The Daily Mail has published a letter by former BBC correspondent Michael Cole in which he attacks wind power and the appointment of Miriam Durantez, the wife of the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, to a job in the renewables industry. Unfortunately for Mr Cole, his claims about wind power bear little resemblance to reality. Frankly a newspaper like the Daily Mail should have a duty to check claims like this before they print them. If Michael Cole had written something as inaccurate as that during his time at the BBC, he'd have been fired on the spot.
Here are his claims followed by answers from RenewableUK (formerly the British Wind Energy Association):
Cole: "[Wind Turbines] can't run without power from the National Grid and need their own generator to keep them constantly supplied with electricity."
RenewableUK: "Mr Cole here appears to be getting confused about how wind turbines generate power. Because wind speeds are variable, turbines use an induction generator to extract as much energy from the wind as possible. Induction generators could be considered to be a form of reversed electrical motor: when the wind turbines' blades are turning faster than the speed of the equivalent electrical motor, the generator produces power. This doesn't mean they drain it when the wind speeds are low - when they are, the turbine is switched off. However, to turn the generator back on again it requires an initial burst of electricity to create the magnetic flux which allows it to work - a jump start, if you will. Stand-alone wind turbines get this from a bank of capacitors, and grid-connected turbines take it directly from the grid. This means that Mr Cole would be right if he wanted to say that if all the generators supplying power to the National Grid failed simultaneously you couldn't use a wind turbine to start it up again, but given that a typical coal or nuclear plant requires about a seventh of the electricity it generates, it seems odd to focus only on wind turbines."
Cole: "Billions of pounds have been spent in Britain on more than 2,000 turbines - and yet they contribute barely one per cent of all the electricity that we need. The combined output is less than one medium-sized conventional power station."
RenewableUK: "This is simply wrong. Wind capacity in the UK is 4.5GW, and the total capacity of all generators in the country is 80GW. Owing to wind's variability, wind turbines typically produce about 3% of the country's electricity. However, we actually only use a maximum of 63GW - the remainder is backup for when thermal power stations 'trip' and fall off the grid. About 1GW of conventional power trips every week on average. In terms of cost, it's true that over the last ten years the Government has spent approximately £1billion on supporting the wind industry via the Renewables Obligation system, and another £270 million on research and development. However, in the same period the Government has also spent £200 million on the National Opera, and last year alone around £35 billion on defence. Yearly Government spending on renewable energy is extremely low and easily affordable compared with other areas of state activity."
Cole: "They are an ever-present eyesore and are blamed for killing bats and birds that accidentally fly into them."
RenewableUK: "As Bill Oddie knows, before a wind farm is built the developers have to conduct an environmental impact assessment to ensure that local wildlife won't be adversely affected. Large wind turbines actually have less of an impact on wildlife than comparable structures like communication masts or road traffic - and certainly less than cats!
"It's true that some people dislike the look of wind turbines, but they're in the minority - surveys have repeatedly shown that the majority of people support the expansion of wind energy. Their concerns shouldn't be ignored, however, and during the planning consultation process people have the opportunity to ask developers to ensure that the visual impact of a proposed farm is minimised. This can and has led to developers moving the planned sites of turbines so that they're less visible to people who dislike them.
"Constructive engagement like this on both sides of the debate is crucial to ensuring we can use renewables to help prevent dangerous climate change and secure our energy supplies - while at the same time ensuring that people who will be impacted by new renewable energy projects have the chance to have their say. Unfortunately, what Mr Cole has written does not constitute constructive debate."