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Spoiled ballots, spoiled views: an election snapshot from Powys, Wales, UK

Posted on 25 May 2015 by John Mason

It's a funny thing. One of the most viral news items concerning the UK General Election on May 7th 2015 came from my constituency of Montgomeryshire. Apparently, someone took the time and trouble to draw a remarkably detailed sketch of a penis in the box that they would have otherwise crossed had they been voting for the incumbent Conservative MP, Glyn Davies. In other headlines, three high-profile party leaders resigned within an hour of one another the following morning but everybody turned over and went back to sleep on that one.

I hasten to add that the artwork had nothing to do with me. I voted for one of the other guys – tactically, which in the context of Glyn's significantly increased majority turned out to be a wasted vote. I should have voted with my heart – for the Greens or Plaid Cymru. Unlike the other parties, at least I can state that I have met the leaders of the latter two in person and have found them to be – well, real, passionate and principled people, as opposed to the used car salesmen stuffed into suits to look “respectable”, that tends to be the norm over here.

So, what has this to do with climate change, readers may well be asking? Quite a lot in fact. What troubles me about the outcome of Election '15 is that voters, like turkeys vaguely approving the advent of Christmas, seem to have voted for more Business As Usual. But they have done so in a political atmosphere so clouded with media-served misinformation that it is hard to know where to start with the debunking. So let's put UK politics to one side now and stick to our speciality: dealing with another channel of misinformation, that related to global warming. Take a look at this letter, from the latest issue of the County Times, a weekly newspaper that covers Powys, the larger local authority area of which Montgomeryshire is a part:

letter, County Times

Just where did the writer get these ideas from? The first half of the letter is about a part of the globe that is warming so quickly compared to anywhere else that the phenomenon even has its own special term, Arctic amplification. Take the first major error, column one, paragraph two, line five. Has the writer forgotten or not realised that the Arctic sea-ice minimum record was utterly smashed in 2012? The minimum then was 3.4 million km2, against a 2007 value of 4.28 million km2 and a 1979-2000 average of 6.75 million km2. Nobody expected year-on-year record meltdowns: it hits a record, then doesn't for a few years, then the record is broken once again – it's a bit like the surface air temperature record in that respect. In this age where people seem to expect instant results, global warming goes against that: it is a slow, stepwise process. This animated graph, by Dana, spells it out clearly:

arctic sea ice extent

above: September Arctic sea ice extent data since 1980 from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (blue diamonds).  "Recovery" years, meaning years when the sea ice extent is greater than the previous year, are highlighted in red. Every time they occur, the usual suspects are out and about claiming them to be "proof" that global warming has stopped. But wait for the trend-line!

The writer then goes on to bemoan that The Archers (a popular radio soap-opera also known as “an everyday story about country folk”) is now suffering from Global Warming. This, I make an educated guess because I listen to it, must be a comment about the fictional village of Ambridge recently getting a heavy dose of what the good people of the Somerset Levels had to endure for real for months on end in winter 2013-14: water, a great deal of it and all in the wrong places. The writer also states that  "no warming at all has occurred for two decades". That makes it, unless I've really flunked my maths, no warming since 1995. Hmm. 1998, 2005, 2010 and the record-breaking 2014 were the hottest years on record.

But such sets of statements raise a serious question: how can people end up believing and repeating such clearly erroneous things? The correspondent in the above letter would only have to have searched a little online to have located full Arctic sea ice datasets on extent, area and volume. They would then have known that it has not recovered since 2007: the long-term trend is very much downwards and in addition February 2015 saw the lowest Arctic sea-ice maximum of the satellite record.

It's too early to call this year's Arctic sea-ice minimum, of course, but the word “recovery” is only too readily bandied-about by characters like David Rose who is fond of getting paid to write climate change misinformation in the UK tabloid, the Daily Mail. It's on a level with the utter junk about the UK's weather that makes up Daily Express (another UK tabloid) front pages in between articles about rising house prices, Princess Diana and miracle cures for cancer. In the UK, George Monbiot and I have been campaigning against such nonsense for some time, most recently here and here, but the tidal flow of complete guff continues unabated. And when people are repeatedly misinformed about a topic, they end up bereft of the tools with which to come to an evidence-based conclusion. How can they then make the best and most logical decisions? That's bad enough in party politics. In the field of energy and climate and the long-term future of Wales (or for that matter, Planet Earth), it is far more serious.

a spoiled view?

above: spoiling the view? Wind turbines in the Montgomeryshire uplands. Photo: author.

Montgomeryshire is an interesting constituency in more ways than one, and the same can be said for the bigger overall county of Powys. With extensive uplands, exposed to the prevailing sou-westerlies that feed in off the Atlantic, Powys has attracted a lot of investment in wind energy. It has also attracted a lot of people from the cities, keen to invest in property and live out retirement in the countryside. A proportion of them - and some local people - don't like looking at wind turbines. And there is the crunch-point. David Cameron recently saw it and swiftly took advantage. During the election campaign, he said the following with respect to Powys:

“You would have to ask the environment secretary who took that decision and that was a decision for him. However, I want to make it clear that if there is a Conservative Government in place we will remove all subsidy for on-shore wind and local people should have a greater say. Frankly I think we have got enough on-shore wind and we have enough to be going on with, almost 10 per cent of our electricity needs, and I think we should give local people a say if they want to block these sorts of projects. The only way to stop more on-shore wind is to vote Conservative there is no other party with this policy. We are saying very clearly we would remove the subsidy and give local people the power to say yes or no. This would end the growth of on-shore wind and if that’s what you care about you must vote Conservative.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. But there's a minor rainbow under this dark cloud in that Cameron has appointed Amber Rudd as Energy and Climate Change Secretary in his new Cabinet. Liz Truss remains in her post as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is to be applauded: regular readers will recall that one of the previous Environment Secretaries serving under Cameron sounded as though he was on loan from the so-called Global Warming Policy Foundation (see for example our debunking of him here). Neither Rudd nor Truss is a climate change denier – far from it, and I wish them well in their posts. But I'd better come to the main point.

