The current debate about the construction of wind farms and pylons is largely focused on the impacts these developments would have on the many communities who feel they will adversely affect their lives.
For some people health issues are the primary concern, for others, landscape damage, a reduction in property value or environmental destruction.
These concerns are real and there is evidence to support their validity.
However, this part of the debate should only take place after the evidence has been produced to show that wind energy and the substantial associated grid is economically sustainable and capable of reducing Ireland’s C02 emissions.
The ability of wind energy to reduce CO2 emissions is limited.
Storing electricity is extremely difficult so supply must be continually matched with demand.
Wind is intermittent and generates power about 25% of the time while gas and coal plants provide it for the other 75%, but this is just part of the story.
During that 25% of time when wind generates usable power, gas and coal plants continue to run as “spinning reserve” in the background ready to come in on short notice to balance this supply and demand. These plants cannot be turned on and off at short notice and the continual adjustments they make often results in their efficiency being halved, meaning they now produce twice as much CO2 per unit of electricity produced.
This need for a permanent backup which is quickly available renders wind ineffective.
Dr Fred Udo confirmed this when he carried out a comprehensive examination of the Irish system in 2012 and found that even when wind provided one third of our electricity, the CO2 saved was a paltry 6%. As only one fifth of the energy consumed in Ireland comes from electricity, the the CO2 saved is now one fifth of 6%; that is 1.2%.
We have still not allowed for the CO2 footprint of the turbine itself; the large amounts of concrete used, or the rare earth magnets that are so environmentally damaging to produce.
Furthermore, substantial CO2 is produced from building a complex grid needed to connect and transport this power from widely dispersed sources.
It is not popular to say but unfortunately, wind is incapable of having any meaningful impact on CO2 emissions. That is part of the reason why our emissions are not coming down and in fact rose by 1% last year despite 18% wind in our system.
The cost of all this wind and associated grid development is being paid for by every citizen and business in Ireland. Most householders are acutely aware of how much electricity costs have risen and how much they continue to rise. There are many other implications to expensive electricity; loss of national competitiveness and energy poverty are just two examples.
The current financial crises is partly the result of a group think where questions were not asked, where independent regulation was lax and where big business was too close to government.
A similar pattern is emerging within the energy sector.
Hard questions are not being asked by our politicians of the wind industry or Eirgrid.
Few if any politicians have questioned the effectiveness of wind, the need to spend €3.2 billion on the grid or even the linkages between the two. The continued failure of our politicians to ask these questions and act on independent evidence is demonstrated by their blithe acceptance of industry figures and reports.
This is alarming.
Their support for wind energy without even a rudimentary cost benefit analysis (CBA) is populist and disingenuous.
Politicians and IFA representatives rail against pylons in one part of the country while promoting the associated wind turbines in another. How do they think the energy produced by wind turbines is to be transported?.
We need our current politicians to show leadership and not make the same mistakes as the previous government, if not, we may end up with what Colm McCarthy described as a “NAMA for wind turbines”.
(People over Wind)