“The Wind is Free” and other pork pies

In May of this year the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources launched the “Green Paper on Energy Policy in Ireland”. Many of my readers probably have not read the Paper, and who could blame you? Some of you might have battled though parts of it, some of you might have read the executive summary. I dragged myself through the whole thing and the recurring thought that flashed through my mind was “hot air, lots of it”. This thought was quite appropriate as the document, although pretending to be a comprehensive renewable energy policy, was little more than an homage to the wind farm.

Rather than go through the entire sordid document, I thought that over two days I would look at two recurring themes in this Green paper about wind energy and show them for what they are: calculated, but nevertheless blatant, lies.

Lie #:1 Wind energy is a “free and plentiful” form of energy

Let’s just get one thing straight from the outset: Any form of renewable energy is not cheap, and most certainly not free. Renewable energy is far more expensive than energy from coal, for example, which is very cheap but also very dirty. Coal is so cheap at the moment that the ESB are actually buying more and more (American) coal for MoneyPoint, which seems a bit daft when the poor consumer is paying more and more for the electricity coming from the wind farms. Somebody’s getting rich but it ain’t you or me.

This is not something we are doing to save money. It is something we are doing to save the planet; and because the EU (ruled by the wind industry) has a gun to our head. So when the Minister talks about how the wind is free and doesn’t Ireland have a lot of it, that is a blatant lie.

If we accept that we need renewable energy, and that we are going to pay though our noses for that renewable energy, does it not make sense to try and produce more of the cheaper forms of renewable energy?

Wind is the most expensive form of renewable energy. It is also unreliable because the wind does not blow all the time, and sometimes it blows too hard and so the turbine is shut down (before it catches fire), but you pay for it 24/7. Two other far more reliable forms of energy also happen to be a lot cheaper: biomass and solar.

The cost of energy has become a life or death issue as more and more Irish families experience fuel poverty – many citizens simply cannot afford to light or heat their homes. That’s a huge problem, especially in winter.

Here’s the price comparison:

Wind costs €135 per ton of carbon saved. There are very few jobs in the Irish wind industry as the turbines and accessories are all built in other countries, and so the technicians and maintenance crews come from other countries. The only Irish jobs would be short-term installation jobs – low skills, poorly paid.

Domestic Solar PV costs €100 per ton of carbon saved, and it would create loads of jobs as people would need solar panels fitted on their houses. I know you are going to say that the sun and Ireland don’t really belong in the same sentence, but these things run on daylight as opposed to sun, and they really do make a difference.

The conversion of MoneyPoint power station to biomass would cost €60 per ton of carbon saved. That means it costs less than half the cost of wind! It also means that the huge carbon footprint of MoneyPoint would rapidly diminish as it stops burning that dirty American coal. Finally, there would be loads of good long-term jobs as the biomass industry in this country becomes profitable and so can flourish.

To recap: Any renewable energy is expensive and we must pay for it. There is no such thing as free green energy. There are three proven sources of renewable energy: wind, sun, and biomass. Both sun and biomass are cheaper than wind and will create far more Irish jobs. Finally, the sun and biomass do not need huge pylons and wind farms, so no loss of tourism, local industries, agriculture and food production, and no adverse effects on our health.

Now, is that a no-brainer or what?

Tomorrow: Lie #2: Wind energy generation is ‘clean and green’.


About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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7 Responses to “The Wind is Free” and other pork pies

  1. the truth as usual…why is it we all understand except those in govt?

    • Neil van Dokkum says:

      Thanks Margaret. I have no doubt that the more technically minded readers will criticise me for being too simplistic but this is how I understand the problem. If it is more complicated than that perhaps EirGrid and the wind industry should explain their activities more clearly.

  2. Pat Swords says:

    You are very wide of the mark there on solar PV, it is in fact the nearly the worst thing you can actually install out of 11 different sources of renewable energy. The German infatuation with solar PV has been noting short of criminally irresponsible, the results from a financial perspective have been nothing short of horrendous. The sun doesn’t shine all the time, particularly in cold December days, when you actually need the electrical power. In fact, when you express it on a Euro per tonne of carbon saved, the most cost effective renewable source is a standard waste to energy plant, as approx. 50% of input waste energy is of biogenic (biomass) origin. It also is a nice steady stream of electricity not like intermittent and unreliable wind and solar electricity.