People who object to wind-farms tend to do so because they perceive that they will spoil the view and/or lower property prices. They seem to think that somebody else should have to look at the means of electricity generation whilst they merely use the stuff as they see fit. I have some news for such people that is rather more significant in the long term. If any of them should read this, I'll start with a question. What makes the ancient market-town of Machynlleth (my hometown and a community that I love) unique in Powys?


above: the historic market town of Machynlleth. Photo: author.

The answer is that in the case of unmitigated climate change, it is the only town in Powys that will be wiped off the map. I mean that quite literally. Not in my lifetime, but the coming together of the circumstances that will allow it to happen is happening on our watch and thus far little has been accomplished to put a stop to that. People, it seems, prefer to complain about wind turbines spoiling the view. But the nitty-gritty is as follows. Much of Machynlleth stands at between 6 and 25 metres above sea-level. That's mean sea-level of course, not taking into account that the local tidal range varies between 3.4 metres at high water on the smallest neap tides to 5.7 metres at high water on the biggest spring tides. Storm surges can also add a metre or two of extra water. We know that ice-sheet meltdown is accelerating, especially in Western Antarctica, and it will be difficult to stop it any time soon. This is because inertia in the climate system and the carbon cycle means that the global mean temperature can only decline slowly (on a millennial scale) even after greenhouse gas emissions have ceased. In turn, that raises the question of how much sea-level rise can be expected as a consequence of those raised temperatures.

Levermann et al (2013), looking at past warm periods during the Pliocene and the Quaternary, including the last interglacial, have calculated that for every degree Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels, 2.3 metres of sea-level rise can be expected over the next 2000 years. The pace of that rise is uncertain: in the 20th century, with 0.8C of global warming, 0.2m of sea-level rise occurred, mainly due to loss of glaciers and thermal expansion of sea water with parts of the polar ice-caps playing an ever-increasing role. On the basis of Levermann et al, getting on for 1.65 metres of additional sea-level rise can be expected in the coming decades of this and the next century due just to the warming to date. The "safe" warming target of 2C above preindustrial levels produces a total of 4.6 metres of sea level rise, or 4.4 metres above present levels. Failure to contain temperatures at that level brings an increasingly widespread risk: a warming of 4C brings with it 9.2 metres of sea level rise and so on.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the process doesn't simply stop after the 2000 year period under consideration. That's because of a parameter known as the "ice threshold" which is the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide below which ice-caps can start to form on a non-glaciated, cooling earth, as was the case in the mid-Cenozoic. Royer (2006) places the ice threshold at around 500ppm carbon dioxide - with levels consistently above that, the planet simply deglaciates over the next few thousand years with tens of metres of sea level rise as a consequence.

The current rate of sea-level rise is just under 3 millimetres per year (or 0.3 metres per century - and accelerating), but we know that during other deglaciation events, typical rates of 1-1.5 centimetres a year and exceptionally (as in the case of Meltwater Pulse 1A) 5 centimetres a year have occurred (see for example Foster and Rohling, 2013). That's typically 1-1.5 metres a century, and exceptionally 5 metres a century, or 20 metres in 400 years. Delivery time uncertain, but delivery certain, as one of my colleagues recently put it. 

sea level rise and the future of Machynlleth

above: Machynlleth, after 10 m and 20 m of sea-level rise. Grid squares = 1km

Yes, we (well, some of us) know what is possible. Whether an extreme scenario like Meltwater Pulse 1A occurs or whether the process takes many more centuries as suggested by Levermann et al is beside the point. With unmitigated climate change, Machynlleth will be wiped off the map either way. And long before then, low-lying coastal settlements will be under aggravated threat. Down at the open coast is Borth, the beach-side onetime fishing village, now popular holiday destination. It is right in the firing line of sea-level rise, as are dozens of similar towns and villages. Some places have had worse news. It has already been decided that the village of Fairbourne, up the coast to my northwest, will “enter into managed retreat in 2025”. Fairbourne is one of around 50 of the coastal communities of Wales that have been similarly listed. They are to be abandoned in the face of sea-level rise. Now that's what I call a spoiled view.

ten metres of sea level rise

above: the effects of ten metres of sea-level rise on the Cardigan Bay coast of Mid-Wales.

The issue is, of course, not unique to Wales. A glaring example is Florida (below - from NASA Earth Observatory). The right-hand graphic shows the amount of land that will be wiped off the map with 5m (darker blue) and 10m (lighter blue) of sea-level rise. A lot of Florida is less than sixty metres above sea-level. You'd think they'd be spearheading the campaign to decarbonise. An existential threat not just to a few coastal towns but to a whole State. The official policy response? Ban all public servants from using the terms "global warming", "climate change" and "sea-level rise" in any official communications.

Florida - terribly prone to sea level rise

It really makes one wonder what some people have voted for.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 85:

  1. Also I'd point out to windpower detractors:

    windmills = temporary

    excess CO2 in atmosphere and nuclear waste = permanent

    With the pace of technological development, the windmills are a useful stop-gap measure until we're all flying around in jet-packs and burning unobtanium in our levitating cars.

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  2. Slightly off topic but the Murdoch empire has done nothing for balanced reporting on global warming in Australia - I wonder if the papers mentioned are some of his.  This is just one article that points to data cherry picking by Murdoch.

    So I have no doubt that his writers/editors are picked because they agree with him.  There is also little doubt that his network on Australia influenced voters to "axe the tax'  ie the carbon tax at the last election.

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  3. The election result was a tragedy for climate science and victory for the politically vested interests of the press who partly orchestrated it (because advertising works). 

    Of any party the Conservatives are the least interested in the Green movement, even less than UKIP voters which really says something.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Graphic width reduced to conform with website maximum of 500 pixels.

  4. Thanks for a most interesting article John, which covers many of my own highest hobby horses!

    By some strange synchronicity I have mentioned the names of Amber Rudd and David Rose in my recent musings on assorted social media. My latest article on my Arctic themed blog even suggests a possible mechanism to explain where Bob Trueman gets his "scientific" ideas from:

    Why It’s So Hard to Convince Pseudo-Skeptics

    Be sure to watch the video at the end. Here's a brief quotation from it:

    In a new study that just came out a couple of months ago they showed a single digusting image, and one single digusting image and measuring the brain activity and how the person responded to that was sufficient to allow you to identify if somebody was conservative or liberal. With a single brain image. With 95% accuracy!

