Too much wind- (01.08.04)

A fight is under way over wind farms. It is argued that the cost of generating electricity from them is too expensive compared to gas, oil and nuclear. It is argued that the government has rigged the electricity market to discriminate in favour of them. It is argued that although the electricity generated is from a renewable source the full environmental effect should include disfigurement of the landscape.

It is difficult to find much evidence to support many of these arguments. Whilst it is true that non-renewable sources of energy are cheaper in terms of pence per kwh this ignores the externality costs that these impose on the environment (in particular for nuclear in terms of clean up costs over hundreds of years). There are ways of including the cost of climate change and use of resources into a cost comparison but this is highly subjective (see's previous comments on social return on investment and sustainability). These externality cost estimates vary significantly with the value you put on marginal changes to emissions. If other countries (in particular China and the US) place little value on restricting emissions then it is argued that the marginal benefit of the UK doing so is severly restricted. The UK cannot isolate itself from the activities of other countries.

From a social policy point of view there would appear to be little justification for this line of thought. It is the current scale of wind power generation that is likely to make its cost per unit look expensive and the benefit of lower emissions insignificant in a global context. However, if wind power is allowed to expand as the UK government desires then both of these restrictions will reduce. As for the landscape impact, in the long run there is little impact as wind generators could be removed when no longer required with no environmental detriment. All energy use must have some detrimental impact, but the ones argued for wind power seem far removed from fossil fuels.