    So why did we in Ireland choose out of the 11 different renewable sources specified in Directive 2009/28/EC on renewable energy, the one with one of the most highest cost per tonne of carbon, i.e. wind? In fact now that we have so much wind and instability on our grid, if you actually calculate it from first principles for a new wind farm, it is closer to €200 per tonne per wind, while it remains about €40 for waste to energy. Amazing isn’t it, a few years ago we had in the development of our NREAP twin masterful political obsessions, to get as much wind on the grid and to enact legislation which was an abuse of the principles in EU waste legislation to levy waste to energy plants out of the market place.


    The EU refused to act, as they enjoy under EU legislation absolute discretion on what they enforce under the grandiose title of ‘Guardian of the Treaties’. Nobody, even the Ombudsman can force them to act and they guard this quite nasty side of their ‘modus operandi’ very carefully. In other words the EU Commission are part of the ‘scam’, the law will not be enforced. This final point is what the ‘argy bargy’ came down to in my case in UNECE. The Commission insisting that they had absolute discretion on what to enforce and the Compliance Committee ruling that under the Convention they have a precise obligation with regard to ‘proper enforcement’. Since the decision below was formally adopted into International Law on this 30th June at the UNECE Meeting of the Parties, the EU has now to formally report in to UNECE in Geneva this December and every ten months or so, as to its progress on these ‘enforcement measures’.

    Click to access ECE_MP.PP_2014_L.16_ENG.pdf

    That the Party concerned, by not having in place a proper regulatory framework and/or clear instructions to implement and “proper measures to enforce” article 7 of the Convention with respect to the adoption of NREAPs by its member States on the basis of Directive 2009/28/EC, has failed to comply also with article 3, paragraph 1, of the

    • Neil van Dokkum says:

      Thanks Pat. That is what happens when you try and understand stuff that is not within your expertise, something EirGrid should heed when it comes to medical matters. The point I was trying to show was that there is a lot of spin around wind farms which is simply a lie. I will leave it to the experts like BW Energy to do the scientific stuff. Another reader was equally critical of my blog:
      “I just read your last blog pork pies part 2. I’m afraid I can’t give you a top grade for it, maybe a C+ or B – at best.
      Wind is free on the grid in the sense that it is not part of the day before bid-in process. This is where the term “wind is free” comes from. It doesn’t mean that it is actually free at all. It gets paid the marginal rate on the day or the minimum guaranteed price set by the CER if the marginal rate is less than that guaranteed price. Technically in the bidding process “wind is free.”
      Still, it makes a good slogan for the wind supporters.

      Coal plants are not ramped up and down to balance the wind because they are what is called “base” plants. The two main types of “base” plants are nuclear and coal because neither can be ramped up or down effectively. Base plants are the ones that run at optimum capacity all the time to supply baseline power i.e. the minimum amount of power that will always be required on the system. The plants that are used as “peaking” plants are either open cycle or combined cycle gas turbines. Open cycle are the fastest to “peak” or ramp up and down, they are also the most costly of the gas turbines to run, but it is useful to have a few of them on the system for the speed of response especially to back up the wind. The cheapest and most efficent is the closed cycle gas turbine but it is a lot slower to peak. The modern version is called a combined cycle which gives the best of both worlds. Gas is called blue energy as it is not nearly as dirty as coal or oil. Its the gas plants that are used to balance the wind and not coal, so therefore the more wind you have on the system the more gas plants you will need to back it up efficently. Gas plants can be kept in what is called “spinning reserve” sort of just leaving your car ticking over. Naturally the spinning reserve plants get a capacity payment.
      The term “curtailment” is normally used with regard to renewable energy that has priority status on the grid i.e. wind.
      Curtailment happens when there is too much wind and all the wind energy can’t be accommodated on the system. Naturally again they will get curtailment payments.
      That’s how the system is designed to operated I suppose all these payments are needed to get the damn stuff built in the first place.
      Keep on blogging.”

