Wind farms: For or against?

April 03, 2012, 4:16 PM GMT+0

Having recognised them as a source of renewable energy being employed globally, Britain is now seeing a boom in wind farms as a means of reducing greenhouse gases. By harnessing the power of wind, it is argued that turbines produce clean energy whilst simulataneously helping to put a stop to pollution. But with their strong reliance on unpredictable weather patterns and heavy subsisdy costs, is the sudden overhaul of wind power a good thing?

Recently in PoliticsLab we wanted to know whether or not you think wind farms are a positive step for Great Britain, and what additional/alternative methods could be used to help reduce the country's carbon footprint.

The EU Energy Directive in 2009 saw the UK Government agree to an overall target of generating 15% of its energy supply from renewable sources by 2020. It is estimated that over 12,000 wind farms would be needed to make this goal achievable, and the British Wind Energy Association estimates that this will require an ambitious 35-40% of the UK’s electricity to be generated from renewable sources by that date.

What do you think of wind farms? What alternative energy source can you suggest, and why?

Some Labs participants argue that wind farms are majestic figures, representing 'green' power and positive change for Britain, that also serves as a way to avoid relying on risky foreign trade for power. Others, however, consider it too costly, say turbines are a blight on the landscape, and are far too ineffective to be worthwhile. Many believe that mixed methods must be employed, with or without wind farms, for a truly effective alternative to coal or gas.

A good deal of participants also point out that the effectiveness and likeability of wind farms rely greatly on their location, with many favouring brown belt landscapes or off-shore farms rather than areas of natural beauty.

Do you support or oppose wind farms as a source of renewable energy? What other energy sources would you suggest? Join the debate using Disqus below!

Here's what our PoliticsLabs participants had to say...

1. I support the use of wind farms

Argument 1: They're attractive

"Aesthetically I find them quite pleasing - certainly more so than the wretched pylons" Anon

"Clean, renewable energy that doesn't harm the planet. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want them. Because they look bad? They look better than coal factories or nuclear power plants (although I do support nuclear energy)" Dani, Oxford

"I don't understand why people say they ruin the landscape, whenever I see them in the countryside I am filled with pride that we are moving in the right direction"Jon Dorset

"The turbines are beautiful; those who disagree should just look at the really ugly electricity pylons - should they all now be pulled down for the sake of aesthetics? We have a lot of turbines in Cornwall, including on a hillside within easy view of my home - I never tire of watching them flash in the sunshine" Norjem, Cornwall

"People who claim that wind farms should be opposed because they are ugly are taking an immensely short-sighted view of the matter" Anon

"The argument about ugliness is a totally subjective one, so can be discounted" Anon

"They look beautiful. I would happily have one in my back garden!In fact every village should be encouraged to have at least one" Pip, Nottingham

"I know many people hate their looks but even St Paul's Cathedral was hated by most people for its looks when it was first built, that is just the unthinking masses talking. Given enough time most people will come to love wind farms as I, and many other people already do" Arthur, Didcot

"I find counter arguments about unsightliness or noisiness very strange if one considers the old alternatives. Power Stations have always been (and always will be) a far greater blot on the landscape"Anon

Argument 2: They're a good source of renewable energy

"Anything to do with renewable resources is a good thing for the world and should be used more" Anon

"Although they need regular maintenance and the output is low, the lack of any significant waste, the long lifespan of the equipment and the relatively clean nature of the energyoutweighs the negative aspects"Jon, Dorset

"As a nation we are energy hungry and do not appear to be making any effort to reduce how much we use. We must find alternative sources of energy and they must be 'green', wind farms are one of those options, providing they are situated where they are most effective they are a step in the right direction. Nuclear is all very well but what happens to the waste? We can't keep burying it underground and hoping it goes away!" Helen A, Northamptonshire

"Wind farms are a key necessity in maintaining levels of energy consumption and ensuring the protection of our environment. They are an economic imperative, and should be encouraged if we are to rely on green energyrather than rapidly-depleting oil reserves and fossil fuels" J, UK

"They generate renewable energy. We need, as a planet, renewable energy. I see no problems with installing in this country something that the rest of Europe has had for years" Anon

"We must switch to green energy to prevent climate change and the UK has huge wind-power potential. Wind power also creates jobs and helps strengthen the UK economy by reducing our reliance on imported oil, gas and coal" Anon

"They are an effective method of generating energy while cutting carbon emissions" Matthew, London

