Tilting At Windmills 37

There is a theory in Holyrood that “King Nuke” Brian Wilson’s support for the proposed 550 MW wind power project on Shetland, is based on a desire to see wind power terminally discredited by this over-large scheme.

Of Wilson’s motives I have no view – he was a good man forty years ago at, and immediately after, Dundee University, but like so many his morals appear to have been skewed by contact with Tony Blair.

But wind power needs to generate in serious units like 550 MW if it is to have a real impact on the future of British energy policy. Interestingly, if the Viking project can really be built for £800 million as stated, that is only twice the cost of installing conventional gas turbine plant – and the gas turbines will burn their construction cost again in fuel inside five years, while the fuel for the wind turbines is free.

I confess to having little time for the anti-wind turbine lobby. There are environmental consequences to any energy generation, of course, inclusing wind turbines. All human activity impacts the environment. But compared to the environmental costs of extracting and combusting fossil fuels, the impact of wind turbines is much less damaging.

Yes, you have to join them with roads and cable ducts. Of course that has an impact on the environment – as does mining and smelting the steel, etc. But I am not a fan of closing down human activity altogether to end our environmental impact. Nor is there a great deal of evidence that birds suffer wholesale massacre. The construction will but scratch the surface of the Shetland wilderness – there are no dams flooding valleys, no mountains being moved. That the wilderness should remain pristine for the benefit of occasional sightseers from the cities – who actually never really visit, they just like to think it is there – is not a major priority.

So I hope Viking, and as many other wind projects as possible, speed ahead. Which is why I am furious at the government allowing the closure of the Vestas blade factory on the Isle of Wight. Any amount of public money is available to bail out casino banking young sharps in the City of London – even though it has put us in debt for generations. But it would be “Wrong” to help our too small stake in the wind turbine industry, according to “Lord” Mandelson.

Meanwhile, the taxpayer has been heavily subsidising the nuclear industry for my entire lifetime…

Returning to Norfolk has re-awakened my fury at the government’s abandonment of much of our coastal defences, as impractical and too expensive. Yet the East Coast is full of reclaimed land, around Kent, North Norfolk and the whole of the Fens. We were doing it for centuries armed only with picks, shovels and buckets. The obvious response to the government’s miserable policy is “tell that to the Dutch”. Infuriatingly, erosion on the Norfolk cost is being increased by the Crown Estate dredging sand offshore – to sell to the Netherlands government to improve their coastal defences.

There are offshore wind farms planned around here, including on the shoals off Sheringham. It seems to me that there must be a tremendous opportunity to combine major new coastal defences with renewable energy capture through wind, tide, wave and current. This is the kind of major and imaginative public works project, like building the Hoover Dam, which adds to the investment capital of a nation and provides jobs and economic activity as we enter serious recession.

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37 thoughts on “Tilting At Windmills

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  • Clydebuilt


    windmills certainly do have a place in a renewable energy strategy. However they do not supply base load. therefore they do not pose a threat to the building of new nuclear poser stations.

    The renewable that poses a threat to new build nuclear stations is tidal. Tidal is not weather dependent(as wave and wind are. Also as the time of the tide varies with geographical position it is to some extent available 24/7. The technology to capture tidal energy is not rocket science and has existed for as long as we have had hydro power. So why has the UK not developed tidal power. Is it because it poses a threat to the development of new nuclear power stations. The SNP have claimed that the tides in the Pentland Firth if harnessed have 10 times the capacity of Scotlands requirements. They envisage enough extra capacity to make a sub sea connector to Norway a viable proposition.

    The Tides in the Bristol channel have enormous potential. Are close to major centres of population. And if harnessed would take the place of several nuclear power stations.

    Windmills are to some extent a distraction, being used by the major parties to make us think they are doing something about renewables. Whilst in the mean time not removing the need for their precious nuclear stations….


  • NomadUK

    ‘…Whilst in the mean time not removing the need for their precious nuclear stations….’

    See, this is one of those things I simply don’t understand.

    I think nuclear power is a fine thing, when done right. Harnessing the fundamental forces of Nature is okay in my book, when done responsibly. But I’m not wedded to it beyond all reason: if someone comes up with something that’s cleaner, easier to build, more sustainable, more popular, all that good stuff, I’m all for it. I’ll drop the idea of nuclear (well, for anything but deep space missions and planetary colonisation), where it will be essential) in a heartbeat.

    But what is it with these other guys? Why the blind support for the nuke industry? Are they all on the take? Do they just like uranium? Is it because they’ve Learned to Love the Bomb and anything connected to it? Are they fucking stupid? Do they know something everyone who’s anti-nuke doesn’t?

    If the tidal energy types formed a consortium and started bribing ministers the way the nuclear lobby does, would that change their minds? Are they simply prostitutes, and therefore understandable (though they would give prostitutes a bad name), or is there something deeper going on?

