The wind turbine plague has reached the Parish with the erection of the Varcoe turbine which now towers over Withiel. Despite local campaigns and overwhelming rejection by the County Council, Piper and Drake have won their appeals and the first two turbines on the opposite side of the valley cannot now be stopped. They will stand over us for the rest of our lives. The bizarre decision on the Dingle Brothers fly-built tower has discomfited even our rabidly pro-turbine MP Dan Rogerson, and has removed any pretence of democratic control over these machines.
I went to Truro to talk to councillors about Cornwall’s plans for turbines and solar farms, and it was refreshing to hear none of them repeat the self-serving cant of the turbine industry. They know that much of the electricity from turbines and solar farms is never used, and that its effect on CO2 emissions is practically zero. They complain that they have never before faced an issue where council officers are so completely in control; civil servants, particularly planning inspectors, are following their own agenda.
There are thousands of people who oppose wind turbines but have worked independently, and thus our voices have been diluted. Now, they are coming together in a county-wide network to which our Withiel group is affiliated. We cannot match the propaganda funding of the turbine industry, but we can certainly make a difference.
It is important to quantify how little of what turbine owners are paid for is ever used, and this should be possible to model. Traditional electricity generators are paid for what the consumer uses – the meter is in your house. Turbine owners, however, are paid at the turbine, so the fact that much of what they generate is lost in transmission is irrelevant to them. Transmission is the bane of the electricity industry; even under the best conditions, some 20 percent is lost in the wires. The wind turbine owner is trying to feed electricity backwards into a system that was only ever designed to deliver it, and in Cornwall the sub-grid is particularly inefficient. Estimates of transmission loss for wind turbines range from 40 to 70 percent – and remember, wind turbines are only 30 percent efficient in the first place. Demand has to be there at the instant electricity is generated; it cannot be stored. If there is little or no demand – say if a gale is blowing at 4am – it is wasted. Of the small proportion of wind electricity that is used, only a fraction saves any CO2; if it supplants nuclear electricity, for example, no CO2 is saved.
All this is paid for from a premium of some 19 percent on your power bill – about £300 a year for each Cornish family. This really matters – last winter, 27,000 people in the UK died in circumstances in which their inability to afford to heat their homes was a factor. Then there are the hidden costs – reduced property values, lost tourism etc. Last month a Scottish wind turbine owner was forced to withdraw a leaflet claiming turbines do not affect property values after a complaint was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority, while houses close to wind turbines in Kessingland, Suffolk, have been revalued downwards for council tax purposes. This may happen here.
It’s difficult to ask someone not to put up a turbine because the subsidies are so colossal. A small 50 kW turbine will produce almost £1,000 a week, guaranteed for 25 years. How do you ask someone to pass up a £1,250,000 handout? The blame lies with misguided politicians, led by the nose by profiteers who, when it is realised that there is no money left to invest in genuinely renewable and sustainable electricity, will shrug their shoulders and walk away to count their cash. – Pat Malone