Wind more welcome some places than others

By Bryan Walker 10/11/2009

Good and not-so-good news on wind energy.  First, a report that Spanish windfarms set a new record for wind-generated electricity over the weekend when for a few hours they provided 53% of the country’s total electricity needs. The winds were high and in previous years turbines would have been turned off because they were providing more electricity to the grid than needed.  But now the spare electricity is exported or used by hydroelectric plants to pump water back into their dams – effectively storing the electricity for future use. The head of the Spanish Wind Energy Association recalled that just five years ago critics had claimed the grid could never cope with more than 14% of its supply from wind. He predicted more than doubling wind power in Spain over the next decade. 

Meanwhile in the UK the Chairman of the British Wind Energy Association writes of the often strong local opposition to wind farms on the grounds of their inappropriateness in their particular locality.  He thinks that opponents muct decide whether they want electricity or not. 

As the UK restructures its electricity sector in the drive to meet the twin imperatives of climate change and security of energy supply, it is clear that the wind industry will become increasingly visible across the country. The electricity sector will no longer be confined to anonymous grey boxes but will be part of the landscape from Cornwall to Cape Wrath…

There will always be reasons for objecting to clean energy development, wherever it is located. The simple truth is that the long-term consequences of not undertaking that development will be far worse than the consequences of undertaking it.

Which leads to the bombshell from the Environment Court in New Zealand when they upheld the appeal against consent for Meridian’s planned large wind farm on the Lammermoor Range in Otago.  The details of the Court’s decision have not yet been publicly released, and the New Zealand Wind Association has been restrained in its comment, but the following from the statement of Fraser Clark, the Association’s Chief Executive is worth noting:

’Whether or not the decision is the right one, what is concerning is that it seems to raise the bar for assessing renewable energy projects above and beyond the bar for other large scale infrastructure projects. This has the potential to create a far greater loss for all of New Zealand by hindering the development of other renewable energy schemes.

’The Court considers that Project Hayes is not the next best option for new generation in New Zealand, and so it would be preferable if other options were investigated more fully first. With other potential sites requiring their own, equally comprehensive analysis there is no way such an investigation could ever be achieved in a timely and effective manner’

He also noted that the Court attributed no value to the security of electricity supply in their decision despite their own recognition of the important role wind energy plays in reducing the risks of the electricity system failing during dry years.

I confess to disappointment at the Court’s decision.  I’m in no way qualified to pronounce on the economics of wind power in relation to other forms of renewable energy, but I assume that the companies concerned have that very much in the forefront of their planning.  Of course there will sometimes be important environmental considerations at stake and balances have to be struck between competing environmental concerns, of which climate change is one.  But the wind potential in New Zealand is very high, and if Spain can get as much out of its wind as it does it would seem likely that we can do at least as well. Landscape intrusion is inevitable, though it hardly compares with the landscape transformation which has accompanied human settlement in our country. The climate change side of the balance should need a lot of weight to counteract it.