Argument 3: They are one piece of the puzzle

"At least we're doing something about trying to solve the energy problem. Sure, it's not ideal but compared to nothing, it's a start. Plus, the hatred surrounding them and ensuing debates might actually prod the country into discussing it and coming up with other solutions" Anon

"We shouldn't get too carried away building them as other energy sources such as nuclear and tidal need developing as well" Pete, Lancashire

"I do not particularly object to wind farms as they have their own strange beauty. However I am led to believe that wind farms will not contribute much to the national need for energy and must be combined with water and wave power, solar and nuclear energy" Anon

"They are one option that should be explored, due to the high levels of wind we experience as an island they are a better option than solar panels, however they are not the full solution which will require a number of approaches" Anon

"I think we need to pursue and experiment with all types of renewable energy sources. I know that, at the moment, wind farms are not producing very much energy, but if we don't try we won't be able to improve them" Sue, Marlow

"They are non-polluting, emission-free and form a valuable part of a wide range of methods of generating power that we will need in the future. They are not without drawbacks but neither is any other method of power generation" Nick, Woking

Argument 4: We have plenty of wind

"We are one of the windiest nations on the planet. It is a renewable resource which is readily and almost constantly available, and much less harmful than alternatives such as tidal barrages" Anon

"Because this is a very windy countryand it's a far better way to generate energy than nuclear power!" Tigger, London

"Britain has a large potential of wind power therefore we should be doing everything possible to exploit this. We need to exploit other clean and renewable sources and wind is one option" Robert, East Sussex

"It is better to make a head start with renewable energy, especially in the UK where we have particularly windy areas" Anon

"Wind farms appear a low maintenance, clean source of power in our windy isle" Pete, Lancashire

"We have lots of wind and can convert it to electricity. No brainer" Anon

"When we have the resources to create energy (wind) we should utilize it to our full potential, especially if it is renewable and virtually free in the long-run. The turbines are not exactly blight on the landscape, they are white and sleek (it could be worse)" Connor, UK

Argument 5: We shouldn't rely on foreign trade for energy

"We should not be supporting governments like those of Iran's by buying their petroleumfor as long as we did" Robert, East Sussex

"I think they're elegant pieces of engineering and will provide price stability to electrical generation (the cost of wind generated electricity isn't going to go up when/if Russia turns off Europe's gas supply)" Anon

"Every watt that we generate here increases energy security by cutting our reliance on imports of energy from abroad. They do not require fuel, so can play their part at insulating us from disruptions in supplies, like another Russia-Ukraine gas crisis, or the closing of the Straits of Hormuz" ED, Northampton

"We have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels that pollute the planet and put us in thrall to nasty regimes in the Middle East" Philip B, West Yorksire

"I don't want us to be reliant on the Middle East (or anyone else) for oil or for anything we need to look at all wind farms and invest in it to improve it" M, Sheffield

"Using wind farms cuts the dependency on Russia for gas supplies" Anon

"Most energy sources seem to be in unstable regions of the world or getting the energy here means long journeys through potentially unstable areas" Pete, Lancashire

Argument 6: They are a better alternative

"Maybe these NIMBY people should have a nuclear power station built 5 miles down the road from themand see how much they bleat about that! These anti-wind farm people are ignorant, short-sighted, selfish idiots" Tigger, London

"Anyone calling for more nuclear power is replacing one environmental problem with another. Also, those who believe that wind power is a damaging and unsightly option need to realise that it is the lesser of a range of evils. If you don't want a wind farm then your options are going to be coal or nuclear power stations. Fancy one of them built near you instead?" Gavlar, Cambridge

"I strongly support the construction of wind farms as long as they are viable financially. The financial analysis comparison would have to include all factors and not just generating cost per kwh. It would, therefore, have to include cost of cleaning up pollution from the more traditional generating methods i.e. carbon fuel fired power stations" Iain H, Oxford

"In Holland, particularly in the North, they are everywhere on the horizon. The Dutch worked out the value of wind-power centuries ago! Wind farms out in the North Sea are actually very beautiful - a lot more beautiful than oil rigs - and they don't cause accidents that can destroy people's livesand whole species of fish and birds" Annie M, Isle of Wight

"They are beautiful in design and provide a polluting form of energy for most days of the year. They certainly look better than coal fired stations, and from the vilae where I live I can see a wind farm and Drax, the largest coal fired station in the country, responsible for much of the acid rain sent to Scandinavia" Peter B, Goole

2. I DON'T support the use of wind farms

Argument 1: They're too expensive

"They are costly, heavily subsidised and add to the overall cost of energy"

