be left in place. Commercial forests are normally felled in sections, and quickly replanted. However, clearly the future of Breaker Hill as a forest is in serious doubt. Here is an image of Breaker Hill, as seem from the junction of the B734 with the A714, looking North West:

The prospect of a wind farm at this location has existed in one shape or form (to my knowledge) since about 2004; that's 7 years. The name of the development may have changed, but the location hasn't. So, for 7 years, many of the residents around Breaker Hill, Colmonell and Pinwherry have had to live their lives with this sword of damocles hanging over their heads.

Currently, the completed planning application for this proposed development is with South Ayrshire Council, and has been for many months now. There is a stalwart group of local residents who are opposed to this development, and if you would like to get in touch with them, this link will take you to their website where further details of this proposed development can be found, including instructions on how you can still object to the development it if you want to. The developer's project website can be found here.

In a relatively recent twist (at the end of 2010), the Knockbain plantation (which lies immediately adjacent to the Northern Western boundary of the Breaker Hill plantation, and covers and area of approximately 360 acres or 146 hectares) was re-listed as being for sale by the Forestry Commission (with John Clegg & Co acting as the sale agents). Now, it is normal practice for the Forestry Commission to sell a percentage of their existing holdings each year (for the reasons described here). They also acquire new holdings as funds and availability permit so in general, perhaps there is nothing sinister going on. However, quite recently, the Knockbain plantation was suddenly withdrawn from being for sale. Upon perusing the sales particulars (which are no longer publicly available), there is an interesting looking paragraph:

"Renewables Development
A standard security is to be granted by the purchaser in favour of the vendor for 25% of the uplift in value resulting from any renewable energy projects or access thereto given planning approval within a period of 15 years from the date of purchase. Potential has been expressed for wind farm development in this area; however, purchasers should make their own enquiries."

From the above paragraph, it seems that the Forestry Commission is getting in on the renewable energy gravy train, since they stand to collect a 25% slice of any land value increase occurring as a direct result of a renewable energy development on that site after it has been sold.

Now, there is no direct evidence that this stalled sale has anything to do with Breaker Hill. But the fact remains, a fairly large piece of forest immediately adjacent to a site for which a planning application for a wind farm has been submitted was placed on the market and then inexplicably withdrawn. No reason was given for that action. Am I being  too suspicious?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Money for nothing

No, this is not a critique of that acclaimed Dire Straits song, but phrases involving words such as trouble, and involving paddles and creaks do indeed spring to mind. This post is about one of the three main driving forces behind the wholesale rollout of wind farms and more specifically, the financial rewards available to anybody who generates electricity from a renewable source and passes it into the National Grid (the grid): the feed-in tariff. The what? I hear you ask. The feed-in tariff has nothing directly to do with the cost of eating-in; it is somewhat more sinister than that. Read on.

The feed-in tariff in the United Kingdom came into practical effect in the twilight days of power of the then incumbent Labour government in April 2010. Essentially, this tariff ensures that anybody generating electricity through certain renewable methods and who connects the output from their renewable generating source to the National Grid, gets paid a guaranteed amount per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity supplied. This tariff is guaranteed for 20 years for wind power generated electricity, and for 25 years for solar power generated electricity. The tariffs paid per kWh are Retail Price Index (RPI) linked and therefore will increase year on year, unless the economy goes into another recession. A more thorough explanation of the tariffs can be found here.

So what is wrong, I hear you ask. Well, fundamentally the feed-in tariff seems like a good idea since it forces the grid to take electricity generated by renewable methods. Sensible in broad principle, after all we have those pesky CO2 emissions targets to contend with and as a nation, we really do need to transition our ageing generational capacity to cleaner more efficient methods. So, there is tick in the box there. Also, small scale schemes (ie, photovoltaic cells on roofs, or micro turbines) are positively encouraged by such an approach since the significant cost of installation can be offset against the guaranteed returns for 20 or so years; all good stuff.

However, the feed-in tariff structure ensures the tariff is paid even when energy is not being generated and fed into the the grid, and for the big installations this is significant since they still get their bag of booty when the grid cannot take their output; essentially, they get paid to  have generating sources doing nothing. How come? With the introduction of essentially private operators generating potentially large amounts of electricity, supply can outstrip demand and the number of times this situation will arise is likely to increase as the output from wind farms continues to increase. Since the grid is obligated to take all the electricity generated by wind farms connected to it, they have to pay out whether they use the electricity or not. This article demonstrates a recent example of this appalling "money for nothing" situation. Although this article focuses on only recent Scottish cases, the same applies elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom.

