Wind Farms Built on Carbon-Rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability to Fight Climate Change

Jerri-Lynn here. I used to write frequently about sustainable energy for various outlets other than Naked Capitalism, mainly concentrating on solar and wind power. Such energy production often carries with it its own environmental costs. Wind turbines, for example, are often charged with slaughtering birds. Yet as I learned from r. clayton’s  link posted in the comments below, the reality is more complicated (see Wind Turbines and Birds).

This post discusses another impact, damage to peat bogs, which are themselves valuable carbon sinks. Improperly sited wind farms can damage or even destroy these bogs, thus greatly reducing their net positive climate change effect.

By Guaduneth Chico, Lecturer in Environmental Sciences and GIS, Nottingham Trent University, Ben Clutterbuck, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Nottingham Trent University, and Nicholas Midgley, Lecturer in Physical Geography, Nottingham Trent University.Originally published at The Conversation.

Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce the cheapest type of energy – and there is no doubt wind farms can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing the fossil fuels that have traditionally been used to generate electricity.

But what of wind turbines built on top of sensitive, natural environments – does low-carbon energy still help reduce emissions if it involves disturbing the kinds of habitats that are effective at trapping carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere? This is an important question, but it is one that is too rarely being asked.

In our recent study, we found that wind farms in Spain are being built on rare peat bogs that store vast quantities of planet-warming carbon. Because these habitats are so poorly mapped, there’s a good chance that this mistake is being replicated in many other places throughout Europe, including the UK.

Europe’s Unmapped Peatlands in Peril

Peatlands are a natural carbon sink and, despite covering less than 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they contain 20% of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide.

Because some peatlands aren’t mapped, they have often been ignored, despite their important role in slowing climate change. Blanket bogs are a rare and unique type of peatland that cover entire landscapes with a distinctive vegetation, often composed of cotton grass, heather, and Sphagnum mosses, which is a particularly effective species for locking up carbon.

Blanket bogs can often be recognised by their white cottongrass. Chico &

In the UK and Ireland, blanket bogs cover great expanses and are a key part of the landscape in Flow Country, a region of the north of Scotland, and in the north and south Pennines in England. In France or Spain, this habitat is rare, but our researchuncovered 14 unrecorded and unprotected blanket bogs in northern Spain that represent the southernmost edge of this habitat’s range in Europe.

Peatlands – and in particular blanket bogs – face a number of pressures across Europe. Overgrazing, drainage to plant crops and commercial forest, burning to improve grazing and support field sports and, more recently, wind farm developments, can change the natural function of peatlands so that they switch from slowing climate change as carbon sinks, to become carbon sources that leach greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Although peat is naturally eroded by wind, rain and ice, blanket bogs grazed by livestock can lose four to six times more carbon than protected bogs. But the most serious risk to these habitats today is wind farms. Unprotected blanket bogs often cover mountain peaks, where there is also great potential for generating wind energy. During wind farm construction, vegetation that helps to trap the carbon is removed to create turbine bases and vehicle access tracks. These tracks create artificial streams that drain the peat and reshape the terrain.

Creating tracks on peatlands can break the bog up, causing the peat to dry out and release carbon emissions. Chico & Clough, Author provided

Recent research has shown that the drainage caused by building and maintaining wind turbines can affect the whole peatland, not just the area next to the farm and its tracks. In our research, we encountered a track that divided the largest unrecognised blanket bog we found in the Cantabrian Mountains into two separate peatlands. The rupture is draining the bog and likely releasing carbon as the peat dries and breaks down.

This release can be so significant that the climate benefit of generating clean energy is likely to be neutralised. For bogs on the southernmost edge of their range in Europe, wind farm construction could mean the total destruction of this habitat and the loss of a natural way of fighting climate change.

In spite of their current degraded state, restoring and protecting blanket bogs could reverse the situation and restore the capability of these habitats as climate allies.