"They are not cost effective. At best they are only 18% efficient and work in a narrow range of wind speeds. When they don't work, other power sources such as nuclear, gas, coal and oil have to be used and these cannot be switched on and off willy-nilly. They attract large subsidies which we pay for in increases to our electricity bills"

"They are expensive, depend on wind which does not always blow, produce piffling amounts of electricity, are heavily subsidized, and are manufactured abroad"

"They are an astonishingly expensive and supremely inefficient waste of time and are decimating our landscape and shoreline without any benefit"

"They are very expensive, in cash and carbon terms. Their cost should be better spent on research into more cost-effective forms of alternative power generation"

"They are not being built on economic principles. They have a place in the overall scheme, but do not meet the needs of society as taxpayer subsidies are too high both for when generating power, and more perverse when not producing power"

Argument 2: They are inefficient

"As a form of renewable energy, they are inefficient. Sometimes when the weather is very cold, and power is needed, if there's no wind they don't work and when the wind is very strong, they can't cope and have to be turned off"

"Because they save nothing of non-renewable energy sources as they always need to be backed up by some other totally predictable and controllable form of energy generation in case the wind drops or blows too hard. It really is important to realise that it is utterly impossible for back-up sources to start from scratch in an instant to make up for wind changes and so they must be kept permanently running and hence using the very fuel that wind power enthusiasts consider the wind turbines are saving"

"Unreliable in no-wind or too-much-wind situations, making it impossible to recoup investment. I can see no better than 10-15% of our electricity needs being provided from wind energy"

"The time when maximum electricity is needed is during periods of high pressure i.e. very cold in the winter and very warm in the summer, during these periods there is no or very little wind!! Also the turbines have to be turned off if the wind speed exceeds 56mph?? They are very inefficient"

"Wind farms are a most inefficient, irregular and expensive form of electrical generation that requires back up generation capacity to be available for the periods when wind farms are not generating any power, without backup, there will be power cuts"

"Given that they don't generate a consistent supply of power, they present a grid balancing problem which will only become worse if they ever provide a significant fraction of the nation's power"

Argument 2: They are not very green

"I have professional and post graduate academic qualifications in energy and electrical engineering and wind farms are a dead end. They are inefficient and unreliable and require watt for watt fossil fuel hot standby backup. At best they produce power less than 30% of the time and not when it is needed. None would be built if not for the huge subsidy. I'll leave you with a question "you are in hospital on a life support machine would you want it powered by a wind turbine?"

"Taking into account the carbon produced in the manufacture, including the concrete base, and the transport to the site it is doubtful if over 25 years there will be a net reduction of carbon emissions"

"Wind farms are not renewable energy. They actually destroy more energy than they ever create. They deplete carbon storage areas (peat bogs); they are extremely heavy on maintenance; they require huge infrastructure, made worse from being in the middle of nowhere; they effect climate; they only make money because they are subsidised; most wind turbines are made abroad... They generate energy only in optimal conditions. They break down regularly, they are heavy on maintenance; the oils and greases used are dreadful"

"They are not very green - vast amounts of concrete for the bases and polluting production for the towers and turbines. This is industrialisation, for which precious little planning control seems to exist. I have no objection at all to personally-financed domestic-scale turbines, indeed am all for them, if people wish to install them"

"The cost of generation by land turbine per hour is roughly twice that by nuclear generation and off shore power is more than three times nuclear. Nuclear produces less CO2 per hour than either if the whole lifecycle is taken into account"

Argument 4: They are an eye-sore

"They are a monstrosity set in our beautiful countryside. All round dreadfully expensive to construct, maintain and convert to electricity"

"In the rest of Europe they tend to be placed in industrial locations like ports etc. whereas in the UK the political decision was taken to ruin the views in the countryside by constructing them in remote beauty spots"

"They are not efficient generators of energy. They are ugly. They are subsidised by government. Did I say they were ugly?"

"We are turning our country into a concrete ghetto whilst those who pollute the earth and use more energy do nothing in their countries"

"They have ruined the countryside. I have 12 being erected less than 1.5 km from my home they are unsightly and make me feel dizzy. They have ruined our enjoyment of our rural landscape and have upset everyone in our community"

"Transmission pylons can be and often in the bottom of valleys and are still. Wind turbines must of necessity be on the tops of hills for all to see and moreover the fact that they are moving draws the eye"

Argument 5: They are a scam

"Someone is making a package out them and it is not the residents of this country"

"I think that their popularity is primarily amongst those who will make the most money in government grants from installing them and the Lib Dems who are heading for oblivion at the next election anyway"

"They are a complete waste of money as the amount of energy they produce will probably never cover the cost of manufacture and installation. They are simply a money-spinner for energy companies whose boards and shareholders will benefit at the taxpayers' expense"

"Certain high profile fools appear to have taken leave of their senses, jumped on the purported green bandwagon and been conned into believing that these hideous monstrosities achieve something. Well, they say a fool and his money are soon parted don't they?"

