Another turbophobic myth dispelled
When I started this blog fifteen months ago I had no intention of championing Big Wind, an entity very likely to be every bit as self-seeking and environmentally slapdash as Big Oil or Big Nuclear. However, I do feel compelled to devote a few electrons every now and then to refuting some of the more ridiculous arguments deployed against wind turbines by those who seek to couch their narrow and temporary self-interest in terms of the greater good.
When not fantasising about ‘bird mincers’ turbophobes may resort to the fanciful argument that wind turbines will become permanent eyesores when their working life is over. ‘We are saving the countryside for our children’ they say. They will triumphantly post pictures they have googled up of a handful of rusting turbines on Hawaii, proclaiming that this is the legacy we are leaving for future generations.
Of course, like most anti-wind rhetoric this argument does not bear close examination. Decomissioning arrangements are built into every planning approval , as they are with other large developments. Usually windfarm developers are required to put in place a bond to cover the cost of decommissioning in the event of the owner going bust. The actual dismantling of the towers is not technically challenging, and of course the metal can be recycled. Access roads may take some time to grow over, but not as long as slag heaps, mine tailings or quarries.
The blades of a typical 2-megawatt turbine weight 42 tonnes. So if we take a 500MW windfarm that means that at the end of (say) 20 years we will have 10,500 tonnes of difficult to recycle but inert and harmless material. This represents 1050 tonnes per year. I find this slightly less alarming than, eg, the waste created by a typical 500-megawatt coal plant, which includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year.
I don’t think wind is an ideal technology, but it is the only affordable low-carbon electricity generation technology that is currently deployable at scale. And of all the arguments stacked up against it this one – ‘We are preserving the landscape for future generations’ - is the one that rings most hollow. In twenty or thirty years I belive our children and grandchildren are more likely to bemoan our lack of appetite to tackle climate change than they are the existence of a few thousand metal towers and plastic blades that are no longer needed.