September 19, 2016 by
‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ was at first dismissed as a ‘communicated disease’ by a former tobacco advertising guru and wind power zealot.
But the diagnosis itself is real enough: save that it is the turbine huggers themselves that are suffering from it. Here’s a take on the latest outbreak from the Scottish Highlands.
THE unrestrained enthusiasm of Keith Anderson as he eulogised Scotland’s wind farms carried all the hallmarks of the renewables zealot.
Almost Messianic in his evangelical fervour, the ScottishPower boss simply could not understand why anyone wouldn’t swoon at the mere sight of a turbine.
‘I love it. I absolutely love wind farms, I think they’re fantastic’, he told an interviewer. ‘I would find it incredible for anybody to go up to the visitor centre at Whitelee [wind farm] and not love Whitelee.
‘You stand on the decking outside, look out over it and I just think it’s spectacular. I don’t understand how anybody could stand there and not find that absolutely inspiring.’
Whitelee, in Renfrewshire, is the UK’s biggest onshore wind farm – though Mr Anderson, despite his adoration of it, lives some distance away, in an affluent Glasgow suburb.
If he did live under the sails of one of these behemoths, maddened by their incessant hum, contemplating the fall in the price of his house, he may lose some of his passion for those beautiful turbines.
Indeed, aren’t Mr Anderson’s extraordinary ramblings about wind farms utterly typical of the wider wind farm lobby – closed off to reason and even to the possibility that they might be wrong?
The failure to grasp that it is possible not to experience the same ecstasy that apparently grips Mr Anderson when he gazes upon Whitelee – or presumably any other wind farm – is troubling, and deeply telling.
There are some similarities between the pro-wind lobby and the hardcore supporter of Scottish independence.
Both are in denial about basic facts but utterly determined to convince others of the validity of their own convictions, however baseless.
We all pay for these convictions, of course, in the form of domestic energy bills.
But Mr Anderson and his fellow wind-advocates believe it is a price well worth paying for the sheer aesthetic pleasure. turbines supposedly provide.
And yet, reading in a Sunday broadsheet interview about Mr Anderson’s near-cultish devotion to these monstrosities, you have to pause and remind yourself that this isn’t a mock article in the pages of Private Eye. He really means it.
In a country famed around the world for its breath-taking scenery, through a kind of state-sponsored and incredibly expensive mass delusion, swathes of precious countryside have been irrevocably blighted by ugly turbines.
Last year, controversial plans (thankfully since shelved) emerged for eight giant wind turbines nearly twice as tall as the Wallace Monument to be built near Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, wrecking some of the most stunning views in Scotland.
Wind farm developers spend years (in the Culzean case, about a decade) attempting to win community support for their projects.
In some cases, homeowners are offered generous sums of money to drop their opposition to turbines, effectively buying their silence.
Of course, Mr Anderson is not alone in his advanced state of denial about just how grotesque wind farms are.
Former SNP Energy Minister Jim Mather once claimed that ‘eco-tourists’ would flock to Scotland in their droves to admire the turbines.
And there is no shortage of them – there are now a total of 3,400 onshore turbines, up from just 1,657 in 2012, representing an increase of 1,743.
This is an average of more than one new turbine every day, and an additional 1,547 have planning approval, many of which are now under construction.
The UK Government has axed generous onshore subsidy schemes, but naturally wind farm developers such as ScottishPower are taking full advantage of a generous grace period before they dry up completely.
Whenever wind farms produce a little more energy than anticipated, their supporters rush to social media in celebratory mode: here at last is the definitive proof that wind can work, that the sceptics are wrong.
But at what price? Recent figures showed that Scotland’s wind farms have been paid nearly £225 million since 2010 to switch off turbines when it is too windy, a fact that startlingly encapsulates the Wonderland economics underpinning the entire sector.
Energy firms qualify for ‘constraint payments’ when they have to close wind farms temporarily (and these are bankrolled, inevitably, through domestic energy bills).
In exceptionally windy conditions, the creaking National Grid, deprived of the investment it desperately needs, simply cannot cope with the extra energy turbines produce.
Yet wind farms produce only a fraction of the UK’s energy, with Scottish turbines’ contribution sometimes falling to only 0.17 per cent.
Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, has warned that the ‘fundamental unreliability’ of weather ‘compromises the contribution of most renewables to security of supply’.
Offshore wind may get around some of the aesthetic problems of onshore turbines (for those of us who do not appreciate their natural beauty).
But in Scottish waters they have to withstand punishing weather conditions with the added stresses of strong North Sea currents and salt water.
And the challenges don’t end there – once the electricity has been generated, it then has to be transmitted back to the mainland over miles of underwater sea floor.
They will also be paid for – once again – by the consumer.
The world’s biggest offshore wind farm is to be built 75 miles off the Lincolnshire coast of Grimsby – at an estimated cost to energy bill-payers of at least £4.2 billion.
The giant Hornsea Project One wind farm will consist of 174 turbines, each 623 ft tall – higher than the Gherkin building in London – and will span an area more than five times the size of Hull.
There are even embryonic plans for airborne wind turbines: helium-filled, ground-tethered ‘blimps’ resembling huge silver doughnuts which are said to be capable of generating three times as much energy as land-based equivalents.
But such turbines are in their infancy and in any event would be primarily targeted at isolated rural areas or islands.
Trying to put some distance between planet Earth and unsightly turbines is, of course, a waste of time for true wind farm acolytes like Mr Anderson and the legion of eco-tourists Mr Mather hoped would descend upon Scotland.
Mr Mather is now out of office, but there is precious little evidence that the current Scottish Government is taking the country’s energy needs remotely seriously.
Alex Salmond’s now-notorious claim that Scotland could be ‘the Saudi Arabia of renewables’ has never looked less credible. And the SNP’s moratorium on fracking demonstrates a disgraceful lack of vision for the future of energy policy, particularly now that the oil industry is now on its knees.
Demonstrating a similar myopia, MSPs voted in favour of an outright ban on fracking earlier this year.
Yet according to some estimates fracking could generate £33 billion for the UK economy and create 64,000 jobs.
A British Geological Survey report has estimated there could be 80 trillion cubic feet of gas below the Scottish Central Belt.
There would also be a knock-on benefit to hard-pressed families in the form of lower energy bills.
The consumers who have had to finance so much of the green zealotry favoured by Mr Anderson and the Nationalists undoubtedly deserve a break.
But as MSPs return to Holyrood today after their lengthy summer break, they also want some evidence of political leadership to help keep the lights on.
At the moment, all the signs are that our blinkered parliament is fumbling in the dark.