      I guess I should stick to what I know best but I am sticking to my guns: wind energy is very expensive and it is most definitely not green!

      • Owen Martin says:

        Just a few points on the response you received :

        Actually, Moneypoint coal plant is been ramped up and down with wind. This was confirmed by an ESB rep at a recent ESRI conference. Oil plants are also been ramped up and down with wind. If one looks at Great Island Environmental Report Page 25 :

        Click to access 090151b2804d9994.pdf

        “During this run time, low megawatts were requested from the Grid (18.26MW – 25.40MW). This caused higher oxygen levels in the burners, which increased NOx emissions.”

        So by ramping these units up and down with wind, higher emissions are released.

        Re curtailment payments, thermal units are also paid these, called “constrainment payments”.

        Re spinning reserve, there are many thermal units around the country eg Marina, NW, GI, Tawnaghmore, Rhode, Tarbert, which barely operate at all during the year but get paid 10s of millions in capacity payments. So the statement ” Naturally [only] the spinning reserve plants get a capacity payment” is untrue.

        btw, Pats analysis of Solar is broadly in agreement with Dieter Helm’s view of solar panels in UK. Very expensive and save little fuel.

      • Neil van Dokkum says:

        Thanks Owen for that informative contribution.

  3. Pat Swords says:


    As regards your conclusion: “wind energy is very expensive and it is most definitely not Green!”. Absolutely no doubt it is very expensive. Even when one doesn’t include the hidden cost of a whole new electricity grid network to remote parts of the West Coast and around the countryside to connect up all these new turbines, it is relatively straightforward to calculate that to replace €1 million Euros worth of electricity from conventional fossil fuel generation with wind energy electricity will add €1.2 million to the electricity bill, i.e. more than double it:


    However, about Green. I better explain that when I was growing up green was a colour, such as the grass. Now days it is just an ideological chant most often connected with a scam to defraud you. So under these circumstances wind energy is actually ‘Green’. However, if one considers quantified environmental protection, then this is a different matter. The EU were quite insulting to the point of libelous towards me when I took them into the UNECE compliance mechanisms. Their written reply to UNECE was more of an Ad Homien on me than answering the written questions presented to them, but it is interesting to note:

    Click to access frComRESPONSE.pdf

    “It is generally recognised that renewable energy, and wind energy in particular, is preferable from an environmental point of view to non-renewable energy” That is why Directive 2009/28/EC….”

    So one has to have a belief system about all of this, the EU never did generate an analysis of what was to be built, where it was to be built, what would be the impacts, costs, benefits, alternatives, etc before they initiated this 20% renewable programme, It comes down to the fact as to whether you accept the spin “generally recognised” and the resulting ‘blank cheque’ for these developments with their massive financial and environmental impacts. The law most certainly doesn’t and when you go to seek the relevant information / assessments, it simply isn’t there.

    In the second Communication ACCC/C/2012/96 on the Scottish renewable programme, it again in UNECE at the Geneva meeting came to the question that it is not about a ‘percentage of renewables’ in the energy mix, but what is the actual quantified environmental benefit, such as the true emission savings and the quantified environmental impact associated with a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. Jean-François Brakeland, the Head of Legal Enforcement at the Directorate General (DG) Environment of the EU Commission, when being questioned on giving information to the public about carbon emissions made a series of dismissive comments including, memorably, “If we were to take instead of a 110 m high wind turbine a 110 m high metal statue of Mickey Mouse, you would not be expected to do a detailed carbon assessment on that, so why do you expect a detailed carbon assessment for the wind turbine”.

    So the EU hasn’t got a barney about what this programme they initiated is actually going to achieve rather than some nominal target figure. It will be interesting when the public move on from the gullible blind acceptance of ‘generally recognised’ to actually insisting on some tangible and quantified environmental information to justify all of this.

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