"The propaganda always says how many homes can be supplied, not businesses, and it is industry and commerce that uses the vast bulk of electricity"

"Only energy companies and landowners profit from them; the rest of us pay through higher electricity bills. They have to have back-up energy sources, so we are not getting rid of power stations"

"It is worth remembering that in order to supply only central London with its electrical needs a wind farm operating at peak efficiency would need to cover an area 6 miles long and 5 miles wide!

The only people who profit from wind turbines are those who build them and those who own the land on which they are erected


3. I don't support or oppose wind farms

"They are an excellent source of energy but wind farms could damage the serenity and beauty of the country. Hopefully, as time passes they will become more attractive to the eye" Anon

"Firstly they must become cheaper or nearly as cheap as coal. Secondly, better ways of storing energy must be found as they do not produce a steady supply of electricity. There is no point in Britain building any except to model them to the rest of the world" Henry Shepherd, Cardiff

"I think they have their place as part of a mixed solution to energy. I'm opposed to wind farms being constructed in areas of natural beauty, green belt land and national parks. If they are constructed on brown belt, industrial estates or offshore I'm more agreeable to them" John, Wakefield

"I have no objection to them but would like to see evidence of their efficiency at producing energy compared to alternative methods" Anon

"I agree they are a source of renewable energy but they are not very effective. The amount of electricity they contribute is very limited. They are not the answerto our problems" Joan, Chester Le Street

"They should be utilized wherever possible but in a sensitive way and with the full agreement of the local population, not just the whim of a developer who will not be effected by their construction. The technology also needs to be improved so that energy can be stored and utilized more effectively, allowing the greater use of offshore wind farms" Martin W, Newcastle

"I like the idea in principle, although it depends on their location. I have no problem with off shore wind farms. These seem logical. I think more care needs to be taken when placing them on land" Iain, Bolton

"They clearly have a place, but the construction of these devices in such large numbers is now about big money and nothing to do with the environment. There is no such thing as free energy" Colin N, Glos

"On-shore no, but off-shore wind farms placed on or over the horizon aid wildlife by providing an area similar to a man-made reef. Winds are stronger at sea and there is plenty of room for wind farms and shipping lanes. Wind farms at sea are win-win for all involved(and even those who are not)" David, Berkshire

"Wind farms need to be sited in the windiest places to be most effective - i.e. the most energy harvested by the fewest turbines. Unfortunately, the windiest places are often also in the path of migratory birds" Mike T, Shropshire

Alternative forms of renewable energy suggested by Labs participants:

Why other alternatives are better


"Water provides several ways to generate energy- Water wheels with races and filters, Archimedes Screws, Tidal Barrages placed on the sea/river beds with sufficient filters to protect wildlife" Hew, Herefordshire

"We are an island nation, who has the highest potential tidal power in the world. Therefore we should exploit this" Robert, East Sussex

"Water flows at a steadier rate so would therefore be more consistent in providing power. Provision however would need to be made for migratory species such a salmon" Anon

"4 or 5 tidal barrages (using pumped storage and multiple storage phased released lagoons) across the UK would provide most of the UK energy needs 24/7. Couple that with energy efficiency in homes, transport and industry which would save some 30% of the energy presently used" Colin, Norwich

"As an island near to the warm ocean currents in the Atlantic and stormy North Sea if we were able to perfect tidal and other hydroelectric forms of power we would easily be able to supply our needs" John, Birmingham

"Wave power is not an eye sore and we have two tides a day. A French town has proved tidal does produce sufficient cheap renewable electric. It safe and non-polluting" Anon

"I think wave and tidal power has a lot of potential. There are a host of very promising locations, and several experimental set-ups have shown good production levels. And most of these installations are underwater, so there are no large structures for the NIMBYs to whine about" ED, Northampton

"Both wave and tidal power represent massive potential. In particular, tidal power generation is 100% reliable unless someone blows up the moon" Anon