Peatlands are poorly mapped throughout Europe, but they are vital for slowing climate change. Chico & Clough, Author provided

We need to map all currently undiscovered peatlands and protect them under the EU’s Habitats Directive. Restoring degraded peatlands and reducing human pressures on them could help them recover their natural abilities for storing carbon. In the UK, the research partnership Moors for the Future is attempting to restore substantial areas of degraded blanket bog by covering areas of bare peat with vegetation such as Sphagnum mosses and blocking streams to reduce drainage.

Wind farms are a great way to generate clean energy, but where they are built needs careful consideration. It is perhaps ironic that one of our best man-made tools for fighting climate change can become one of our most unhelpful if it interferes with another natural solution to the problem.

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  1. Plague Species

    Wind farms provide sustainable energy but must be properly sited, so not to destroy the carbon sink characteristsics of peat bogs.

    I beg to differ. Wind turbines require resources and power to build and those inputs are not sustainable and they are not finite. Any so-called “green” alternative promoted by this wasteful economic system is not, and cannot be, sustainable. Growth is not sustainable. An entirely new way of coexisting is. Until then, this is all whistling past the graveyard.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      This is a fine opportunity for people to learn how to ” live better manually” and “live better less electrically”.

  2. Swamp Yankee

    I’m a big fan of peat, as I live next to a coastal saltmarsh here in Massachusetts that is itself a type of peat wetland. Peat accumulates at about 1 cm a year here; you can thus see the remnants of 17th century boatyards still inscribed in the land, depressions where vessels used to be launched.

    You also have what must total hundreds of thousands if not millions (region-wide) of ditches dug by the WPA and other New Deal-era agencies for mosquito control, both to drain stagnant water, and to provide breeding grounds for the mummichog, our northeastern North America minnow that is both the basis of much of the western Atlantic food chain and a voracious consumer of mosquito larvae (good baitfish, too, and also extremely tough — can live in anything from freshwater to salinity 3x that of seawater).

    I even occasionally use pieces of the marsh that are sheared off by sea-ice or Nor’easters for fuel* in my campfires after I dry it out. (Excellent for cooking, too, gives a great flavor to meats and vegetables). Saltmarsh grasses and other peat vegetation typically fix 10x the amount of carbon as other vascular plants, like a maple tree. That’s why peat is so energy-rich — I mean, give it a couple hundred million years and lots of pressure and you’ve got coal.

    As my pseudonym indicates, I love swamps, marshes, bogs, and other places where land and water intermingle.

    *Peat is carbon-rich, to be sure, but I live a very low carbon-lifestyle and maintain carbon sinks as part of my living situation, so I do think it’s within my carbon budget to have a little peat in the maplewood fire every so often. Also, I’m doing everything by hand and expending no carbon in bringing the peat in, which must be factored in as well.

  3. Swamp Yankee

    I thought I’d also add this as a separate comment — the same phenomenon the researchers observed in Spain I have observed here in southeastern Massachusetts.

    Under the guise of green energy, precious carbon sinks are utterly obliterated. It’s not peat here so much as our globally-rare Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens, historically “The Plymouth Woods.” There are really only three extensive stretches of this ecoregion left, the Jersey Pine Barrens, eastern Long Island Pine Barrens, and the Plymouth Pinelands, which extend to Cape Cod and the Islands. This is a unique landscape made up of sandy soils that support little besides pitch pine, dwarf oak, and an understory of blueberries and huckleberries. It’s a glacial landscape here (not in NJ, e.g.), so the forest is dotted with literally thousands of kettle ponds (glacial lakes), which are lovely for swimming and fishing and support endemic species like the Plymouth gentian and the red-bellied cooter. There are few places like it in the world. You do also have peat bogs full of cranberries wild and domestic (it was here that cranberries were domesticated, starting in Dennis, MA, in 1816).

    This region is seriously threatened by greedhead developers of every ilk, from cul-de-sacs to luxury vacation homes to yes, “green energy”. Taking advantage of MA subsides for solar power, developers are clear-cutting forest and installing solar “farms”, thus undoing any carbon savings that might have accrued. These power-plants ought to be built in already disturbed areas. Parking lots would be ideal!

