Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Seasoned observers of nimby nitwittery will have noticed that anti-windfarm campaigns tend to follow a set pattern.

It all starts with your standard Chicken Little ("The sky is falling! The sky is falling!") hysteria. A few harebrained locals will try to convince everybody that -

Windfarms DESTROY the local property market (not true)
Windfarms DESTROY the landscape ... forever!! (very silly)
Windfarms DESTROY your health and well-being (erm - no, they don't)
Windfarms DESTROY 99% of household germs (now you're just making it up)

The idiot brigade will claim to have PROOF of all this, but a quick glance is usually enough to tell you that their so-called "proof" is wildly off-target, unscientific and totally wrong.

Things then tend to develop along three different pathways.

Some nutters will continue making extremely stupid claims for which they have no evidence whatsoever, which tend to defy the laws of physics, and which just go to show that there's one born every minute. So we start hearing that windfarms kill fish (how?), that they are transported on intergalactic cruisers (what?), that they spear small children (when?) and blow the blossom off the trees (duh!). They are also totally reliant on subsidies (what subsidies?), they never work, except when they work too well and have to be switched off (???), and nowhere else is even thinking about installing them (oh, grow up!!). This is because Britain is the only country in the world which (a) takes the reduction of carbon emissions seriously, and (b) does whatever the EU tells us to do without question. By this point you will have realised that the person who's spouting all this nonsense is a maniac and should be kept out of reach of sharp instruments.

Others disappear off into the hedgerows in search of a tiny endangered bat in the hope that this will prove to be a "show-stopper".

The third sort turn to the self-styled experts. They thereby manage to convince themselves that the government's established guidelines on windfarms and noise - ETSU-R-97 - are "outdated" and "unfit for purpose" (real acoustics experts say that the guidelines are holding up "robustly" and there is no need to update them). They also form the impression that windfarms are a waste of time because we will always need conventional power stations to take up the slack whenever the wind isn't blowing.

The proper term for this is "baseload". Now, the UK gets 40% of all of Europe's wind passing over it, so days when the wind isn't blowing are fairly few and far between. Still, what do we do about electricity on those days, eh? Eh?? EH??? Oh yes, windfarms - all well and good, in a monstrous, tree-hugging sort of way - but we'd still need baseload. So we might as well just invest in gas, coal and nuclear, and to hell with the planet.

Okay - first of all, the feeling that nuclear is a dead duck is growing, even in the good ole US of A. Hence this very interesting piece from the Huffington Post:

That, of course, leaves only fossil fuels to make up for the purported deficiencies in wind power. Which means imported gas (the real cause of the massive hike in energy bills recently) and that great polluter, coal.

What a shame. Because, let's face it, away from the bizarre world of nimbydom, windfarms do an amazing job, quietly and harmlessly harnessing a natural resource that is free, abundant and inexhaustible. How sad that we cannot rely on them and will always be building new coal and gas plants to burn stuff when the wind takes a day off.

But then, what if the whole "we'll always need baseload" argument is actually wrong?

David Mills thinks so. A retired solar technology developer, Mills has recently presented evidence in both Australia and California that pretty much all the electricity they need could be generated by wind and solar. Indeed, the whole of the US could be powered by wind and solar thermal, with a little solar storage and some biofuels. In his view, the very idea that we must always have flatline baseload capacity (coal and nuclear to keep the lights on) is, frankly, the wrong way to look at the problem.

This article appeared in Australia's Climate Spectator a little over a year ago, under the heading "Is baseload power necessary?":

A fascinating update on the story appeared just a month ago:

Mills's message is a striking one. "People say we need baseload plans," he has said, "but we don't." Indeed, with the right mix of renewables, the "whole concept of baseload becomes redundant", as another expert has observed: "It's worse than redundant, it gets in the way."

All this is a giant stake through the heart of the anti-wind argument. True, windfarms alone are not the answer (though they are a very, very big part of the answer). The trick is to combine inflexible supply (windfarms) with flexible supply (such as solar thermal with storage), and the whole baseload problem pretty much disappears. In fact, all this baseload that the nimbies insist we'll need is really a massive hindrance - a way of creating extra capacity we don't need while delaying the implementation of a system that will do just fine.

So, in addition to hoping that this is the year when the world finally gives up on nuclear, could it be that 2012 will also see us beginning to abandon our weird addiction to fossil fuels? If all our electricity needs can be met by wind and solar - no need for baseload after all - why on earth would we want to keep on burning coal for no good reason?

Because the nimby nutters said we would?

Well, you know what a bunch of liars they are!

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