Windmills (or wind turbines) can produce very polarized reactions – they are ugly, inefficient white elephants ruining the landscape, or beautiful and practical solutions to the energy crisis. However, the information in circulation about them can sometimes be out of date.
Windmills are an ancient technology, having been in use since Biblical times. However, new technology has made them increasingly relevant. The UK is the windiest country in Europe. The wind is our largest natural resource, with the possible exception of rain! It is the new North Sea oil – except that it will never run out. There is enough wind power available in the UK to supply all of our electrical power needs many times over, enabling us to maintain our prosperity into the far future. Even at this early stage of their development, the UK’s windmills prevent the emission of nearly 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Wind energy is financially competitive with new clean coal-fired power stations and cheaper than new nuclear power, without the drawbacks of either.
The latest windmills are quieter, cheaper and more efficient than the early models. At 300 metres, which planning rules state is the minimum distance from houses, they produce about 40 decibels, which is below average background noise and about the same as a domestic fridge. Basically, if anyone can hear it from their home, it will be refused planning permission. They produce electricity about 75% of the time, in conditions from a light breeze up to a gale, being turned off only in storm-force winds. A single windmill produces enough electricity to power up to 1000 homes, that is, the entire power needs of a large village.
Windmills repay the carbon footprint of their manufacture in around 6 months, and repay the financial investment in around 4 years, with a 25 year lifespan. At the end of that time, they can be easily decommissioned and recycled, or replaced. The cost of installing a windmill is now within the reach of a local community, with individuals investing between £250 and £20,000 and receiving shares in the sales of the electricity.
As for how they look, well beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It is often said that windmills might deter tourists, but eco-tourism is becoming big business. In the Brecon Beacons, which has many windmills, charging points for electric cars and bicycles are being installed to meet the needs of green tourists, and a MORI poll in Scotland showed that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a wind farm.
Energize Stur Valley is a voluntary group that can provide independent, expert advice to landowners and communities who are interested in setting up their own renewable energy projects.
For more information please contact Energize Stur Valley by emailing email@example.com.