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  5. The image of Florida shown above is produced using a satelite radar.  This measures elevations to the tops of trees and buildings.  I doubt Miami residents will stick around when they have to live on the roof of their houses.  No area in or near Miami is higher than 8 meters above sea level.  Sea level rise is much worse than the diagram.  This map from Climate Central is probably more accurate.  It is difficult to find accurate sea level rise maps.  

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  6. Tamino is skeptical about the reality of the "slowdown". Sketches of math.

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  7. I live across the Irish Sea in a region which possibly has much the same problems. Out government is probably most green-friendly that the British Tories, and is slightly left-of-centre economically.

    We also are developing wind energy, and sometimes I think the capitalists who are backing green developments get trapped into a mirror image of their fossil fuel counterparts - lobbying high level politicians and ignoring the people who will live near the new developments. It makes things oh-so-easy for their detractors (and there are many in the media) to misrepresent them.

    I know wind farms can be moved, but for a houseowner it is not good news to see your single biggest lifetime investment lose some of its value overnight. They are entitled to feel that if they are helping to save the planet then the burden is not being shared equally.

    Wind farm developers should do more outreach to local communities, with the promise of jobs for example, and perhaps an electricity subsidy for local people shold not be out of the question? These small communites, often isolated, could often do with a break.

    PS In the very interesting chart above, I was gobsmacked to see that UKIP voters do not look favourably on capitalism! Perhaps they are so far-right they favour some sort of proto-fascist "corporate state"?

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  8. shoyemore - Just down the road from me in sunny South Devon there were plans for a twin turbine, community owned wind farm near Totnes. Here's what happened at the District Council planning meeting:

    To quote a local Parish Counciller:

    Industrial devices provide to all the opponents of the turbines both their immediate surroundings and their enviable standard of living. Their televisions, toasters and hair dryers may not be crude designs, but we can be sure they've all been made somewhere over the horizon, out of sight. The electricity to activate these industrial devices also comes from power stations, over the horizon, out of sight. Some people here like it that way, defending their Arcadian idyll, none of whose practical comforts have been made anywhere near their green acres. Other people, I'm glad to say, see an opportunity to contribute back to the common good by using our local natural asset, abundant wind, to fuel the most benign and graceful technology ever devised to generate electric power.

    In 1968 Garrett Hardin published an influential and now classic article entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". This is the phenomenon that individual selfishness and greed in exploiting an asset common to all mankind eventually destroys that asset. We see this happening now in our exhaustion, over a few generations, of fossil fuel accumulated over millions of years. Now, the opponents of wind turbines are adding a further, bitter twist to this tragedy by opposing exploitation of an inexhaustible natural asset, the wind passing over our land.

    In case you're wondering, the NIMBYs won the day.

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  9. That's a darned good quote, Jim! Michael - thanks for the link!

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  10. JIm #8,

    I am familiar with Gilbert Hardin and The Tragedy of the Commons, and it is a great quote. But from a practical point of view you are not going to win the hearts and minds of middle-of-the-roaders by equating their concerns with individual selfishness and greed. 

    Scoring an own goal for the NIMBYs when the match is just starting is not going to get you a win.

    Wind farms around the world are well supported locally when the community feels ownership and sees a benefit from the siting of the turbines. I want to see more wind farms just like you do, but I wonder if the wind energy companies should put more emphasis on the communities which will host them, and less on media PR.

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  11. shoyemore - s/Gilbert/Garrett/g!

    What about the situation (as in Totnes) where part of the community is strongly in favour of said wind farms, whereas another part is strongly opposed? From a technical point of view wind "farms" are much to be preferred to large scale solar PV "farms" (IMHO!).

    I agree with your final sentiment. Less GBAU media PR please!

    We did at least manage to get a smaller community wind project past the planners & NIMBYs down here in South Devon :

    All this may be moot however. If you can believe what you read in The Telegraph:

    No more on shore wind farm schemes will be given the go ahead unless they have the support of local people, the new Energy secretary has said.

    Amber Rudd, who was appointed last week in the post-election reshuffle, said the new powers would be in next week’s Queen’s Speech.

    Miss Rudd also disclosed that the new Conservative Government would try to speed up extraction of shale gas and loosen rules so it could be extracted from under national parks.

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  12. JIm Hunt #11

    Well done to you !

    Amber Rudd is not levelling the playing pitch - wind installations have to have community support, but fracking can be pushed through against any opposition. I hope Labour, the Lib Dems (if they can get over their shocking electoral defeats) and the Greens are on their toes to expose what a travesty that is.

    You are obviously more experienced at this than I am, but I find it dispiriting to see wind developers at war with local communities much like we see the fracking companies. Did the environmetnal movement not learn anything when it was organising communites to oppose pollution and nuclear power?

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  13. I'm personally not anti or pro windpower as I really don't have enough information to base my opinion on, and have never lived near a turbine.  I have however some friends in Victoria, Australia who do live near aturbine and say that they are quite noisy.  Are they?  Genuine question from one who wants to know. I'm also aware of the "turbine" syndrome that in some cases seems to appear merely at the mention of a turbine .....

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  14. The trouble with wind power is that it can't meet our energy needs because it is unpredictable - the wind doesn't necessarily blow when the demand for electricity is high - and we don't have an appropriate technology to store the energy when it is generated.

    On top of that, there is a growing body of evidence that industrial wind turbines have their own set of environmental impacts: bird and bat deaths; contamination of water supplies; release of stored carbon during construction; pollution from manufacturing; as well as impact on local residents from noise (especially infrasound) and shadow flicker.

    As I write this, wind is accounting for about 18% of our electricity generating capacity. But it's a windy day, and the average over a year is more like 7%. So you need more predictable generating capacity to take over when the wind isn't blowing (i.e. coal, gas nuclear etc.) anyway - the wind turbines don't (and can't) replace other power stations.

    It seems to me that the only realistic way of meeting our energy needs without irrevocably changing the climate in the medium term is nuclear power. There's a lot of unfounded scaremongering around nuclear, but I would argue that it's environmental impacts are smaller and more easily contained than the alternatives.

    And no, I'm not a climate change denier. I think we're in danger of soiling our own nest to the point of destruction. I just don't see how wind turbines can be the answer to the problem.

    By the way, thanks for a good and informative site.

