Wind Turbines & White Elephants
By Paul Homewood
With thanks to Peter Austin and Paul, who compiled the lists.
Following the story about the Welsh Govt’s £48K wind turbine in Aberystwyth, which has only produced £5 worth of electricity in the last five years, readers have sent me some more examples of wasted money.
Dover Express report:
THE much-trumpeted £90,000 wind turbine installed outside the council offices has generated just a tenth of the energy it should have done, the Express can reveal.
The 17-metre machine, erected outside the Dover District Council headquarters in Whitfield, was supposed to generate 45,000 kW hours per year, producing 7 per cent of the electricity used in the offices.
But the Express can reveal that just 22,080 kWhrs has been generated in total since November 2007 – less than 4,500 kWhrs per year.
Critics have called the project a "white elephant", but the authority has defended the scheme and said it has "raised the profile" of renewable energy by educating people across the district.
At 15 pence/KWh, the value of electricity produced is just £675 pa. Assuming (very generously!) no maintenance or interest charges, the payback is 133 years!
Interestingly, the paper reports:
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request about costs and savings six months after the grant-funded turbine was installed, DDC said at the time: "It should save 45,000 kWhrs per year, producing 7 per cent of the electricity used in the offices."
But, this week, it appeared to backtrack from the numbers, saying the 45,000 kWhrs figure was the upper limit it could generate and was only achievable with constantly favourable wind speeds and direction.
A spokesman said: "The 45,000 kWhrs quoted is the optimum generation – in order to achieve this, the wind speed would always need to be at the maximum speed that the turbine could operate safely in, and the wind direction would always have to be favourable
Confusion between capacity and output is commonplace. Did the council get its sums wrong in the first place? Or did they knowingly waste £90K of ratepayers money, just to “raise the profile of renewable energy?
We then have the story from the Derby Telegraph of two turbines owned by Severn Trent Water, which have yet to produce any power, despite being ready last December.
The reason? They interfere with the radar at nearby East Midlands Airport.
They are now waiting for the airport to install new radar equipment to “ensure that the airport can operate safely”. I wonder who will pay for that?
3) Milton Keynes
It gets worse, as the Milton Keynes Citizen reports!
Three costly wind turbines built in the grounds of a school are now to be dismantled – after allegedly generating just £3.67 worth of electricity in NINE years.
Milton Keynes Council paid £170,000 for the giant turbines at Oakgrove School at Middleton .
But shortly after the school opened in 2005, the structures were switched off for health and safety reasons due to a manufacturing defect.
A source told the Citizen: “It all seems to be an extraordinary waste of money. None of it is the fault of the school itself – they’ve just been stuck with these huge things that have proved useless.”
The turbines were provided by a German company which has since gone into liquidation, leaving the council unable to get compensation
The Hinckley Times have the story of the £40K turbine at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, which has used more electricity than it has generated.
An eco-friendly wind turbine installed to save energy at a Hinckley college has been labelled a “disaster” after revelations it has expended more power than it has produced.
In its three year lifespan the 31.5ft turbine – thought to have a price tag of around £40,000 – has turned only 8% of the time and has not created electricity but used enough to run an energy hungry household for two years.
When installed on the roof of the new North Warwickshire and Hinckley college campus on Lower Bond Street in September 2011, education chiefs lauded it as part of their commitment to embed sustainability across all college activities and a weapon in the fight to cut carbon emissions by 35% within four years.
But since its set up the vertical axis blades of the turbine have only been spinning for 8% of the time and only been working for 38% – during the remaining 62% of the time, because of its settings, conditions have been ‘unsuitable’ – ie the wind at 5m/s, a fresh breeze – has been deemed too strong and it switches off.
This means the device has used 497 kHw more than it has made – enough to run a fridge for a year, a microwave daily for half-an-hour for two years and a tumble drier daily for six months.
Figures from the college show (based on the average price of a kHw at 17p) the turbine has used £1,730 worth of electricity, twice the annual bill of a high energy usage household.
But what the hell? As was the case in Dover, it is apparently OK to waste taxpayers’ money, just to promote “sustainability”.
Andy Crowter, group director of facilities and estates at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, said:
”The turbine is not there primarily to create income but to promote sustainability – one of the most important challenges facing the UK. The turbine is a symbol of the college’s awareness of its environmental responsibilities, an icon of good practice to its students and recognition of the college’s award winning Carbon Reduction Plan. “
And it’s not just in Britain, as the National Post report:
Several Prince Edward Island rinks that were convinced to make the expensive conversion to wind power, but never saw the promised savings, are now trying to get rid of the trouble-plagued turbines and win compensation for their troubles.
“We went into debt to purchase this windmill on the promise that it would make us money and it would help us with our power costs,” said Tom Albrecht, vice-president of the South Shore Actiplex in Crapaud, P.E.I., which spent $70,000 and received another $230,000 from the federal and provincial governments to install a turbine.
