Letters to the press

This is a letter I wrote in response to a letter published in the Sussex  Express edition of February 17:

Dear editor,

Mr Beck’s letter of February 17, in which he attacked the proposed Rampion offshore wind farm, represented a gross distortion of the facts about the project. The biggest distortion was his assumption that the installed capacity of the farm, 700 megawatts, represented the total output of electricity generated by the farm. The 700 MW capacity figure is just the theoretical total output that can be generated at any one moment if all the 195 wind turbines were running at full power, not the total output generated over the course of a year. In fact, the project is estimated to generate a total output of 2,100 gigawatts (and a gigawatt is a thousand megawatts!) of power per year, which would meet the needs of 450,000 households assuming that each household consumed 4,700 kwh of electricity per year on average. I hope Mr Beck would agree that 2,100 GW is a very big figure indeed and would power more than just a small kettle in each house! Mr Beck goes on to make the classic mistake of confusing the load factor for wind farms with their efficiency. It is true that wind farms have a load factor of between 30 and 40% typically, but then most conventional power stations run with a load factor of between 50-55% and they are never described as running only half the time! Wind farms actually generate electricity around 80–85% of the time, and power is converted to electricity very efficiently, with none of the thermal waste inherent in fossil fuel plants. So, wind power is an efficient way to generate electricity, employing a free energy source that is also renewable. The estimated yearly output of the wind farm as being 2,100GW takes into account the load factor of the farm, so there is no need to reduce the estimated output by 60%, as Mr Beck does, so the idea of each household only getting 620 watts is just so laughable, it hurts!

I don’t know where Mr Beck got his admission from E.ON that we would need a 90% backup from power stations to cope with the undeniably intermittent nature of renewable power supply, but there is in fact a plentiful supply of reserve capacity in the national grid to cope with intermittancy. There has to be because conventional power plants can sometimes themselves be the cause of a sudden, severe loss of power (eg. a nuclear plant shutting down because of a fault). In fact, a distributed national network of wind turbines adds resilience to the national grid because it can help deal quickly with such a sudden loss of a conventional power plant!

I don’t know where Mr Beck gets his figures for the costs of subsidising Rampion from, but, whatever the figures, they have to be put into the wider context that all forms of power generation in this country get government subsidies of one kind or another. For example, the nuclear industry gets a subsidy of over £1 billion per year and the estimated cost of decommissioning all the old nuclear power stations is over £75 billion, and there is no plan yet as to how to pay for that! And anyway, the Committee on Climate Change recently reported that 80% of the rise in our energy bills from 2004 to 2010 was unrelated to low carbon measures such as renewable energy subsidies, and most of that 80% rise was due to the rise in the wholesale price of gas. Much better surely, to subsidise a renewable energy source like wind that will keep the lights switched on and the kettles boiling even when oil, coal and gas supplies become too expensive. Wind farms help to reduce our carbon emissions so as to save the planet for human habitation, and they do not need vastly expensive decommissioning when they come to the end of their working life!

Yours sincerely, Andrew


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