  • tony_opmoc

    If desertec is viable, which I am far from convinced of, then the energy should be utilised locally in the countries of origin. The concept of transmitting the energy thousands of miles over HDVC is fraught with all kinds of technical, ethical and political risk.

    Utilising the energy locally is far more sensible and beneficial to the local populations. In coastal regions it could be used for desalianation and irrigation producing massive increases in food production. In remote inland sparsely populated areas it could be utilised for heavy energy intensive industry and resource extraction.

    The idea that energy is going to continue to be transferred thousands of miles from “poor” countries to “rich” countries long into the future is extremely arrogant.

    I can forsee tremendous problems with Concentrated Solar Power. All you need is a sandstorm and your enormous CSP array is buried.

    Instead of continuing to rape and pillage Third World hot impoverished countries, we should be teaching them how to solve some of their fundamental problems


    a) build simple solar cookers, so they don’t have to go round collecting sparse wood and animal shit for fuel.

    b) solar powered air conditioning – to keep their homes cool.

    c) solar powered pumps for water filtration and distribution.

    If all of these aren’t already completely viable and doable, then the desertec concept is Club of Rome conspiracy nonsense designed to take our minds off providing real solutions to our own problems. Basically every country will ultimately have to be self sustainable in its own basic resources like energy and water, rather than stealing them from weaker neighbours.


  • ingo

    tony, these are all valid points you are speaking about and they are part and parcel of Desertec, a vast amount of these energies will be used were it is produced.

    I think this project will be carried out in very inhospitable parts of the desert will happen. The loss through modern HVDC power lines is minimal and can be overcome. Saline heat storage is also a factor in this equation making ebnergy available through out the night.

    far from being a conspiracy thing Tony, it will be a multi billion project concerning more than one country.

    If you rather see us dependent on Russian Gas and french nuclear power say so, because time for talking is rapidly diminishing, we need some action on this issue, world wide. Feeding nuclear weapons machinations, allures of grandeur and terror trolls does not really do it for me, especially not when I have to look after the spolis for a few throusand years. Unless we are talking Thorium reactors, something I discussed at lenght with Mathias, one of our swedish volunteers during the by election, he is a fan of Thorium reactors, the half life of its waste deteriorates the remaining radiation much faster apparently.

    Still we came to the conclusion that we should try as many alternatives as possible, some climates and ciumstances favor one whilst another is more suitable elsewhere, nuclear should be the last solution, when sustainable renewables are exhausted.

    Our current dithering is planned I fear, we are being hob nailed to the French nuclear lobby. Vestas went bust because of the lack of initiative in this country, it is sad but true.

    Maybe there is a chance of saving these jobs and the ability to make our own baldes here in Britain.

  • Clydebuilt

    “King Nuke” Brian Wilson

    “Of Wilson’s motives I have no view – he was a good man forty years ago at, and immediately after, Dundee University, but like so many his morals appear to have been skewed by contact with Tony Blair.”

    Craig I can’t agree that Tony Blair skewed Brian Wilson’s morals….years before Blair took over the labour party Wilson was the staunchest anti SNP member of the Labour party in Scotland His hatred of the SNP was viscerol Your old friend the BBC was only to keen to give this guardian of the British state a platform to spread his good work.

    Since he stood down as an MP I have noticed a weakening in his desire to attack anything SNP. He’s probably saving his energies to foist new Nuke stations on Scotland against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament, whilst raking in the barrowloads of dosh the Nuke industry are undoubtably showering on him


  • Stephen Jones

    The opposition to wind turbines is that you also need to built conventional coal,gas or diesel turbines of around the same capacity. Wind turbines vary wildly in output so you need other capacity that can quickly be turned on to back them up to prevent load shedding.

    Thus you are not building a wind power station, but a wind power station and a gas or diesel power station of maybe two thirds the capacity.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Brian Wilson’s dislike for the SNP may be down to the fact that he saw too much of the SNP in Lewis and Harris, some of whom in the past were extremely unpleasant and hypocritical people – like Donald Stewart MP who ran an “anti-permissive campaign” against my grandfather Malcolm MacMillan MP. Stewart and some of his supporters spread false rumours about him having been in “the fleshpots of London” and also made up stories about his trips abroad – which actually included walking alongside Greek dissidents against the fascist Colonel’s regime in Greece.

    The SNP i’ve met in Lanarkshire seem to be a totally different and far better sort of people, including many people who were formerly in the Labour party before Blair and Brown took it over.

    I won’t ever criticise Brian Wilson however much i disagree with his political views these days because he was a good friend of my family in the past. I don’t know why his views have changed so much but i suspect his run ins with some of the less pleasant members of the SNP in the Western Isles may have started to make him focus too much on opposing the SNP and not enough on where Blair and Brown were leading Labour.

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