“The bottom line is buy us out and give us our money back.”
Last week, the Wind Energy Institute of Canada apparently decided to shut down turbines at at least some of the rinks, as it worked through technical problems, according to Darin Craig, past president of the South Shore Actiplex board.
The Council at Whitfield, Kent have scrapped the turbine only installed in 2007, as Kent Online report:
The wind turbine at the district council offices at Whitfield, fitted in 2007, is to be scrapped.
“With time and use, the turbine developed a fault in 2012.A council spokesman said: “The turbine was important as not only did it generate renewable energy, but it helped to raise the profile of environmental matters, and was used for educational purposes.
“The turbine was assessed for repairs, but as well as the cost of the repairs, it was clear that the industry and technology had developed, and that the company who supplied the turbine had ceased trading, causing difficulties regarding the availability of parts and servicing arrangements.
"It was considered that the repair costs and ongoing maintenance issues meant that it was no longer viable and sustainable to keep the turbine.
Once again we see the words “raise the profile”.
[As Chris Manuell points out, this is the same
Five years after installing two turbines on the Civic Centre roof at a cost of £100K, Huddersfield Council are to take them back down, as the Huddersfield Examiner explain:
THE Civic Centre turbines are to be taken down.
Kirklees Council last night announced that the landmark windmills will be removed – five years after they cost £100,000 to install.
One of the 27-feet turbines has been broken for the past 16 months.
Kirklees installed the two windmills in July, 2006, to raise awareness of renewable energy among the thousands of motorists who drive along the ring road every day.
But yesterday officials admitted defeat and said the turbines would be taken down – and new ones installed at a windier location.
A council spokesman said: “It had become clear that carrying out repairs was not the most effective or value-for-money option, so the council has now found a different way of solving the problem.
“We have reached an agreement with the turbine suppliers Proven Energy, who will remove both turbines from the Civic Centre roof over the coming months and will provide the council with two new turbines, free of charge and with longer warranty periods than the current turbines.
“The council’s plan is to locate the new turbines in an open location where the energy generated will be greater than at their current site.”
The spokesman added: “Having one of the current turbines out of action gave us the chance to re-assess the situation. We have come up with the most common sense, effective way forward.
“The new location is yet to be finalised, but we are working with Proven Energy to find a site within the council’s ownership.”
The six-kilowatt windmills cost £101,000 to buy and install in 2006.
Kirklees came up with £70,000 and a Government grant covered the rest.
In 2008 the turbines brought £2,078 into council coffers, but cost £6,431 to maintain and repair.
Although Proven Energy will arrange for the turbines to be taken down and replaced, it hardly seems likely they will be doing this out of goodwill. Meanwhile, Huddersfield ratepayers can feel satisfied that their money has gone to “raise awareness of renewable energy”.
The Gazette have the story of this wind turbine, that had to be removed for being too noisy:
A SCHOOL in Wotton has been forced to remove its controversial wind turbine after receiving a noise abatement notice.
Blue Coat Primary School’s prized 15-metre turbine was taken down in August after standing unused for a number of months.
Robert Weaver, environmental health officer at Stroud District Council, said: "As soon as it was operational, it was giving out unacceptable levels of noise at quite a lot of dwellings nearby, as well as some quite far away."
The school had been warned when it was granted planning permission in 2009 that if noise were to become an issue the turbine may have to be decommissioned.
Specialist engineers had worked with the school over a period of about eight months to try to reduce noise, but modifying the blade tips and even shortening the blades themselves had little effect.
Simon Weston, chairman of governors at Blue Coat School, said the school had taken a reluctant but pragmatic decision that they had reached the end of the road after the physical adaptations to the turbine provided no improvement to the noise.
Wotton resident Michael Toft, 61, who lives just 100 metres from the school, said he was relieved that the threat of permanent noise intrusion in his house and garden had been removed.
He said: "The turbine wasn’t just noisy in high winds. It had a whole repertoire of sound effects, ranging from an inexorable swishing in light winds, through to chuffing like a never-arriving steam train in moderate winds, with the piece de resistance being a full-blown impression of a helicopter hovering over the field outside our garden when the wind was strong."
He added: "On a visual note, I don’t think it’s right that structures like this should be sited prominently on skylines within the Cotswolds AONB."
The school is now hoping to pass the turbine on to be used elsewhere, as the equipment is entirely functional.
Grant-funded, largely from the public sector, the turbine was part of the school’s renewable energy drive. Solar panels are also installed on site.
It was hoped that the turbine would engage children at Blue Coat with energy issues, as well as reduce the school’s carbon footprint and electricity bills.