    One final thing — as I show in my doctoral dissertation, this vast region of the Plymouth Woods was historically a giant commons, in which livestock were left to graze (e.g., Drowned Calf Bog), bog iron collected, firewood brought in and charcoal made and berries picked. So this is a form of enclosure as well.

    As Amfortas says, that’s my reporting from the field.

    1. Felix_47

      The pine barrens in New Jersey are but an echo of what they were when I was a child 65 years ago. It is shocking to go back. Real estate has been a tax favored industry for a long time so basically our tax laws and fed policies accelerate the destruction. But if we need space for solar why is it that no one builds solar over highways and roads? I suppose some one does it and I know the Walmart in Victorville Ca. has solar panels over some of the parking lot but overall it seems there is plenty of space over roads throughout the world to put solar panels.

      1. Swamp Yankee

        Alas, Felix_47, a similar story is told here (and I’m sure on Long Island). I’m in my late 30s, and even in my lifetime the amount of development has been horrific, ghastly. As you say, not only the state and local laws and lawmakers, but also the federal powers-that-be, are fully captured by the vicious Realtor-Developer Industrial Complex. They are one of the main drivers of our endless “growth” (read: despoliation), planet-destroying economic system.

        Forutnately, I see lots of people here, even right-libertarians, who are attached to the ponds and woods of their youth, and you can appeal to the better angels of their nature; and awareness is growing, across various demographic cohorts, of the treasures that lie at our doorsteps.

        It’s like Tennyson says in “Ulysses” —

        Though much is taken, much abides; and though
        We are not now that strength which in old days
        Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
        One equal temper of heroic hearts,
        Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
        To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

  4. JWP

    Jerri-Lynn, have you come across criteria for the best places to place renewable farms so their physical impact is mitigated?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Alas, I have not. I know less than I should about this topic, and have learned much from both the post and the excellent comments. The NC commentariat is the best!

  5. drumlin woodchuckles

    This seems like one of the simplest problems-to-solve there could be. Simply map all the carbon-holding wetlands and moistlands and stop building any more “alternative energy” facilities anywhere on those lands.
    This is a problem which can be “solved” by simply stopping from causing it.

    As a side benefit, thinking about this might get people to think about wetlands and moistlands more broadly and creatively in general. How much of our farmland is drained former wetlands? If it were restored to wetland status , how much carbon would it re-sequester into re-establishing much layers and peat beds? How much would “society” be willing to pay to the farmers who currently own that land for renewable easements to turn it back into wetland for as long as society wished to keep paying the owners for the easement-permission to re-wet the land?

    And how about restoring beavers all over everywhere? How much carbon gets sucked down by each beaver pond?

    1. Prairie Bear

      A large area of north-central Iowa, particularly that part known as The Des Moines Lobe, was once a patchwork of prairie grasslands and wetlands. It was an extension of the last glaciation. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of square miles were drained and turned into mono crop farmland.

      The midwestern and Great Plains prairies were in general a superb carbon sink. Converting most of this back to prairie and/or pasture would not only store more carbon, it would stop much of the nitrate pollution of the waterways that ends up creating the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or at the very least turning the former wetlands back to wetlands.

        And the former multi-species prairie could become at least become multi-species semi-prairie pasturanch for strictly grass-fed cattle who could do what the buffalo did in terms of stimulating carbon-capture growth of the periodically cycle-eaten plant life.

  6. rtah100

    My northern irish inlaws are botanists and can confirm this problem, on both sides of the border. We’re here for the summer and we’ve driven around Fermanagh and out to Sligo (Mullagmore, where Mountbatten was assassinated) and Donegal (Slieve League, highest sea cliffs in Europe) and up to Foyle to the Giants Causeway and every journey has seen a procession of wind farms on the slopes of the Sperrins and the Blye Stacks and on the blanket bog of the Pettigo highlands. It is an ecological disaster but a green eneregy PR success. The concreting of bog for footings and access roads kills it….

