Friday, May 27, 2005

Hot Air

A Slight Digression due to a Letter

I have to be honest and admit that I don't know a great deal about wind power. It seems a reasonable idea to generate at least some of our electricity this way, although it doesn't look like it'll ever be able to produce a large percentage of the electricity we need. I do support windfarms in principle.
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Here's a potted version of my thinking:
  • Scientists may or may not develop new technologies to replace our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels before they all run out. Most advocates of the free market are reasonably confident they will. They might be right. I'm not sure either way.
  • Windfarms are not permanent structures. If a new wonder energy source is discovered, our children and grandchildren will be able to remove wind farms (and would probably be able to recycle the materials for other purposes).
  • There is currently no technology available to dispose of nuclear waste. Suitable methods may be discovered in the future but again, I cannot say with certainty that this will be the case. As things stand, our children and grandchildren will not have the option to say no to nuclear waste. They might not be too happy about this, especially if no safe method of waste disposal is discovered.
  • So, I don't mind if lots of windfarms are built all over the country. Our grandchildren can remove them if they want. I do mind if lots of nuclear power stations are built all over the country. I'd rather not pass a nuclear hot potato onto the next generation. I know there is more to the argument but this is the potted version.

Right, on to the letter in question. It appeared in today's P&J letters page. (It should be online tomorrow.) Here it is as printed:

Windfarm noise misery
SIR - Frank Bellamy complains that the pulsing sound of the Causeway Mire windfarm may force him to move away (Noise from windfarm making life a misery, May 25). I have noticed this low-pitched "whoomph whoomph" of big wind turbines, and have also heard it before, in disturbing circumstances. Who remembers those Vietnam war movies with atmospheric soundtracks of slowed-down Chinook helicopter rotors? The whoomph is caused by the blades of one rotor encountering the blade-wakes of the intermeshing second rotor. It is not the only disturbing thing about these enormous machines. The sudden emergence of a giant blade from behind a hill-slope, or out of a cloud base, triggers that primeval "corner of the eye" fright which saved our distant ancestor from leaping predators. I am not surprised that those who live in sight and sound of the wind-monsters have their tranquillity stolen and their health damaged.
Dr John Etherington,

To be honest, I laughed. Living near to a windfarm means you're going to be napalmed by a US military helicopter and have your intensines removed and eaten by a wolf. It's bit silly, a bit tabloid sensationalist nonsense. It stuck in my mind because I though it was funny. Then I started to think about it a bit more. Pembrokeshire, isn't that in Wales? Why is Dr Etherington from Wales writing a letter to my local paper? I'm almost certain he can't hear the Causeway Mire windfarm from down there. Curious.
You know me, I like a mystery. I thought I'd do a bit of google sleuthing. Here's what I found:
From the Guardian
"Why are we building wind turbines and paying three times the odds for their electricity when other options are so obvious? Why are we building the biggest passenger jet the world has ever seen? Why do we not reward people for saving energy?" says Dr John Etherington, a retired academic regarded as the intellectual guru of Country Guardian.
and from the same article:
The anti-wind lobby took off in 1992 with a group called Country Guardian, which was worried by wind power's potential to damage landscape. It strongly denies accusations of having close links with the nuclear industry (its chair is Sir Bernard Ingham, who is a paid lobbyist for British Nuclear Fuels). Its arguments were supported by many conservationists who feared the visual impact on lovely places, but also by old Labourites who supported the unions in Britain's nuclear industry, and others who accurately foresaw that wind power could scupper plans for new nuclear stations.
But is this the same Dr John Etherington?
What about this, or this, or this, or this, or this or this or this?

There are a few more but you get the idea. Dr John Etherington from Wales is an anti-windfarm campaigner. It's not a shocking discovery given the letter but perhaps he should have been more explicit about it. It might also have been more productive to have used one of his more rational sounding arguments rather than resorting to tabloid scaremongering. Not that I'm an expert in anti-windfarm campaigning, perhaps subliminal negative association tactics are very effective. I really wouldn't know.

I did find one other interesting reference to Dr Etherington:
Members complain it is very difficult to pin down the costs of wind power. This summary of a letter to the Western Mail on October 6 by Dr John Etherington, a leading critic of wind power, may be helpful. He took issue with a reader who claimed that the cost of wind power was 2-3p/ kWh since that, he said, was only the cost of generation.
That's from a meeting of SONE, Supporters of Nuclear Energy.

Obviously I'm not suggesting Dr John Etherington has any connection to such an organisation though.

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