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  15. Lobstonicus @14:

    1)  It is simply false that windpower cannot deliver reliable, predictable power.  Introduction of such systems as Isentropic's Pumped Heat Electricity Storage (PHES, see video below) and now Tesla's new battery systems mean reliable supply from windpower will soon be a matter of course. 

    2)  Not to put too fine a point on it, the "health risks" of windmills are overblown nonsense by a lot of NIMBYs.  Here are the infrasound levels from a variety of sources:

    Noise Source Measured Level
    Clements Gap Wind Farm at 85m 72
    Clements Gap Wind Farm at 185m 67
    Clements Gap Wind Farm at 360m 61
    Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm at 100m 66
    Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm at 200m 63
    Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm ambient 62
    Beach at 25m from high water line 75
    250m from coastal cliff face 69
    8km inland from coast 57
    Gas fired power station at 350m 74
    Adelaide CBD at least 70m from any
    major road 76

    As you can see, the infrasound levels from windfarms are equivalent to, or less than those found from a variety of urban and industrial sources, not to mention ocean beaches.  If infrasound from windmills is such a health problem that their development should be stopped, then clearly merely living in a city represents far greater of a health problem, and we should promptly dissassemble all cities (or perhaps merely ban all road transport).  Alternatively, if it is acceptable for urban residents to be afflicted with those levels of infranoise, why are rural residents near windfarms entitled to such special treatment.

    That, of course, leaves aside the infrasound from ocean beaches, the effect of which (as we all know) drives down ocean frontage real estate values so much (/sarc).

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] The Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants has rejected claims that the frequencies created by wind turbines can have adverse health issues, saying the infrasound generated is often less than a person’s heart-beat.


  16. In addition to Tom's comments, can I add

    1. There are, existing operational electricity storage facilities in the UK, most notably (and locally for the OP author!) Dinorwig which was developed in the 1970's to store excess power from the UK's fleet of Nuclear Power stations - which are as unresponsive to the demand curve as Wind.

    2. There is an existing trial battery storage system in the UK, admittedly fairly small scale currently.

    3. Interestingly this article (republished on the Isentropic web site) makes the argument that the issues with grid storage in the UK are not technological but regulatory.

    4. Rather more speculative is the proposed "European Super Grid"

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  17. Lobstonicus@14... "I just don't see how wind turbines can be the answer to the problem."

    Wind turbines are not "the" answer, they're merely one answer. We have an extraordinarily huge challenge ahead of us and it's going to take all available solutions in order to bring carbon emissions to zero over the coming 40 years.

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  18. Tom@15,

    On top of your link and numbers you provided, I have an anecdotal evidence from a friend who lives ~3km from the generators of Mount Piper Power Station. He told me that during hot summer evening peak hours, he can feel the ground vibrating 60Hz on his property, when the generator is labourring at its full 700MW. I asked him if he would you prefer to live near a wind farm instead. He replied that wind farm in that place would not create so much power. But for his personal comfort, if newer wind turbines would not generate such annoying infra vibrations, yes!

    My take on it is: people who talk about "health risks" of windmill noise are not just NIMBYs but simply reality deniers. Those who have experienced it, understand relative impact of renewable vs. FF energy on local environment much better.

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  19. chriskoz @18, I am not as certain as you or DB (moderator inline above) that windmills have no health impacts, although it is fair to say they have no proven health impacts.  What I am sure of is that health impacts, both proven, and reasonably conjectured if windmills do have health impacts (due to equivalence of infrasound levels) are routinely ignored as standing in the way of progress when it comes to urban residents.  It follows that if the claimed health impacts on rural residents from windfarms are indeed sufficient basis to prevent the development of windfarms, then the equivalent or greater impacts on a far larger (due to population density) number of urban residents are sufficient reason to prevent the development of, essentially any industrial plant, or major road or rail network.  Conversely, as clearly these sorts of low level health impacts on urban residents are not grounds to prevent development, neither are the claimed low level health impacts on a far smaller number of rural residents grounds to prevent the development of windmills.

    Consistent with that position, it is reasonable to further research claimed health impacts, and to research methods to limit them.  It is not reasonable to simply ban windmills (as those pushing the health impacts want to do).

    Similar reasoning obviously applies to wildlife impacts of windmills compared to those from domestic cats, skyscrapers, and so on.

    In fact, given the known health impacts of coal burning, this is unquestionably a case in which the windmill opponents are applying a clear double standard.

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  20. "I am not as certain as you or DB (moderator inline above) that windmills have no health impacts, although it is fair to say they have no proven health impacts"

    I think we are quite in agreement on this.  The sources I cited (paraphrased) sum to the same position (about no proven health impacts), based on the available evidence.

    I'm perfectly happy to consider any available evidence, either way, provided appropriate context is given.

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  21. Tom @19: Similar reasoning obviously applies to wildlife impacts of windmills compared to those from domestic cats, skyscrapers, and so on.

    It is not in favour of wind turbines that some arguments with respect to bird deaths from domestic cats are greatly exagerated. This is documented in the book "Cat Sense" by Dr John Bradshaw - the gist of it is that the UK figures were obtained from a volunteer survey for which the original purpose was to map the small mammal population of the UK using "cat-kill" (road-kill is used for similar purposes). Because this was the aim of the survey, no special mention was made of reporting non-kills, i.e. cats that had not killed any animals and so vastly inflates the figure of deaths of all animals by domestic cat predation in the UK.

    I believe this is the survey used by Bjorn Lomberg, which was subsequently quoted by David Mackay in "Without the Hot Air", and Bradshaw lists a number of established UK conservation organisations that have swallowed this. Even-handedly, he does then discuss clear cases of extinction by domestic cat such as Stewart Island in New Zealand.

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  22. Phil @21, I don't know how reliable the numbers are in the UK, but in the US research towards a PhD by Kerrie Ann Loyd quantified animal kill rates for free roaming cats by fitting videos to the cats and observing the behaviour.  The results showed an average kill rate of 2.1 animals per week.  Extrapolating to the 50-60 million free roaming cats in the US, Loyd finds "... that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds".  That compares to the 100 to 328 thousand bird kills by windmills per annum in the US.

    Those figures significantly underestimate the total impact of cats, by not including feral cat kills.  In Australia alone, feral cats are estimated to kill over 20 billion animals per annum.

