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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

30.10.2012 | 1:30pm
ScienceIs there enough wind to power wind turbines in Shropshire?
SCIENCE | October 30. 2012. 13:30
Is there enough wind to power wind turbines in Shropshire?

Environment minister Owen Paterson introduced an interesting take on windfarm siting in an interview on Radio 4 this weekend – the angle of the trees. Paterson believes windfarms shouldn’t be sited in areas such as his own constituency in Shropshire because there’s not enough wind in the county. Is that right? And is it the case that a lack of wind is a reason why people don’t like wind turbines?

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Saturday at the end of a segment on ash dieback, Paterson was asked some questions about his views on climate change and wind turbines (starting at 05.50). He said:

“I do not like windfarms in the wrong place. I’ve been absolutely clear as a local MP where the trees grow vertically because we don’t get that much wind I think that’s an idiotic place to build windfarms and do significant –  not just environmental, but economic damage.”

He made the same argument last month in an interview with Farmers Weekly, too. In the Radio 4 interview, Paterson told presenter John Humphrys that this view is a “very practical angle”, suggesting other renewable technologies should be rolled out in areas like Shropshire – the technology he suggests as an alternative is biogas digestion – while wind developments should be in places that are windier.

Clearly, there must be some wind in Shropshire, so what’s he getting at?

Where the wind doesn’t blow

Paterson is the MP for North Shropshire. He told Farmer’s Weekly:

“There has been significant opposition in my part of the world to inland wind farms – for the sensible reason there is no wind there”.

Using the DECC windspeed database – which is no longer updated, but presumably gives a reasonable record of wind speeds – and a postcode-derived grid reference (SJ7124) for Sambrook Hall – where Paterson held his most recent surgery – provides the following wind speeds:

Metres above ground level

Wind speed in metres per second

45

6.1

25

5.5

10

4.8

Using the Energy Saving Trust’s wind speed prediction tool provides a more moderate wind speed: 2.4 m/s (urban), 2.9 m/s (suburban) and 4.5 m/s (rural).

The speeds that apply to rural areas of Shropshire are enough to power a turbine, according to trade body RenewableUK’s published guidelines giving the threshold at which it makes sense to install wind generation. It says:

“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).”

So although average windspeed is lower than in other areas of the UK, there is enough wind in some parts of Shropshire to make turbines viable.

This is obviously the view of wind developers – North Shropshire council gave planning permission for two turbines – one around 18 metres high and one around 36 meters high earlier this year, according to local paper the Shropshire Star. Both planned developments will be in rural areas.

Energy company EDF is also interested in Shropshire. According to local reports, the company is in early talks with Shropshire Council over a site hosting eight turbines in the county, claiming the site is “suitable” for a wind development.  

Do people object to wind developments because there isn’t enough wind in the area?

Paterson’s take on what puts communities on the side or otherwise of new onshore wind developments deserves a closer look. He suggests:

“In Northern Ireland where there is significant industry, this particular technology tends to be very popular and generates substantial jobs. In the middle of the shire counties where there is little wind, this particular technology is very unpopular.”

This raises an interesting question: Is there a link between how much wind there is in an area and how locals view wind power? A look at the local Shropshire press suggests the two small turbines and the proposed EDF development left locals concerned about the visual impact of the turbines, as well as the noise they might cause – but not about a lack of wind.

Paterson seems to be right about the popularity of wind turbines in Northern Ireland. According to a recent survey by the organisation Sustainable NI, published in June, residents living near windfarm sites in Northern Ireland tend to support wind power. But it’s not clear how much the support in Northern Ireland has to do with the amount of wind – or wind jobs – the country has. The survey says:

“The issue of securing tangible benefits for the local community needs to be addressed. Very few respondents from the operational site feel there has been much benefit at all to the community as a whole.”

Community support

Paterson’s constituency may have less wind than other areas, but it would appear that there’s still enough to support the planned developments in the area and one of a similar size to the EDF-planned development over the border in mid-Wales.

We’ve found no evidence to suggest that public support for wind power hinges on whether or not there is enough wind to power turbines. Public acceptance appears to have much more to do with whether or not people local to the development feel like they are deriving some benefit from wind developments.

As recent studies we’ve looked at previously indicate, community investment in developments allays many of the concerns – mostly to do with the look of turbines – that people cite, which may be why the government is exploring ways to get communities to benefit from having turbines nearby. 


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