Benefits of wind power
In 2020, 82% of the UK population said that they support or strongly support the use of renewable energy for providing electricity, fuel and heat. Support for onshore wind remained stable at 77%. Adjacent are some of the reasons why well sited onshore wind projects should be encouraged and how they can help combat some of the damaging effects of climate change, improve air quality and contribute to a low carbon, sustainable energy supply for all.
Click on the adjacent boxes to reveal, below, some of the key benefits of onshore wind power.
A key goal of sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations and their needs. Exploiting and burning fossil fuel resources is inherently unsustainable. Their use disadvantages future generations both in terms of opportunity and by the fact they are a pollutant when burned. In contrast, wind power is completely renewable and thus sustainable in the long term, as well as having zero emissions. Wind turbines typically pay back the energy used in making and installing them within around 2 years but have an expected operational lifetime of 25-30 years. The UK is the windiest country in Europe, having around 25% of Europe’s wind resource. It therefore makes sense to capitalise on that and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Making use of this abundant renewable energy makes our lifestyles more sustainable, less vulnerable to shortages/price volatility of fossil fuels and will help to preserve a high standard of living for generations to come.
Combating climate change
It is now commonly accepted by scientists that the threat of damaging, irreversible climate change is imminent: see for instance the May 2020 report by the Climate Change Committee (the independent advisor to the UK Parliament) - https://www.theccc.org.uk/2020/05/04/climate-change-is-getting-worse-but-it-is-no-worse-than-we-predicted/ which noted that “Flooding is expected to get worse unless we adapt”, that “Risks of tipping points are clearer than ever” and that, “Evidence of climate change impacts is growing”. Other threats include increasing occurrence of extreme weather events, extinction of large numbers of species and decreased food security.
The Scottish Government declared a Climate Emergency in April 2019 and quite a number of Scottish local authorities have since followed suit. In her statement to Parliament in May 2019, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham said, “There is a global climate emergency. The evidence is irrefutable. The science is clear. And people have been clear: they expect action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stark warning last year: the world must act now. By 2030 it will be too late to limit warming to 1.5 degrees”.
Wind power is already playing a major role in reducing harmful emissions but there is much more that needs to be done, particularly if we are to successfully decarbonise our transport and heating systems.
Environmental impacts are low
Carefully sited wind energy has minimal environmental impact compared with coal, gas, fracking and nuclear energy. Very little carbon is released due to wind farm operation and wind turbines leave little or no legacy once removed at the end of their useful life. There are some CO2 emissions relating to the manufacture and construction of wind farms, but these effects are negated once the turbines are operational. In contrast, fossil fuel and nuclear plants produce emissions and waste which can have damaging effects on humans and the environment.
All applications for large wind turbines require a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment to be undertaken, based upon detailed surveys for a wide range of ecological and other factors, including noise and effects upon birds and rare species. This allows negative effects upon the natural environment to be avoided or mitigated.
At the end of their operational life wind turbines are removed and the land is reinstated. A ring- fenced fund is put in place prior to construction, to ensure that there is funding available to undertake these reinstatement works to the satisfaction of both the landowners and the planning authority.
Decarbonising Heat & Transport
Although major steps have been taken to decarbonise electricity generation in the UK, particularly in Scotland, progress in relation to decarbonising heat and transport has been much slower. In its 2017 Energy Strategy, the Scottish Government recognised that a ‘whole system’ approach to decarbonising our energy is required, noting that electricity makes up only one quarter of overall Scottish energy consumption. (www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-energy-strategy-future-energy-scotland-9781788515276/). In 2019 the International Energy Agency (IEA) praised the UK’s overall decarbonisation efforts, but stressed the need for greater investment in the transport and heat sectors if the country is to reduce its emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (www.current-news.co.uk/news/uk-must-step-up-investment-into-decarbonising-heat-and-transport-says-iea). Low carbon solutions for our heat (both domestic and industrial) and transport predict a big rise in demand for renewable sources of electricity. See for instance National Grid’s ‘Future Energy Scenarios’ report (http://fes.nationalgrid.com/fes-document/). In the case of low carbon transport, an upsurge in electric and/or hydrogen powered vehicles will create an equivalent upturn in demand for electricity. If these new generation vehicles are to have a positive environmental impact then it will require that the electricity that powers them comes from clean, renewable sources.
The more energy that we generate that is within our own control the less we shall require to import our energy from abroad. This means that we are less vulnerable to interruptions in supply and price volatility. This is particularly relevant in the case of gas which, in 2018, generated 39.5% of the UK’s electricity supply. Much of that gas comes from politically unstable parts of the world and of course the gas price is linked to oil prices which are increasingly volatile. Therefore, the less we rely on imports, and instead make use of our own abundant, sustainable wind power and other renewable resources, the more we shall be able to resist price shocks and threats of energy shortages.
Onshore wind power is cost effective
Onshore wind power is the most cost-effective renewable energy technology, having been refined and proven over many years. Indeed, it is now generally held to be the most cost-effective form of new electricity generation, including gas-fired plant and nuclear. (https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019).
Fossil fuel generation is sometimes thought of as relatively cheap, but this will not last since the average age of UK fossil fuel plants is now more than 30 years old. As and when new gas-fired power stations are built, the true cost of generating electricity from gas is seen to be more expensive than electricity generated from wind power.
It therefore makes economic, as well as environmental, sense to invest in generating electricity from clean, renewable and cost-effective sources like onshore wind.
Economic benefits, Community Benefit, Community Ownership
Local communities can gain significant economic benefit from wind power projects. See for example the following report which sets out the huge economic impacts that eight Scottish Power wind farms had for the UK, Scottish and local economies: https://bvgassociates.com/economic-benefits-onshore-wind-farms/. During the construction phase of a project (typically one to two years) there is a boost for a wide variety of businesses within the local economy, with opportunities for local contractors, tradesmen, catering/accommodation providers and others to gain valuable business from the project. This is something that Force 9 encourages for all its projects. During the operational phase of a wind farm there is a requirement for a supply chain of services and materials to maintain it; and technicians to maintain the turbines are often recruited and trained locally.
The Scottish Government has set a recommended level for Community Benefit at the equivalent of £5,000 per Mega Watt, pa for the lifetime of a project. Wind turbines are typically now between 4 and 5 Mega Watts rated capacity. Therefore a 5 turbine wind development (between 20 and 25 Mega Watts) could pay the equivalent of between £100,000 and £125,000 (index linked) every year, for up to 30 years. This has had a very positive impact on many local communities, and some are now using community benefit funding to employ community workers and support training and apprenticeships for young people, creating a legacy for their local communities.
Community Ownership of wind power projects has been actively encouraged through Scottish Government policy since 2015. The Scottish Government has set targets of 1,000 Mega Watts of community and locally owned energy by 2020, and 2,000 Mega Watts by 2030. Owning a share of renewable energy project can have a large range of benefits for local communities, including ‘generating income to create a real and lasting legacy’, ‘engaging communities in Scotland’s transition to a low carbon future’, ‘building stronger relationships between industry and communities over the project lifetime and beyond’ and ‘building capacity and empowering community members’ (https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-government-good-practice-principles-shared-ownership-onshore-renewable-energy-developments/).