    For other comparisons, in Toronto alone between 1 and 9 million birds are killed each year in collisions with skyscrapers.  In the US, it is estimated that a million animals a day are killed on roads (which puts overall numbers at around the same level as domestic cats).

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  23. Those are interesting comparisons Tom Curtis. Good to hear wind farms in the US only kill around 250000 birds per year. That will be excellent news for the various organisations that are devoted to saving the planet's bird life.

    Given your penchant for comprehensive comments I am surprised you don’t include these caveats from the link to bird kills in the US:

    “In addition, it appears that there is a greater risk of fatal collisions with taller turbines. This is a real problem, as larger wind turbines may provide more efficient energy generation. Consequently, it is expected that new wind farms will contain even bigger turbines, which will result in even more bird deaths. Future developments therefore will have to give very careful consideration to potential wildlife impacts when planning the type of turbine to install”.


    “The estimate, and conclusions, don't let wind turbines off the hook. And with recent rulings to try and protect certain species from the spinning blades, the scrutiny will probably continue when it comes to bird deaths due to wind power. But at least now there's a scientifically derived number for those deaths.”

    Nor do you comment on the species of birds killed which is also of concern or on the fact that if the US reaches its goal of 20% energy from wind turbines, then it is expected about 1.4 million birds will be killed per year by these turbines.

    But then, are these caveats really of any consequence tous in  our race to eliminate the use of fossil fuels?

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  24. @23, data is good- I can't fault that!

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  25. Let's extend the math further... 100% of energy from wind turbines would scale up to 7 million dead birds per year. Compared to 0.5 to 4.0 billion from cats and 365 to 988 million from window impacts. It's a joke. Wind turbine impacts on bird populations are miniscule compared to other problems. Heck, I've seen estimates that coal power kills 8 million birds per year... and that'd be more like 16 million if we got all of our power from coal. Pesticides, cars, high tension wires, communication towers, et cetera... each of these kill more birds every year than wind turbines ever will.

    That said. Yes, we should absolutely look at ways to reduce the impact wind turbines have on birds. However, if we are really concerned about bird populations then there are many vastly greater problems that we should be working on first.

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  26. ryland @23, what an absolutely stupid comment.  Your suggestion that I am trying to hide data to which I linked is absurd, as is your sarcastic suggestion that I am not at all concerned about bird losses due to wind turbines.  It has been perfectly obvious from my framing of my argument that it is not that noise or health concerns from wind turbines, or equally bird deaths from wind turbines are not a concern.  It is that people are exploiting those concerns despite showing utter disregard to far more severe and related issues.  They think wind farms ought to be stopped because of relatively low rates of bird mortality from wind turbines while not caring about the far greater bird mortalities caused by cats.

    I have no problem of consistency with the avid avian conservationist who thinks both that wind farms should be banned, and that all members of the species felus domesticus should be exterminated (or at least kept under constant lock and key).  I do have a problem with people who think wind farms ought to be banned due to concerns about bird mortality, but want no restrictions on pesticide use, communications towers, tall buildings. roadways and (or course) domestic cats on the same basis.  When I see people who normally ridicule those avid conservationists jumping on the "protect our birds" platform, but only as it relates to windfarms, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

    And such a person, apparently, are you!

    Finally, there is very good reason not to discuss the impact of bigger turbines on bird mortality, ie, that the actual impact is very uncertain.  The direct impact on a per turbine basis is sufficiently uncertain that the research in question draws no quantifiable relationship from it.  However, if we very incautiously determine an OLS of the mean morality per turbine, it shows an increase mortality of one bird per annum per 10 meters of turbine height.

    However, that includes only half of the equation, for increased turbine height, and increased swept area lead to increased power production, and hence to fewer turbines per KwH produced.  Assuming blade radius scales with turbine height, and using the formula for turbine efficiency from Caduff et al (2012), it turns out increasing turbine size decreases relative mortality per KwH by 1% per meter of height.  That is, on the evidence available, increasing turbine efficiency through greater height and swept area has the potential to significantly reduce bird losses

    Of coure, the evidence available is not very good (due to the low amount of data for turbine heights less than 60 meters, and the failure to seperately regress against swept area and turbine height).  Therefore this in only worth noting as an issue that needs to looked at in further detail; and certainly not one on which to make naive assumptions that turn out to have opposite sign to what the data shows.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please note the comments policy prohibition on inflammatory language.

  27. ryland - Given the tiny relative impact of wind energy on bird deaths, even if all our power came wind, your comment is truly absurd. If you actually want to make a difference in bird mortality, spend your energy arguing about domestic cats. Or for that matter, well polished windows.

    I can only conclude that you're more interested in rhetorical 'point scoring' against renewable energy than about the bird mortality itself. 

    [Which, quite frankly, is consistent with your other comments on this site, which appear to primarily consist of climate denial memes]

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  28. I find the "whole wind turbine avian mortality" meme tiresome.  Let's review the sources:

    Wind turbines kill orders of magnitudes fewer birds than do fossil fuel energy generation sources. Where's the outcry against those?

    In reality, cars kill 2,800 birds for every 1 killed by a wind turbine.

    And cars kill more pedestrians than windmills kill birds. Is it time to ban cars yet?

    The leading causes of Raptor deaths in the Altamont study:

    1. Shooting
    2. Poison
    3. Cars

    But climate deniers aren't interested in facts that disagree with their desired outcome.

    Click for larger image

    Nature Link
    Erickson et al 2005

    Per Erickson 2005:

    Table 2–Summary of predicted annual avian mortality.

    Buildings______________________ 550 million
    Power lines____________________ 130 million
    Cats*___________________________ 100 million
    Automobiles____________________ 80 million
    Pesticides_______________________ 67 million
    Communications towers_________ 4.5 million
    Wind turbines_________________ 28.5 thousand
    Airplanes_______________________ 25 thousand

    *This figure only includes bird deaths from cats claimed as pets by owners and does not include those from feral cats (cf Loss et al 2013)

    Bird deaths from solar farms have been estimated to be relatively low, though — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife study earlier this year found only 233 bird deaths at three different solar farms in California over the course of two years.