Cllr Dennis Andrewartha, executive member for planning for Stroud District Council, said: "We explored every possibility to see if the school’s wind turbine could stay up and generate power but ultimately it was too noisy and affected too many residents.
"Since it went up we have had around 40 complaints about the noise nuisance and our officers have been out to assess the problem a number of times. We are great supporters of green energy so it was with reluctance that we had to see this wind turbine come down."
Mr Weston added: "We still take environmental education seriously. It’s nice to have practical things you can point at, but certainly our interest in making it [renewable energy] an important part of the curriculum is ongoing."
Since when was “renewable energy” an “important part of the curriculum”? More to the point, if the noise was so bad 100 metres away, what damage has been to done to children’s health at the school itself, who would be exposed to it for several hours every day?
At the home of the Met Office, Exeter City Council will probably never recoup the cost of their Civic Centre turbines, as the Express & Echo report:
THE money Exeter City Council spent on installing wind turbines at its city centre base is unlikely ever to be recouped in energy savings, the Echo can reveal.
The authority invested £5,000 putting three wind turbines on the roof of the Civic Centre in 2007.
But it could take up to 50 years for the turbines to match that sum in savings. And as the average shelf-life of a turbine is understood to be 20-25 years, it is likely to have been a loss-making enterprise.
The city council has defended the outlay and revealed savings made through a number of other green initiatives are more considerable.
But campaigners for lower taxes have criticised the move as a "PR project" which was not a serious effort to save money.
The turbines were aimed at helping the council meet its Government-set target of reducing CO2 emissions and it was one of the first local authorities to take the step.
A council spokesman said it was not possible to quantify what the turbines were powering but added: "We estimate the energy produced saves the council in excess of £100."
However, Maurice Spurway, spokesman for Exeter Friends of the Earth, said: "There are some occasions when it is more important to focus on the message of reducing carbon dioxide emissions than the economy of it.
"Survival of the planet is more important and reducing CO2 as we progress towards the 22nd century is crucial, so anything which has been done in this direction is the right thing to do.
Up in Scotland, Inverclyde Academy were reported in 2011 to be ready to scrap their turbine, installed just three years earlier;
Inverclyde Academy was hailed as the first school in the UK to have one of the 50-kilowatt wind turbines when the building opened to pupils in December 2008.
The turbine is meant to provide 15 to 25 per cent of the school’s annual energy requirement.
But the turbine hasn’t generated any power for more than a year.
It has been plagued by technical problems, including a faulty gearbox, and its manufacturer has gone bust.
Now Inverclyde Council says if the turbine cannot be repaired, it may have to be taken away.
Down in Dorset, another turbine installed at a Primary School has had to be shut down as it was killing too many seabirds, as the Dorset Echo relate:
A £20,000 wind turbine brought in to make a Portland primary school more environmentally friendly has been turned off because it was killing seabirds.
Headteacher Stuart McLeod, of Southwell Community Primary School, said they ‘tried everything’ to solve the problem but had no choice but to shut it down.
In the past few months the nine metre high generator has taken the lives of 14 birds – far higher than the manufacturer’s estimate of one per year.
The wind turbine was installed at the school around 18 months ago, thanks to grant funding, to provide six kilowatts of power an hour.
Mr McLeod said: “We’ve got the ideal location for wind power but unfortunately seagulls kept flying into it.
I guess that really taught the kids to be “environmentally conscious”!
12) Climping, West Sussex
Despite being on the coast, this turbine at the Climping Village School had to be shut down, because it was not producing enough power. From the Bognor Regis Observer:
A WIND turbine has been removed from Climping’s village school because it generated too little power.
The 9m-high turbine was installed at St Mary’s Primary School in 2005 as part of an experiment to see if the winds along the coast would make it sustainable.
The pilot project was designed to test wind energy technology, reduce school energy costs and provide an educational tool for pupils.
But a West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “The decision to remove the turbine has been taken because of a series of factors, but mainly because the system has not performed well.
“Energy-saving costs at the school of £550 between April 2011 and March 2012 were not enough to cover the costs of maintaining and insuring the turbine. The company which manufactured and installed the turbine has also gone into liquidation.”
The turbine’s cost was mainly covered by external grants and the county council met the short-term running costs. It was considered unsustainable for the school to take on these costs.
Yet another company gone into liquidation.Take the grant money and run!
There are no doubt hundreds of other examples up and down the country. A lot of pain and wasted money could have been avoided if attention had been paid to this study from Southampton University back in 2009:
The final report demonstrated conclusively that micro-wind turbines installed on buildings performed very poorly, some consuming more power than they generated. Even at the best sites in exposed and windy rural areas, annual yields were far lower than the estimates predicted by industry. None of the devices mounted on buildings would pay for themselves within the expected life of the turbines.
But when it’s not your money you’re spending, then what the hell?