The feed-in tariffs seem quite generous, money for nothing, 20 years of guaranteed income; I didn't know money grew on trees! Well, it doesn't. Although the energy companies pay the feed-in tariff to the operators, it is the consumer (business or otherwise) who funds it. For domestic consumers, VAT is currently levied at 5% on electricity, but have a look at your last electricity bill and you will mostly likely see that at least 11% of it is in the form of "VAT and government obligations". So, if you consume electricity (as a household or a business) around 6% of your bill is funding "government obligations". This is the source of the feed-in tariff funding. The precise amount paid varies by energy company. However, what is consistent is that the more you use, the more you pay (6% is a percentage after all) but perhaps more significantly, the higher the cost of the electricity you use, the more your 6% is going to be. This percentage acts as a sort of built-in escalator, ensuring that as energy prices rise, more money is made available to fund feed-in tariffs. If feed-in tariffs are going to be funded by the consumer, wouldn't it be better to base it on the amount of electricity used and not link it to the price charged for the electricity? I really do detect some duplicity here. I do however accept that we have to fund renewable energy projects somehow, but the current feed-in tariff is daylight robbery, pure and simple. So, next time you consider switching your energy supplier, you may like to find out what the "government obligations" contribution on your new bill is likely to be, otherwise it could be a nasty shock.

But what of those people who have recently agreed to host some wind turbines on their land, they've still got this 20 years of guaranteed income once they come on line haven't they? Well - yes and perhaps no. The feed-in tariff structure will be reviewed periodically, with the first review due in 2013. What will happen then? We don't know. However, our current coalition government has demonstrated its remarkable ability to implement policy reversals with a deft flick of the wrist. Additionally, by 2013 considerably more renewable energy generational sources will have come on line - all expecting their share of the promised feed-in tariff bonanza. More will doubtless be waiting in the wings. How will this tariff be funded? Will our 6% contribution become 10%? Given that electricity prices have increased a number of times since April 2010, the original 6% has effectively increased (in absolute terms) quite markedly already. We just don't know what will happen, but  I would like to think that the average consumer will not be prepared to continue to fund the feed-in tariffs and stand by to watch their hard earned cash disappearing into the pockets of wind farm operators, particularly if their turbines are standing idle.

Straid wind farm # 2

Well ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have a comedian in the audience. Since we seem to be a bit short on really practical and useful information regarding the Straid wind farm proposal, I've dug a little out. First of all, ecotricity (the operator/developers) have kindly published a web page that can be found here.

Now, there are a couple of interesting points. The first is that the ecotricity page contains a photomontage  of the proposed site looking across the Lendalfoot bay. Now, why wasn't that image on the exhibition notifications that were recently sent out to all residents I wonder?

Now the wording:
"We think our proposed Straid Farm wind park is a perfect spot". 
Umm. I don't think so. Clearly the old adage: location, location location has not been applied here. 

"It could power the equivalent of over half the homes in South Ayrshire – that’s a lot of clear, green power". Well it would be but I'm sorry, there is no way that 16 turbines are going to generate that much electricity (unless ecotricity have single handedly solved the energy crisis for us).

And lastly:
"We’ve designed the layout carefully to take a whole range of factors into account, including the landfill site next door, on-site ecology and ornithology, radar, site access and the local grid connection, together with any potential impact on the wider landscape". Sorry? did I miss something? This line is straight out of a comedy script surely?

I will resist the temptation to comment further on this (tempting though it is), and leave you to draw your own conclusions with regard to the suitability of this proposed development. Anyway, don't forget you have an opportunity to express your reviews regarding this, ahemm, stunning new development at the Lendalfoot Community Hall on 30 August 2011 between the hours of 4PM and 8PM. If you miss that, then there is a second opportunity at the Colmonell Community Hall the next day, at the same times.

In the meantime, if you have any questions for ecotricity regarding this proposed development, they have a dedicated email address: ready and waiting to recieve youe comments and questions.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Straid wind farm # 1

This is the first post regarding an embryonic wind farm application for Straid Farm, South Ayrshire. If you hadn't heard anything about this, it is probably because the developers have only just submitted their Pre Application Notice to South Ayrshire Council.

This development is for up to 16 turbines, 99.5 metres tall (or 326 feet in old money). The distance between the A77 and the nearest turbine in the current proposal is just 350 metres. The precise number of turbines and their exact location have not yet been decided; indeed, as of the time of posting, the meteorlogical mast hasn't even been installed. However, in the interests of letting people know what is going on, I thought I would post some pictures showing the location of this proposed development. All of these pictures were taken by myself, from the side of Pinbain Hill, immediately to the North of Straid Farm approximately 150 feet from the summit.

Right, to help you get your bearings, the first image shows the A77 leading into Lendalfoot, looking from North to South:

The important thing about this image is that, as the proposal stands, the left hand edge of the image is almost exactly the Western boundary of the proposed development site. So, if you looked to your left (to the East) from here, you would see the turbines.

