“The Wind is Free” and other pork pies – Part 2

In May of this year the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources launched the “Green Paper on Energy Policy in Ireland”. Rather than go through the entire (very long) document, I tackled two of the major themes running through the Green Paper, which I described as “an homage to the wind farm”. I described these two themes as “calculated, but nevertheless blatant, lies”.

Yesterday we considered the first lie:
Lie #1: Wind energy is a “free and plentiful” form of energy

And the conclusion we reached was as follows:

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. Wind energy is the most expensive of those and is driving up the price of electricity. Both sun and biomass are cheaper than wind and in addition 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. They also offer a solution to the impending crisis facing many Irish households this winter: fuel poverty.

Today I consider the second major theme running through the Green Paper:

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

Just picture your average wind turbine. You actually need to see one with your own eyes to appreciate just how huge they are. They are as tall as skyscrapers and their blades seem to go on forever. The energy (and carbon) used to create just one of these monstrosities is massive. As they are so tall and heavy with swinging blades, they need to have a very solid foundation (in a field on a farm) and this very deep hole is filled with concrete, which immediately pollutes any source of groundwater in the vicinity. Access roads must be constructed to allow vehicles firstly to deliver this huge lump of metal, and thereafter to maintain the turbine.

Once the turbine is up and running, it kills the local bird population, chases away the local animal population, poisons and pollutes the local plant population, and its noise and flicker terrorises the local human population. The area around a wind turbine becomes an ecological “dead zone”. Humans living in the vicinity of turbines are shown to suffer everything from sleep deprivation leading to mental health problems, to cardiovascular disease. Somebody labelled turbines a ‘silent killer’. I would disagree with that, they are a bloody noisy killer.

In what universe can these things be called “clean and green”?

It gets worse. Wind turbines were introduced on the premise that we desperately need to decrease our carbon dioxide levels which are off the charts and is a cause of global warming. What people do not realise about wind turbines is that they actually increase CO2 emissions!

How can that be, you ask?

I am not a scientist or engineer so this might be simplistic but let me try and explain in terms that I myself can understand:

If we start on the understanding that the national grid must always be producing electricity to keep the country going. Obviously at certain times and in certain seasons our electricity demand goes up but on an average day we need a constant level of electricity being fed onto the local grid, and it is very important that this level is kept as constant as possible – no dips or peaks.

As the wind is so erratic, the energy produced by wind turbines has alarming dips and peaks, which is not good if the national grid is to have this nice constant flow. What this means is that traditional ‘fossil fuel’ power stations are used to keep this balance. When wind turbines are spinning and producing energy, coal generators are ramped down to balance the grid, a process known as “curtailment.” When the wind drops and turbines stop spinning, coal plants are ramped up, called “cycling” — a procedure that can take hours, since coal plants ramp up slowly. Therefore these coal plants must be continuously running ‘there or there about’ so that they can be ramped up quickly if the wind suddenly stops blowing.

The problem with cycling is that even the most efficient coal plants produce much greater CO2 emissions when they are not running at peak efficiency. This means that wind farms connected to coal grids ensure increased CO2 emissions — not to mention increased particulate air pollution. Is it any coincidence that the ESB are buying more, not less, dirty American coal as more wind farms are built? And this government wants to double the number of wind farms that we have built already!

The bottom line? The more wind turbines that are built, the more cycling that will occur, the more CO2 will be produced. How mad is that? One of the most important justifications presented by the wind industry for increased wind farms is actually the opposite of what they say. Could a lie be any more blatant?

Our response to Lie #2 must be:

To claim that wind turbines are green is a blatant lie. Their production, erection, operation & maintenance is environmentally devastating.


As I have said before, I am not a scientist or engineer so don’t take my word for it. Those lovely people at ReThink Pylons have commissioned the top energy experts, BW Energy, to write a Reply to the Green Paper. Unlike the Green Paper, it is short and easy to read and understand (with a very cool Executive Summary). You can find it here:

Click to access 140716Response.pdf

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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