    As for coal, those bird death numbers came from a peer-reviewed study in the journal Renewable Energy. That estimate had a more sweeping methodology, though, with the study’s author including everything from coal mining to production — and bird deaths from climate change that coal emissions produce. Together, that amounted to about five birds per gigawatt-hour of energy produced by coal, almost 8 million per year.

    Click for larger image


    Cat's out of the proverbial bag. Per Loss et al 2013, feral cats kill most of the 87,000 times as many birds (in the US alone) than do all of the wind turbines in the world do, combined. That's 3.7 BILLION bird deaths per year, by cats the US. Or about 10 MILLION per day, as compared to about 2 per day per wind turbine.  

    Seems the bird holocaust is getting out of...paw. Meow.  Snoopy

    Nature Study


    This study from the EPA of Sweden documents siting strategies successful in alleviating most wind turbine bird mortalities:

    Original Link
    Web Archive Link

    To Debunk the Anti-Wind Myth of 14,000 Abandoned Wind Turbines in California:


    And now dogs are being employed to assist in carcass searches:


    A good resource:


    Click to enlarge

    Click to enlarge


    Furthermore, the ongoing Exeter University Wind Turbine Bat Research Programme examined the Resilient Energy Great Dunkilns in order to understand the effects of wind turbines on bat populations.

    The researchers used trained dogs to check for any dead bats. No dead bats were found and this correlates with Exeter's research on similar sized wind turbines where bat mortality rates have also been found to be low to non-existent.


    Lastly, the Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants has rejected claims that the frequencies created by wind turbines can have adverse health issues, saying the infrasound generated is often less than a person’s heart-beat.


    To sum: About 2 birds and 2 bats per day, per wind turbine.

    Versus everything else, which are many orders of magnitude deadlier.

    Let's move on to actual, substantive issues.

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    Moderator Response:

    [TD] Daniel, I see there is an incomplete myth about wind turbines killing birds.  Are you the one writing that?  If not, I think you should just past your comment into it with a little cleanup.  Please.  Pretty please.

  29. I find two aspects of the "wind energy avian mortality" meme tiresome. 

    1. Sheer innumeracy. Windows kill more than 103 more birds than windmills, three orders of magnitude, feral cats kill more than that, yet for some reason deniers find the wind numbers meaningful. This is the inverse of the 'trace gas' arguments about CO2, where actual effects are ignored to hype the rhetorical appearance of a number. 
    2. Selective concern. Bird mortality only seems important to most of these people if it's in regard to windmills - and not as an actual concern in it's own right. This is very similar to climate denier 'concerns' about the poor, which only seem to appear in regards to regulating coal plants, and not in terms of actually helping said poor or third world countries with health, energy, or at the root - any kind of monies. 

    It's just bad rhetoric. 

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  30. Given the effect of past rapid climate change on biodiversity (ie mass extinctions), worrying about bird deaths from windmills as an argument against getting off fossil fuel is somewhat eyebrow-raising. Hopefully not a case of "I hate windmills ergo AGW is wrong".

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  31. Tom @22

    One problem with domestic cat predation is that it may simply be a "coup de grace" on an animal that is dying through other causes. Given that small garden birds will produce 20-30 eggs in a lifetime, a stable population will see 18-28 mortalities before breeding age; it is not unfeasible that many of these are primarily down to malnutrition which provides the predator with an "opportunistic" kill.

    In UK, there used to be healthy population of Lynx (now extinct) and Wildcat (almost extinct) and so predated species were well adapted to feline predation; obviously domestic cats (along with rats) are more of an issue where they have been introduced to regions that had no such predators, Galapagos, New Zealand (and Australia?) being cases in point. Given these problems, it would seem more realistic to compare avain wind turbine deaths with those for skyscrapers and high voltage electricity lines.

    As an aside, I note that the Ph.D you linked to extrapolates a national US figure for predation based on a sample of just 55 animals, in one town in the USA, monitored over a period of a few days at one time of year - it does seem a bit of a stretch!

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  32. Phil @31, from the abstract of the relevant part of the PhD thesis:

    "We monitored 55 cats during a 1-year period (Nov. 2010- Oct. 2011) using KittyCam video cameras.  Participating cats wore a video camera for 7-10 total days and all outdoor activity was recorded for analysis. We collected an average of 37 hours of footage from each project cat. Results demonstrated that 44% of free-roaming cats hunted wildlife, of which reptiles, mammals, and invertebrates constituted the majority of prey. Successful hunting cats captured an average of 2.1prey items during 7 days of roaming, with Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) being the most common prey species. Most wildlife captures (85%) occurred during the warm season (March - November in the southern USA). Twenty-three percent of cat prey items were returned to households; 49% of items were left at the site of capture, and 28% were consumed. Our results suggest that previous studies of pet cat predation on wildlife using owner surveys significantly underestimated capture rates."

    (My emphasis)

    So, while each cat was monitored for just seven-10 days, they were not all monitored simultaniously, and overall monitoring occured over a full year (contrary to your claim).  That does introduce a substantial potential bias in that successful hunts were far less frequent in the "cool season" (Dec-Feb), and a significant number of the cats who were not successful in hunting may have come from that period.

    Loyd only extrapolates her results to Athen's, writing:

    "However, if we were to extrapolate our findings (1.6 prey captured/week/ hunting cat) to the entire estimated population of free-roaming cats in Athens, greater than 300,000 wildlife prey (including > 40,000 birds) may be lost to pet cats each year in ACC, Georgia alone."

    That extrapolation should be uncontentious.  It shows, however, that cat predation in just one small town in Georgia accounts for 30% as many deaths as the total US wind farm industry.  On that basis alone it is absurd to think that deaths caused by wind turbines represent a significant proportion of total avian deaths caused by cat predation.  Further, the extrapolation by multiplying out the the total population of free roaming cats in the US should be correct within an order of magnitude, again easilly showing greater predation by owned domestic cats than by wind turbines. A simple extrapolation shows 2 billion animal deaths per annum from owned domestic cats, with 262 million bird deaths from domestic cats.  Even extrapolating at a 10% rate, that still yields 26.2 million owned domestic cat deaths across the US, compared to the extrapolated 7 million bird deaths per year for the US if 100% of the US's energy were provided by wind turbines.