Now the next image is (as far as I could manage) in the same vertical plane, also looks south and starts more or less immediately to the left (or West) of the previous image:

Now, think of this image as being divided into horizontal stripes. The first stripe is the long grass at the bottom of the picture, and can be ignored. The next stripe contains a fairly bright green strip of grass with some sheep on it. We'll call this zone 1. The next stripe is the darker segment of grass, that extends from the edge of zone 1 and ends just before the land-fill site (that grey sort of hillock bit just up from the centre of the frame) just up from the centre of the image. We'll call that zone 2. Eveything else in the image is in zone 3 and can be ignored. Now, the right hand edge of both zones 1 and 2 are where the turbines are proposed to start. From here, they extend Eastwards (to the left) across this frame:

continuing all the way along to a point roughly in line with Barchlewan. I didn't bother taking anymore pictures, these are quite sufficient to show that this development will absolutely dominate the Lendal valley.

Now, there are some important points about the potential cumulative impact here. First of all, have another look at the image above. The patch of dark green forest that can be seen on the top left horizon is the Knockbain plantation leading into Breaker Hill. Breaker Hill wind farm is currently under consideration by South Ayrshire Council for a 15 turbine development (see the link on the right hand side of this page entitled Breaker Hill under Current Planning Links), with a maximum blade height of over 300 feet. The sharp eyed amongst you may have spied something else. Look again at the image above, and particularly at the horizon on the right hand side of the image.  It is difficult to see, but if we zoom in a little, we get this:

Sitting just behind Knockdaw is the Northern boundary or Arechleoch, a 60 turbine development currently under construction stretching into Dumfries and Galloway. Now, because the camera actually does lie on occasions, I had to zoom in to get the size of the turbines about correct. But, I think the picture is quite clear. Don't forget, you need to imagine Straid's contribution to this overall image to get the full potential impact.

Just to make things really clear on the potential cumulative impact front, lets take a virtual tour along the A77 starting at the summit of Bennane Hill (that's the big hill immediately to the North of Ballantrae along the A77), imagining we are tourists having just got off the ferry at Cairnryan and are heading North. We will also assume Breaker Hill wind farm and Straid wind farm have been built. Now, if we look to the right, we see, err, Arecleoch wind farm. If we're quick, we'll also get a glimpse of Breaker Hill wind farm off to our right, and to the left is the famous Sawney Bean's cave. Now, just as we start to come down the northern face of Bennane Hill, straight ahead we have err,  Straid wind farm. Also located at Straid Farm, you'll find the landfill site. Moving very swiftly along....... Welcome to South Ayrshire.

Now to be fair, I must reiterate the Breaker Hill wind farm planning application has not been approved, and the wind farm most certainly hasn't been built. Straid wind farm has not even reached the planning application stage, so it really is embryonic. However, we must not loose sight of the potential bigger picture.

What's to be done? Well, if you have views on the Straid wind farm proposal or just want to find out more, the developers are holding an open exhibition at the Lendalfoot community hall on August 30th, starting at 4PM and going on 'till 8PM. A second exhibition is planned at Colmonell Community hall on August 31, again starting at 4PM and going on 'till 8PM. So, why not go along and make your feelings known, or see what the latest and greatest version of the proposal contains.

Its a farm Jim, but not as we know it!

What's in a name? Quite a lot actually. Companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect the monicas attached to their products and themselves. And it is easy to see why. Words conjure up mental images in our mind; read the word field, and doubtless an image of an open area of landscape perhaps containing crops, grass or just soil will spring to mind. That is the power of words; they have the ability to instantly trigger a  recall mechanism and make a seemingly appropriate associative image appear in our minds. Names of products, companies and services are very carefully chosen to ensue the appropriate associative imagery appears when they are encountered. Within our education system, pictures are often used to describe objects. So, from a very early age, we learn to associate words with specific pictures, and vice-versa.

If I think of the word wind, I get a movie probably because by definition wind is not static, it is simply air moving from high pressure areas to lower pressure areas. My movie involves people's hair blowing around and trees leaning against the force of the air movement. Curiously, I do not get an associative image of energy from the word wind. Perhaps that will come in time. For me, the word farm triggers an image of an agricultural facility, dedicated to the efficient production of foodstuffs. The word park conjures up images of areas used for casual relaxation and which may contain other items to help entertain us or just while away our hours whilst engaging you with the surrounding environment. I also get images of picnics and ball games for the word park!

So, what do I get when I encounter the words wind farm? Shockingly, an image of a benign, white turbine tower, with propeller like blades turning silently and lazily in the breeze, located on some distant hilltop. I now know this isn't the case (and hope to convince anyone left out there who still does believe that wind farms are silent in future posts). Where did that imagery come from? I didn't encounter such things during my education, so it wasn't from there. I believe it has come from what is going on around me and the subtle messages that have been rather effectively planted in my mind. I obviously need to get my mind right.