"Solar/photovoltaic panels are easy to install and should be placed on all houses irrespective of whether Grade One, Grade Two or general housing public or private. All office blocks and factories should have solar panels to provide heat and power" Hew, Herefordshire

"Solar panels don't upset people so much as wind farms and communities such as schools or shopping centres or local co-operatives could share roof space to generate enough powerfor themselves as a group" JE, Brighton

"Solar panels can and should be part of a new build, and as they are in places such as the roof, they are not quite as obvious as a huge white windmill. The government should enforce and pay for all properties to have solar panelsand use them for their own electricity" Elaine, Wales

"When technology catches up, solar energy will be the most efficient as the sun's energy will be available for a long time, and it has the least impact on the surrounding environment" Gem N, Manchester

"Solar power can be harnessed upon almost every roof of almost every building in the country / world.Why not have the energy companies put say 50% of their vast profits into the development of this free resource and help their customers to reap the benefits" Michael K L Hertfordshire

"Encourage the increase of installations on photovoltaic tiles to reduce the cost of the product making them more affordable and able to be installed on all new builds and adapting older buildings to suit" Anon


"Power plants are clean, efficient reliable, and we have lots of the raw materials needed to run it. And they are, despite popular opinion, very safe. I am pretty sure the only major death count that ever happened due to nuclear energy was Chernobyl, which happened because the people running it were very stupid" Dani, Oxford

"Thorium reactors are many times safer than the present reactors. They do not produce weapons grade plutonium. They cannot become out of control in a natural disaster" Michael, Inverness

"Nuclear is extremely effective, clean and safe source if handled correctly. More funds should be put into researching nuclear fusion, which will allow an effectively unlimited energy supply with very little waste product" David, Berkshire

"Because it is safe and can provide the needed capacity. Anti-nuclear propaganda is very effective but largely misleading (pictures of steam being 'sold' to people as pollution, mentions of Fukushima where nuclear wasn't the problem - there was a tsunami)" Anon

"Thorium is cleaner and far safer than uranium and although there is a nuclear element to releasing the energy the reaction is easy to stop and control than uranium reactors. Other advantage is energy without Co2" Dave M, Northampton

"It is carbon neutral, able to be generated in the UK rather than imported from abroad and, since the French have a reactor in Northern France which could kill me as easily as one in Kent where I live, the so-called danger argument is specious" Sue, Kent

"Most scaremongering about nuclear power is based on the technology of decades ago - the stations which can be constructed these days are far safer. And the Fukushima event simply would not happen here as we are not sitting on a major seismic fault" Rentner, London

Mixed methods

"The balance is all wrong. All types of green energy should be used and supported on as equal a footing as possible" Anon

"Mixed sources of energy allow for better targeting of sites that will cause the least disruption to people and wildlife. A few nuclear hubs throughout the country but with renewable sources making up the rest would be best.Avoids any untoward disasters if our eggs aren't all in one basket" John, Wakefield

"The only reason we are still using oil, coal and gas is because it's easy and no one has the guts to make a big switch to renewable supply. The introduction of nuclear power stations, wind farms and solar farms could cut the electrical costs of the entire country and even supply excess to be sold abroad" Sam H, London

"It's a false assumption that energy issues mean choosing one form of power over others. They're not alternatives, but complimentary. We need a mix of many different sources, as they all have advantages and disadvantages, which have to be balanced to get the correct energy mix for the future" ED, Northampton

"Wind, solar, nuclear, wave power and clean coal will have a part to play as alternative sources" Colin, Norwich

New suggestions

"When exercising, we produce energy. At present this is currently wasted, but I'm sure it could be harnessed in some way! People could even be paid to produce energy at special treadmill/spinning centres! Going further this could also provide meaningful employment to millions, whilst generating a healthier society" Iain, Bolton

"Hydrogen or Brown's Gas (HHO) can be extracted from stored rainwater in locally positioned plants which utilise fuel cells to generate ample electricity for 2-3000 properties or a given area. No infrastructure of Super Grid pylons across the country would be required any more. Newer technologies utilising cold fusionare on the horizon" Mike H. Hampshire

"Use the turbines to produce hydrogen by setting them up right next to coastal hydrolysis plants. Sell the hydrogen for use in fuel cells (for cars and other things). Establish a renewable hydrogen economy. Plough the profits back into more renewable generation capacity. Expand exponentially. Everybody wins" Tahrey, West Midlands

Do you support or oppose wind farms as a source of renewable energy? What other energy sources would you suggest? Join the debate using Disqus below!