    The extrapolation to 4 billion animal deaths per annum mentioned above includes feral cats (contrary to my mistaken claim, for which I apologize).  That is certainly a conservative estimate in that there are about 60 million feral cats across the US, and they rely primarilly on hunting for food (unlike domestic cats) and are consequently likely to hunt more frequently, and more skill fully.  

    More importantly, given your original contention because "... the UK figures were obtained from a volunteer survey for which the original purpose was to map the small mammal population of the UK using "cat-kill"" "... no special mention was made of reporting non-kills, i.e. cats that had not killed any animals and so vastly inflates the figure of deaths of all animals by domestic cat predation in the UK", it becomes apparent from the PhD research that only 44% of free roaming cats exhibit hunting behaviour; but that only 23% of captured prey were brought home.  It follows that overall estimates of cat kills based on owner surveys are likely to underestimate cat predation.

    As to your "coup de grace" contention, while cats are likely to preferentially prey on weak animals, it is unlikely that in general "weak" equals so weak as to not be able to feed themselves.  And while it is likely that at least some animals killed by cats would have been killed by other predators in the cats absense, that just indicates that cat predation is likely leading to reduce population numbers in other competing predators.  That is particularly the case given that the non-feral cat population is not constrained by the carrying capacity of the country.

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  33. An interesting discussion has kicked off, to which I can add little, except to suggest that anyone visiting North Wales should really take the time to visit the Dinorwig pumped storage scheme. An internet search for Electric Mountain should find it quickly enough. I visited some years ago and was technically very impressed indeed.

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  34. "Selective concern. Bird mortality only seems important to most of these people if it's in regard to windmills - and not as an actual concern in it's its own right. This is very similar to climate denier 'concerns' about the poor, which only seem to appear in regards to regulating coal plants, and not in terms of actually helping said poor or third world countries with health, energy, or at the root - any kind of monies."

    Those words - from KR's comment #29 - certainly resonate with my own experiences. I've just spent the last 15 minutes searching through the local village magazine archive trying to find the example that I knew was buried in there somewhere.

    From the Lustleigh Parish mag, April 2010 (p90) ...

    "Carbon dioxide is a trace gas and a wonderful plant food that has often been at higher concentrations than now. It is tragic if we demonise it and spend billions fighting an imaginary problem when there are so many real problems of poverty, pollution, and change of land use that we should address instead."

    Unbelievable! The generic semantics of that closing sentence can be rendered thus...

    "Why spend time/money on < whatever it is you are ranting about > when there are on-going problems with < enter something that will tug at heart-strings, and gain a sympathetic ear > ?"

    As KR rightly states, this is nothing but hollow rhetoric, built on hypocrisy and ideology.

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  35. With regard to landscape-blighting wind turbines, I think the author has reached the wrong conclusions. There is no need at all for our countryside to be disfigured in this way when there exist more efficient ways of generating electricity by harnessing tidal and wave power, or wind power offshore.

    The author is too swift to dismiss the misgivings of rural dwellers in this matter, rather in the dogmatic manner of a dinner table bore. 

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  36. Langham, given the numbers presented in MacKay's "Sustainable Energy - without the Hot Air" (full text on web here, here for renewable discussion), I do not think your proposition is true. Do you have numbers to support your contention (and can show where MacKay got it wrong)?

    Travelling in Germany, I noticed that there was nearly always a wind turbine to be seen and I guess that would indeed upset people used to a more open landscape. However, what it seems is that many people wish things to stay the same as they are used to (or that changes happen somewhere else). The ugly issue is that things cannot stay the same. Either we get used to adapting to a warming world (which would include taking responsibility for those in say Bangladesh, who will pay the price for our fossil fuel use) or we get off fossil fuels. MacKay's analysis for UK is not rosy if you choose not to use nuclear. And face it, you will sooner or later  have to get off fossil fuel as reserves are exhausted.

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  37. Scaddenp, you have slightly missed my point, which is to do with the siting of turbines etc - I was not arguing for or against the contention that we must reduce our use of fossil fuels. My point is specific to maritime countries such as the UK, where there are many more, and better, ways of generating power in coastal areas and at sea than on land. For one thing, tides are more reliable than wind; and wind at sea is stronger and more reliable than on land. The costs are higher, of course, but advocates of land-based turbines can hardly point the finger of blame on that count, since the economics at present hardly stack up in any case. There seems to be an objectionable and rather totalitarian assumption that we have to sacrifice our views and rural amenities for the good of all, when that is not the case.

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  38. Langham - I would join in suggesting you read David MacKays work on sustainable energy. He specifically and in detail discusses renewable options for the UK, with numbers, and finds that offshore wind (deep and shallow waters), tide, and wave power could supply perhaps 30% of UK energy needs. Helpful, but not sufficient. The UK in particular is too small, too energy intensive, and with too few sources/sites to really be energy independent on renewables alone. UK options for energy supplies are a significantly increased nuclear fraction along with more renewables and/or remaining, as it is now, a net energy importer like so many other countries. It can only be hoped that those imports shift from the present coal basis to wind/solar/etc from North Africa or Europe over time...

    I will point out that decrying " objectionable and rather totalitarian assumption that we have to sacrifice our views and rural amenities for the good of all..." does indeed appear to be an objection to siting, despite your disclaimers. 

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  39. KR, I did look at the MacKay papers I was directed to by the previous poster, but they seem far from compelling in any respect - they struck me as methodologically freeform and improvised, and in any case not very relevant to the point I was making.

    I was indeed objecting to the siting of wind turbines on land, when there are other (and better) alternatives.

    At this stage, surely no serious person can expect all of the UK's energy needs to come from renewable sources, and given the quite poor efficiency of wind generation, even if the entire country was carpetted with wind turbines, the UK would still need to import energy in various forms.

    My point is that we should be concentrating our research on tidal and sea-based renewable energy, which have various practical advantages over land-based alternatives, rather than polluting the countryside with inefficient, subsidy-dependent wind turbines.

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  40. Langham - By MacKays analysis, tidal and wave power can (with full utilization) at best supply perhaps 5-8% of the UKs energy needs. Offshore wind could supply another 25%. Tidal and sea-based supplies just aren't going to cover it alone. 

    Note that land-based wind power is estimated to have about a 10% potential, greater than that of tidal and wave. The biggest potentials are from solar, at perhaps 33%. 

