Caio Residents Object to Wind Turbine Greenwash
Sighs of relief in and around Caio, Carmarthenshire in February, when a 500 kW wind turbine application was rejected, have changed to anger. The application has been resubmitted, with slight amendments and a new number, E/32181. At short notice, local people streamed into Neuadd y Coroniad, Pumsaint, on Wednesday evening (July 8th), to hear campaigners Eifion Evans and Ed Percy ask for objection letters to reach the planning authority, Carmarthenshire County Council, before July 16th.
The 77-metre (250-feet) turbine, for Jonathan Kearsley’s Mi-Grid Ltd, would dominate the landscape from Mr Douglas Davies’ land at Maescadog, Caio, and would be visible as far as Llangadog, Llandovery, Llansawel and beyond.
Objections that the turbine would damage the landscape, and the area’s popularity for country holidays, are important but not the topic of this post. Instead, this asks about the environmental costs.
Wind is a renewable resource, yes. But generating electricity from a single turbine requires the energy-intensive manufacture and transport of infrastructure and components, and expensive decommissioning at the end of a turbine’s expected life of 25 years or so. Looking at a specification sheet for a 500 kW turbine, I see that the hub weighs 8 tonnes, the nacelle (casing for working parts) is 22 tonnes, and three blades, 7.2 tonnes. The blades slice through the air at up to 63 metres a second at full speed. The noise level is 99.5 dBA, which is like being three feet from a petrol-engined lawnmower.
Transporting turbine components to Maescadog presents a severe logistical challenge. For a start, the roads are too narrow for the generator to travel horizontally. It would have to be lifted to vertical – the applicants suggest doing this in the layby on the A40 at Llanwrda – but the vertical height is 6.02 metres, the Pumsaint meeting was told. This is more than a metre above the standard height of cables above the carriageway, and the objectors say they have counted more than 70 overhead lines crossing the route between Llanwrda and Maescadog. They also argue that the blades are too long for sharp bends, especially one at Aberbowlan, just before the proposed site. Hauling massive components along narrow lanes is far from beneficial for the road surface, or the land on either side. And a crane has to reach the hilltop site, to lift the parts into place.
Once the turbine is operating, generation stops if there is too much wind, or not enough – so there always has to be a more reliable source of electricity in reserve. But leaving all this aside, we have the resource costs of manufacturing the parts and transporting them long, long distances.
“The consumption of fossil fuels and water during construction and decommissioning can be significant,” notes a report by the US Department of the Interior and the US Geological Survey,[i] adding that “Transportation of oversized equipment can be expensive and hazardous.” This report is fairly even-handed, drawing attention to similar numbers of advantages and disadvantages from the perspective of national electricity supply, but the drawbacks listed become very serious when allied with a remote, difficult-to-access site in an area of high landscape value.
Making a wind turbine emits TONS of carbon dioxide. I found some estimates on an anti-turbine website called ‘Stop these Things’, in a piece called ‘How much CO2 gets emitted to build a wind turbine’.[ii] Each turbine has its own carbon footprint, but the hypothetical one in the article requires 45 tons of steel reinforcing bars and 481 cubic metres of concrete (excluding access roads). Its carbon footprint is calculated at 241.85 tons.
Here we go. “To create 1,000 kg (1 tonne) of pig iron, you start with 1,800 kg of iron ore, 900 kg of coking coal, 450 kg of limestone. The blast furnace consumes 4,500 kg of air. The temperature at the core of the blast furnace reaches nearly 1,600 degrees C…..
“1,350 kg of CO2 is emitted per 1,000 kg of pig iron produced. A further 1,460 kg of CO2 is emitted per 1,000 kg of steel produced, so all up 2,810 kg of CO2 is emitted.” And lots more figures, although they exclude the emissions from mining the raw materials, or from transporting fabricated materials to the site.
Then there is neodymium, a magnetic rare earth mineral, yielding the top-quality magnets demanded in wind turbines. Nearly all of it is mined and processed in China. Processing is a filthy endeavour, using hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide and other noxious substances. The residues poison the air and leak into the ground and into water courses, damaging people and the environment.[iii]
All in all, giant wind turbines are not ‘green’ at all, because of their colossal carbon footprint and the pollution emitted in their manufacture. Sadly, these are not ‘planning issues’ and so in our planning system are relegated to zero importance.
But don’t we in Wales now have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? Yes, we do, and it has a Sustainable Development Principle:
“Improving well-being in accordance with the sustainable development principle means seeking to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Surely that means we must phase out the use of climate-changing, polluting technologies?
If it doesn’t, the Act will not be worth the paper it is written on.
[i] ‘Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land Based Wind Turbine Industry from 2010 through 2030’, by David R Wilburn, Scientific Investigations Report 5036, US Department of the Interior and US Geological Survey.
[ii] August 16th 2014, by ‘Andy’.
[iii] ‘The real cost of using neodymium in wind turbines’, MEI Blog, February 11th 2013.