Civitas, an independent think tank, recently published a report by British economist Ruth Lea — director of the manufacturing renewal project at Civitas and an economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group — that concludes the expense of wind farms and need for backup energy makes harvesting wind “inordinately expensive and ineffective at cutting emissions.”
According to the U.K.’s Climate Change Act, signed in 2008, greenhouse gas emission goals set a 20 percent reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and an 80 percent cut by 2050. Such drastic reductions fundamentally change the way many businesses operate and require adoption of renewable energy or carbon-cutting technology. Since generation of electricity alone accounted for nearly a third of the U.K.’s CO2 emissions in 2010, according to the report, this is clearly an area where the government is seeking to make improvements.
The Telegraph reports that the U.K. plans to build as many as 32,000 wind turbines in the next two decades. This initiative is part of a goal set by EU’s Renewables Directive to have 15 percent of the energy produced in the U.K. come from renewables by 2020.
The Civitas report states that while wind power looks like a competitive option for alternative energy, additional costs associated are not being considered and may in fact negate the carbon-saving benefits:
The costing of wind-power electricity generation is clearly very complex. But one conclusion can safely be drawn and that is that wind-power is expensive – especially offshore. Under these circumstances it seems unwise to be embarking on a huge programme of investment in wind generated electricity, especially when the country is facing grave economic challenges. This analysis also ignores the perceived environmental costs of wind-power, especially onshore wind turbines.
According to the report, Lea finds that the expense of maintaining backup forms of energy for periods of unreliable wind power could mean that “energy users pay twice: once for the window-dressing of renewables, and again for the fossil fuels that the energy sector continues to rely on.”
The Telegraph reports that skeptics of this research consider evidence in the report “outdated and inaccurate.” According to The Telegraph, Dr. Gordon Edge, director of policy at the lobby group RenewableUK, said the information in the report was developed by “anti-wind cranks” and went on to explain that wind power is meant to supplement existing fossil fuels not replace it all together.
Although Edge considers the data evaluated by Lea as outdated, most of her analysis is based on the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change 2010 report on electricity generation costs of the major technologies, which includes wind turbines, nuclear, and use of traditional fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.
Lea also makes note of a 2011 BBC report that states in periods of intense cold, when coal- and gas-fired power stations are relied upon the most, analysis of the weather has shown little to no wind available to generate power.
The Civitas report also points out that work published by the Dutch physicist C. le Pair in October 2011 that found even on “normal windy days” in the Netherlands use of wind turbines actually increased fossil fuel consumption and therefore increased CO2 emissions. It should be noted that this research was published on le Pair’s website and has not been peer reviewed, according to The Guardian. The Guardian states this is not to say the research should be discounted, but that it should be vetted by other experts in the field before holding to this claim.
The Huffington Post UK reports that a spokesperson for the DECC said that the department acknowledges some of the upfront costs associated with wind turbines, which it is working to reduce, but still considers wind power is still a viable source of energy now.