    The best energy strategy is to use a lot of strategies - diversify the supply with wind, solar, tidal, biomass, onshore, offshore, etc. Not only does it greatly ameliorate intermittancy (wind blows stronger at night, solar not so much, for example), but it takes the best advantage of available energies. 

    As to siting issues - in the US, Western Pennsylvania where I grew up, there's a site where on one side of the highway are a bank of 1.4MW wind turbines. On the other side is a large coal strip mine, a vast pit which even with the best reclamation practices will still poison the water table for centuries. Personally, I prefer the turbines. 

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  41. KR, Mackay's analysis is way out. The UK government's Dept of Energy and Climate Change estimates that wave and tidal stream energy can produce 20% of the UK's energy needs, with a further 8% coming from tidal lagoons. So almost 30% of UK energy needs can be met without a single windmill. Nor is this just hypothesis - a tidal steam system has been in operation in Northern Ireland since 2008. There are schemes planned for Cardiff Bay and elsewhere - there is enormous potential around the UK to harness the very high tidal range. I don't think it is unrealistic to expect that, in the long run, land-based wind turbines will eventually come to be seen for what they are - inefficient, very expensive white elephants. My fear is that by then, the British landscape will have been badly clighted by their intrusion.

    Attitudes to the countryside may be different in the USA, perhaps as there is an abundance of empty space, but on this densely populated island our beautiful countryside is in perilously short supply.

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  42. Langham - It's certainly possible that there are better estimates than MacKays. However:

    Looking at what appears to be your source, and the linked UK Renewable Energy Roadmap; onshore wind is rated at 15% of needed energy by 2020; offshore wind may be several times that. But by 2020 wave and tidal power is projected to be only 1 TWh (with only 1.2 MW of tidal power deployed in a single project so far), while wind energy is projected at 24-32 TWh. As to your cost concerns, onshore wind has by far the lowest levelized costs, marine power the highest (Fig. 5 here) - you seem to have that completely reversed. Marine power has a lot of future potential, but it has long lead times and high incremental costs (i.e. large projects)

    I suspect you may be disappointed at how matters progress, given the costs involved. And I dare say that shore dwellers will have strong opinons about how wave/tidal power generators will affect their landscapes as well...

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  43. Wave, tidal and offshore wind capacity will simply be a corrolary of whatever investment is made in the infrastructure. Unlike inland windfarms which are subject to unpredictable, unreliable and fluctuating weather patterns, tidal power is completely predictable and reliable, so there is no need for the back-up or storage systems that must be in place to generate electricity on windless days.

    The UK has almost limitless potential to develop offshore systems. The costs are extremely high, naturally, but I detect a greater willingness by the present government to invest in large-scale infrastructure projects - like the Cardiff Bay scheme, recently approved - than in piecemeal windfarm projects across the countryside which merely tend to irritate country-dwellers for reasons that have already been well ventilated.

    While not underestimating their impact on, say, the fisheries, I would contend that the visual impact of marine power is much less than that of onshore schemes.

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  44. Langham - We'll have to see how UK policies and projects develop based on costs, lead times, and public opinion, I suppose. In the meantime, though, dealing with NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitudes are part and parcel of every energy project, no matter where they are located. 

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  45. KR - No need to spell out NIMBY, it's been in common use for some time. However, it is a cheap point to make and I find critics of perceived 'Nimbyism' are frequently all too willing to inflict contrivances and nuisance on others that they would not willingly endure in their own back yard. 

    People tend to be more willing to tolerate developments for which they can perceive a sustainable economic rationale, but I think wind turbines, and to some extent all renewable energy schemes, have become tainted by their reliance on subsidies, and people then feel they are being made monkeys of - their tax money is being spent for a paltry return, with noise, health and amenity nuisances thrown in for free. You or I might say climate change is being abated, so there is a return even if it cannot be measured financially, but the general public tend to be sceptical if not outright disbelieving of such reasoning.

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  46. Langham, I have looked through KR's links but for life of me, I cant see where your " the UK government's Dept of Energy and Climate Change estimates that wave and tidal stream energy can produce 20% of the UK's energy needs, with a further 8% coming from tidal lagoons" numbers are coming from. Is it really Energy or just electricity?

    KR quotes onshore wind at 15% of 2020 target, but that target is only 15% of total energy needs (ie 2% of total energy). MacKay's estimate for tidal/wave comes to 242Twh and I cant see evidence that Energy ministry thinks it is bigger. Tidal power is predictable but it is most certainly not constant and absolutely must be backed up.

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  47. Given cost of marine energy (including offshore wind) subsidies on marine energy would have massively bigger than that on wind turbines. Given levelized cost of onshore wind, the "paltry return" comments seems a bit rich.

    Rather than going for subsidies, paying full cost for carbon might help put costs for wind etc in perspective.

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  48. ^ If you reread my post you will see I was including all forms of renewable energy in my comment on "paltry returns". I was trying to convey the political reality which governs the situation - most of the electorate are opposed to subsidies.

    I think KR may have gone to a different source, but my point was that I would be unwilling to rely on the MacKay estimates - however the figures are all rather meaningless in the final analysis, as energy production will be consistent with whatever any government is prepared to invest in harvesting wave and tidal power.

    The opportunities offered by the British coastline, together with improvements in technology that can be reasonably anticipated, mean the potential is almost unlimited - but it will only be achieved with very considerable financial investment.

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  49. Wind shapes up not too badly against all forms of generation (see levelized costs for all types here) including unsubsized coal and nuclear.

    MacKay's analysis is based on looking at the amount of energy that is actually there, with virtually no regard to cost. A table on p107 shows, his estimates are far far higher than estimates from other 5 analysts. Far from unlimited potential, I would say MacKay's analysis sharply defines the limits. To say otherwise, then please produce the data.

    While the electorate doesnt like subsidies, I am sure that electorate doesnt like the idea of paying of full cost for FF, including damages to those hurt by using it, either. Everyone wants energy as cheap as possible but sadly we have had 100 years or so of paying too little and you cant escape the change. To my mind, valuing visual impact so highly compared to other concerns (eg damage to great deltas from sea level rise) is morally suspect.

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  50. I notice that UK still has issues with FF subsidies as well. eg here and here. Do people complaining about subsidies on renewables demand removal of these as well?

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