Many renewable energy company's websites use a lot of green in their branding and have pictures of bright sunny skies with the odd turbine tower in view. There is no sound associated with these pictures, just a very subtle, visual message. Humans rely on a combination of senses to make sense of their surroundings, and images carry only the visual clues as to what is going on. So, in an effort to square things up, I decided I needed to go back to the term wind farm, and substitute something that conjures up the appropriate imagery. To be sure, I typed in the word "farm" into my computer's dictionary, and it came up with "an area of land and its buildings used for growing crops and rearing animals, typically under the control of one owner or manager." Hmm, that doesn't really apply methinks. My mental image of a farm was pretty closely in tune with the dictionary definition, so whoever authored it obviously thought along the same lines as I do. So, the word farm appears to be inappropriate, but we can't go on calling them wind 'thingies", we definitely need to be a bit more descriptive so that the appropriate imagery appears in our minds.

How about wind factories? Well, that would imply that such facilities manufactured wind, and I know  that's not the case! So where now? How about we be brutally honest: what do these things do? Err, generate electricity. What, like a power station? Well, yes. The light went on. Eager to confirm my new tentative classification, I quickly typed power station into my dictionary. No entries were found, but there was a synonymous link to "power plant". So I clicked it and got "an installation where electrical power is generated for distribution". What, like a wind farm? Err, yes. Bingo.

I have now re-conditioned my mental imagery associated with power stations to include images of wind turbines. Additionally, a wind farm is now a piece of landscape, festooned with massive static structures, attached to which are fast moving blades that generate electricity and noise. Nearby is the image of a large power station cooling tower which helps me to associate wind farms with power stations. Err hang on a minute, where did the noise thing come into it? Well, like a lot of industrial equipment wind farms do generate noise - to such an extent that there are bi-annual conferences on wind farm noise (the short Post Conference Report from the 2011 conference, whilst very succinct makes for interesting reading).

Unfortunately, the term wind farm has effectively been enshrined in law and its use is therefore unlikely to disappear soon. However,  can we please start considering these developments as power stations or power plants, for that is what they are. This way, we may just get more appropriate associative industrial imagery appearing in our minds when the term wind farm is encountered.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

What's this then?

This is a blog dedicated to the effects of, and the actual process of the industrialisation of a part of the United Kingdom known throughout the world for its unspoilt beauty. A part of the United Kingdom that is home to large swathes of forest (albeit softwood forests - but forests none the less), and iconic, protected creatures. It is a part of the United Kingdom struggling to come to terms with its newly rediscovered identity. This part of the United Kingdom is not small, it is around 30,000 square miles in area, less than England  (which is around 50,000 square miles), but clearly of considerable size. The population of the area in question is around 5.2 million, which can be put into perspective by comparing it to the population of England - which is around 52 million.

So, just where is this place? Well, if you hadn't guessed, its Scotland. Although I have a particular interest in one part of Scotland (namely the South West) - since I live there, this blog will draw upon events, plans, procedures and policies that are impacting this entire region of the United Kingdom; specifically, the proliferation of wind farms.

I mention the phrase wind farm in the preceding paragraph, but I really do have a problem with it. Let us be quite clear about this, there is nothing agricultural about these developments except that they are often sited on agricultural land. However, I am forced into using this colloquialism since otherwise, this blog will not be indexed by search engines very effectively. So, I will have to (begrudgingly) continue its use, despite my feelings about its misleading nature.

From the preceding paragraphs, you may feel that I oppose wind farms. This is not true. Wind power as a renewable energy resource has a significant part to play in the United Kingdom's energy policy. My gripe is with inappropriate, profit driven developments. Specifically:

  • The inappropriate siting of so many of these developments
  • The way the planning system is skewed to ensure virtually every application is approved
  • How wind farms are touted inappropriately by our political masters as the solution to our current energy crisis
  • How peoples lives are shattered by the siting of these developments
  • The direct, adverse impact on our environment of some of these developments
  • How energy companies are using such developments to bolster their profits in an immoral fashion
  • How land owners are quite literally scrambling to jump upon this gravy train

I will try and be as balanced as my personal beliefs allow, but it is inevitable that the contents of this blog will be skewed towards the 'anti-wind farm' brigade.  I will try and draw upon any positives I can find but ultimately my purpose is to inform, to try and get the wider population conversant with just what is going on in the name of 'being green', and perhaps ensure that local, regional and national governments truly understand the impact of their policies (well, one can dream). So if you are curious and just want the facts without the associated baggage, come back regularly and see what transpires.