The way that a local authority wishes to have a wind farm decommissioned should be covered by clauses in its planning permission. These clauses typically require all visible traces of the wind farm to be removed. This takes care of the turbines. Service tracks, if there are any, could be removed, although it may be best to leave them. Obviously each case is different, depending upon the size and geography of the development. Developers will then comply with these clauses.
The concrete bases could be removed, but it may be better to leave them under the ground, as this causes less disturbance. If so, they would be covered with peat, stone or other indigenous material, and the site returned as closely as practicable to its original state. The turbine itself will often have a scrap value which will cover the costs of such ground restoration.
Wind energy technology is essential reversible, and compared to the problems associated with decommissioning a nuclear power station, or a coal or gas fired plant, decommissioning a wind farm is straight forward and simple.
When the wind stops blowing, electricity continues to be provided by other forms of generation, such as gas or coal-fired power plants. Our electricity system is mostly made up of large power plants, and the system has to be able to cope if one of these goes out of action. It is possible to have up to 10% of the country's needs met by intermittent energy sources such as wind energy, without having to make any significant changes to the way the system operates. More can be accommodated, but extra storage capacity or spinning reserve would be necessary, which would have a cost implication.
A typical wind farm of 20 turbines might extend over an area of 1 square kilometre, but only 1% of the land area would be used to house the turbines, electrical infrastructure and access roads; the remainder can be used for other purposes, such as farming or as natural habitat.
Wind turbines start operating at wind speeds of 4 to 5 metres per second (around 10 miles an hour) and reach maximum power output at around 15 metres/second (around 33 miles per hour). At very high wind speeds, i.e. gale force winds, (25 metres/second, 50+ miles/hour) wind turbines shut down.
Extremely safe. No member of the public has ever been injured during the normal operation of a wind turbine, with over 25 years operating experience and with more than 70,000 machines installed around the world.
Polls show that wind energy is popular. A 2010 YouGov poll of 1,000 people in Scotland found that support for onshore wind farms had risen from 73% five years ago to 78%. In addition, 59% agreed that wind farms were necessary for producing renewable energy and what they looked like was unimportant.
In a 2004 poll by ICM Research for Greenpeace, 80% said they support plans to significantly increase the number of wind turbines in Britain, with just 8% opposing the development of wind farms. Furthermore, 70% said they would support the development of a wind farm in their area.
A 2003 MORI poll for the then Scottish Executive which interviewed 430 people living in and around Scotland's operating farms at Hagshaw Hill in Lanarkshire, Novar in Ross-shire, Windy Standard in Dumfries and Galloway and Beinn Ghlas near Oban found 67% had positive feelings towards the wind farm, rising to 73% among those living within 5km of the farm.
The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months.
No. At a distance of 350 metres, the sound from a modern wind turbine registers at between 30 and 40 decibels – comparable to the level of background noise you could expect during an average rural night-time. It is possible to stand underneath a turbine and hold a conversation without having to raise your voice. There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise emissions to ensure the protection of residential amenity.
However, a system known as the Renewables Obligation has been introduced across the UK to encourage energy generation from renewable sources. It places an obligation on UK suppliers of electricity (utilities companies) to source an increasing proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. This proportion will rise to 15% by 2015/16.
Suppliers meet this obligation by purchasing renewable electricity from an accredited generator, along with a Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) for each megawatt hour (MWh) of energy purchased.
The ROC demonstrates to Ofgem the supplier's compliance with their annual obligation to purchase renewable electricity. While the price of the renewable electricity remains pegged to the wholesale price of electricity regardless, the price of ROCs sold by generators is related to their availability compared to demand.
If the UK is not producing enough renewable energy, ROCs will be expensive, but if the UK is meeting or beating its annual targets, prices will be generally low.
Suppliers unable to obtain sufficient ROCs pay a fine or “buy-out fee”, set by Ofgem each year. The total buy-out fees gathered each year are then shared out among those companies presenting ROCs to Ofgem - acting as an incentive to companies to buy ROCs, rather than opt for the buy-out option.
In addition, it is worth considering that other forms of energy generation, for example new nuclear power stations, are heavily subsidised at the construction stage by government. When radioactive waste from nuclear plants is disposed of, or the plants themselves are decommissioned, the enormous cost – to the tune of billions of pounds – is funded by the taxpayer.
The most recent position stated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) can be found at http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/policy/windfarms/ and states “If wind farms are located away from major migration routes and important feeding, breeding and roosting areas of those bird species known or suspected to be at risk, it is likely that they will have minimal impacts.”
Whilst we accept there are differing views on this issue, a case study undertaken by Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC) of the Crystal Rigg wind farm in East Lothian found “no evidence of a relationship between proximity to a wind farm and changes in property prices.” We understand the concerns of some people but agree with the Royal Chartered Institute of Surveyors that there is no definitive answer to this question.
Wind energy's role in combating climate change is not a matter of either/or. The UK will need a mix of new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures. However, wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy technology available to generate clean electricity and help combat climate change right now. Furthermore, building a strong wind industry will facilitate the development of other renewable technologies to commercial viability.