Letters: Damaging view of wind-farm policy

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CONSERVATIONISTS may not appreciate that windmills are greedy consumers of some of the most scarce and exotic natural resources, such as neodymium and other rare earths.

Neodymium provides the super-strong magnets of the windmills’ generators. Requirements vary from 25 kilo for each megawatt of power generation capacity to 250kg/MW.

The nominal installed windmill capacity in UK is now 5.9 gigawatts and this is expected to rise to 16GW within ten years. Thus, UK consumption of neodymium could range from 400,000 tonnes to as much as four million tonnes, or half the world’s reserves. The same rare earth is also used in the motors of electric vehicles, supposedly a “green” form of transport.

By the way, neodymium burns enthusiastically at only 150C and, like an incendiary bomb, is very difficult to extinguish. As we have seen recently, windmills tend to explode and one must wonder about electric cars.

The US Department of Energy has already issued a warning that “Supply challenges for five rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium) may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead”.

Add to this devastation of some of the world’s more exotic and irreplaceable resources, the effect that windmills have in our parlous balance of trade position. Windmills are no longer manufactured in UK and few of the construction workforces are locals. So where is the boost to the economy from the green industry?

Mainly foreign capital supports this industry, so the subsidies and profits flow abroad – another drain on our economy and no help for our sovereign debt. But worse than that, operators are being paid not to produce.

Scotsman readers will recollect the £1.2 million paid to the Norwegian company that owns 60 windmills in the Borders for not generating. This was no isolated case; there were nearly 40 such events in the first nine months of 2011 and just under £7m was paid to 17 operators to shut down their farms. The scale and frequency of this scandalous waste of our money will increase as the number and scale of wind farms increases over the next ten years.

A recent paper from the Adam Smith Institute reiterates the conclusions of the David Hume Institute paper of 2004 to the effect that renewables, mainly windmills, can never replace coal, gas and nuclear, that they cannot ever be competitive in an unrigged market, that government intervention will lead to higher energy costs and jeopardise security of supply and that, because of the need for standby fossil fuelled generation, renewables will do little to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel use.

We may forget about the irreparable damage done to our precious rural environment and the misery windmills inflict on those who live nearby them, but we shall be reminded of this purblind energy policy every time we look at our energy bills.

Fenton Robb 

North Street

Eyemouth

I AM not convinced that Fergus Ewing’s energy policy is sound (Letters, 5 January). I am even less impressed with his curiously conflicting role also as tourism minister. At a Scotsman Conference on the Economics of Renewables Mr Ewing was asked if there was a conflict of interest. He said Scotland was holding its own in tourism through difficult times. He said some wind farms were a tourist attraction in their own right.

Whitelee wind farm on the edge of Glasgow was singled out. It has been visited by thousands of schoolchildren, curious locals, mountain bikers etc but how many people in the emerging tourist markets are putting Whitelee wind farm in the top 100 places one must see before one dies? It is ludicrous if it wasn’t a tragedy for Scotland’s tourism industry.

Our tourism statistics show a massive drop in overseas visitors. Between 2006 and 2010 overseas tourists to Scotland dropped 14 per cent (Visit Scotland).

In the first half of 2011, Scotland had an 8 per cent drop in overseas visitors and a 17 per cent drop in their spending. The UK as a whole had an increase of 5 per cent in visitors and spend. The UK is second bottom in an EU table of percentage change from 2009 to 2010 in number of nights spent by non-residents in hotels and similar establishments. Is this “holding our own” even within UK let alone the EU?

This drop is not the same for other countries. The comparative figures for Switzerland from 2006 to 2010 is a 0.5 per cent drop in overseas visitors. This has not been because Switzerland has become relatively cheaper, as we have. In 2010 the comparative price level index in the hotel and restaurant sector in Switzerland was an eye watering 40.9 per cent higher than the EU27.

The Swiss have preserved their tourist industry by preserving their greatest asset, its scenery. We have sacrificed ours to the wind-farm lobby and how much easier that has been with the combined ministry of energy and tourism since 2007.

Wake up Scotland – we are losing long-term tourism jobs at the expense of short-term construction jobs in the wind-farm industry and the destruction of our greatest asset.

Celia Hobbs

Peebles Road

Penicuik

Midlothian

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