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More about wind turbines

Efficiency of wind turbines

The average windfarm will have a “load factor” or “capacity factor” of 30%. This means that on average, the power a windfarm generates is around 30% of its peak power. More modern turbines are becoming more efficient and it is likely that in Cornwall the average is higher due to greater wind speeds. However, it can be misleading to use the load or capacity factor as an indication of the effectiveness of wind farms; for example the efficiency of converting the energy in a fossil fuelled power station into electricity is around 40%, with the remainder of the energy contained in this finite resource being wasted, whereas wind power is utilising a renewable and effectively infinite resource. Also other power sources are not entirely reliable, for example Sizewell B nuclear power plant was out of commission for 7 months in 2010. For more information, see Onshore wind: part of the UK’s energy mix at

Subsidies for wind power vs fossil fuel subsidies
When discussing subsidies for wind turbines, it is worth noting that fossil fuel subsidies rarely make the headlines. Hence it is important to bear in mind the following:
• According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, gas, oil and coal prices in 2010 were subsidised to the amount of £3.63bn and the International Energy Agency estimates that UK fossil fuel subsidies in 2010 were $5,6bn (excluding the military cost of securing fossil fuel supplies such as defending oil pipelines and support received by oil, coal and gas companies from export credit agencies, national development banks and international financial institutions).
• We are currently spending around £3bn per year on nuclear decommissioning (£3.2bn for 2013/14) and investment is expected to remain at around this level for many decades to come.
• It is expected that in order to attract investment in new nuclear power, the government will need to introduce market interventions such as setting a minimum price for carbon in order to ensure that the low carbon attributes of nuclear power receive sufficient financial reward to make this source of power economically viable.
• Tax breaks recently announced by the George Osborne to encourage shale gas development have not been included in the above figures.

In comparison with the above, both off-shore and on-shore wind received £0.7bn during the same period, and the total renewable energy sector for all technologies £1.4bn.

In view of the above information, it can be seen that direct comparisons between the costs of onshore wind and fossil fuels are not straightforward. It seems likely that the energy produced by onshore wind is cheaper than that produced by nuclear power but still more expensive than conventional gas. However in the last few years fossil fuel costs have dramatically increased in price, meanwhile subsidies for onshore wind have been reducing and the government is expecting real reductions in the cost of wind power.

For more information regarding the cost of wind power compared to other sources of power, see UK Electricity Generation Costs Update (produced for the Dept of Energy and Climate Change by Mot Macdonald) at

Public attitudes towards windfarms – MORI survey
It is important to recognise that whilst there is clearly a balance to be struck regarding the number and location of windfarms, surveys consistently show that the public is in favour of windfarms, e.g. the recent IPSOS MORI national survey showed 66% of respondents in favour (28% strongly in favour and 38% in favour), with only 8% opposed. The remained either being neither in favour or opposed (22%) or don’t know (4%). For more information see .

Economic development opportunities
Developing and installing renewable energy technologies represents a real economic development opportunity for Cornwall. We currently estimate that Cornwall spends around £1.2bn per year importing non-transport related energy into the county, e.g. electricity, gas, heating oil, etc. The more energy we generate ourselves, the more of this money stays circulating in the local economy.

The economic opportunity has recently been underlined by the decision of Ainscough Wind Energy Services (a subsidiary of the UK’s largest lifting services company) to expand operations by establishing a new base at Newquay Cornwall Airport, a move that will offer highly skilled jobs to the area.

National policy to increase new forms of renewable energy
The government has committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 in order to keep CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to below 550 parts per million and thus keep global temperature increases due to climate change to within 2 degrees and avoid “dangerous” warming of the planet. (For more information regarding this, it is worth reading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 2007 4th Assessment report, the Summary for Policymakers is available here ).

In view of the above, Cornwall Councils policy is that it “Accepts the scientific evidence that climate change is occurring and that it will continue to have far reaching effects on the UK’s people and places, economy, society and environment.”

The challenge of achieving an 80% cut in emissions is cleverly and simply illustrated by the “Play my 2050” game on the Department for Energy and Climate Change website (see ). You will see from this the scale of the challenge in achieving an 80% cut in emissions without utilising onshore wind.