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t agree that those wind farms are an ecological disaster – I’ve walked up among many of them. Certainly, the first generation of wind farms there were very poorly constructed and caused unnecessary damage, especially due to crude access road development. But you have to look at the alternatives (assuming there was neither the money or will to actively preserve those lands). Conifer plantations in those areas have done vastly more damage to the upland soils and hydrogeological systems, as has poorly controlled turbury and agricultural ‘improvements’. Historically, overgrazing by sheep has been massively damaging (although ironically, this has also stopped natural woodlands developing which would have fundamentally changed the upland ecology).

      You also have to balance the reality that Ireland now generates far less carbon emissions now that the main coal plants are coming off line. The reason is that they are too expensive…. because wind energy is far cheaper. The island of Ireland is now powered mostly via wind balanced with gas, in contrast to coal and peat a couple of decades ago, and is now a net exporter.

  7. drumlin woodchuckles

    If there isn’t the money or people to map all the wetlands and boglands and peatlands all at once so that we can know where they all are, there may be a simpler say to protect them against any renewable energy development.

    That would be to legally require a study of any and every proposed renewable energy site at the time it is proposed, and if any moistland-type soil carbon activity is detected, forbid the proposed development.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Great link! I learned something. As I said above, the NC commentariat is the best!

      1. Eric Y

        Great link from r.clayton there.

        Probably should edit the article to reflect that new information?
        Something like:
        “Wind turbines, for example, are often accused of killing birds. The reality is more complicated.” with link to Clayton’s article.

  8. The Rev Kev

    Found something interesting about these wind farms in their manufacture today which I would never have expected. It was mentioned by Mark Blyth so it is probably accurate-

    ‘The spines of windmills, the particular steel that you need for that can only be made with coking coal. So, ironically, one of the worst forms of coal is exactly what you need to make the steel to make windmills. And so far, nobody’s found a substitution for that.’

    According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind turbines are predominantly made of steel (71-79% of total turbine mass), fiberglass, resin, or plastic (11-16%), iron or cast iron (5- 17%), copper (1%), and aluminum (0-2%). But of course it deos not say what type of steel.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I find that quote odd, as virtually all raw steel is made with coking coal. The alternative is electric arc forging, which is massively polluting and is only used for recycled metal. There are some modern methods that eliminate coke use, but they aren’t widely available yet. Raw steel is actually generally of low climate impact compared to most alternatives, including concrete, aluminium or composites. The only lower impact material for structural supports would, ironically enough, be concrete made from fuel ash from coal plants, but its generally not used because of its weight.

      It should be said that it is technically possible to make much lighter structural spines for turbines (i.e. steel lattice structures), but they aren’t used for aesthetic and noise reduction reasons.

      1. vlade

        Isn’t the problem with coal ash that it’s mildly radioactive? I remember it being used in some building material here, but eventually discontinued as between natural radon background and this you could have quite problematic houses..

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Nearly all ash is slightly radioactive, as the burning process concentrates everything non-combustable within the ash (including of course things like lead or mercury). But using it in concrete is generally considered safe as the concrete provides a stable medium – the alkalinity of the lime helps. Ash is very commonly used in some countries in concrete manufacture, although its generally the difficulty in getting a stable mix that encourages the industry to prefer virgin materials.

          There was a problem in London in the 1990’s when they found that fly ash (the very toxic stuff that is retrieved from filters) was mixed in with bottom ash (supposedly the useable stuff) from an incinerator and used to build houses around the south-east. They never tracked where it all went, primarily I suspect because nobody wanted to find out. Bottom ash from municipal incinerators is very marginal in terms of whether it can be characterised as a useable construction material after treatment, or whether it legally must be considered hazardous – it depends really on what stuff was thrown into the burner on any given day.

          There was also an issue in the 1990’s when crude concrete and coal ash mixes were used to grout underground minewovrkings all over the UK – it was questioned whether this was appropriate, although to my knowledge its not known to cause any problems.

          It should be pointed out that very many historic structures, such as most canal embankments in the UK are made almost entirely from ash and slag waste. I was involved in testing one in the West Midlands – a 220 year old structure that we found had off the scale levels of cadmium and radioactive materials. The archaeologist who looked at the results thought it likely that it was made from ash from an 18th Century glassworks – they used lots of exotic materials to get the colour right in glass.

          But ash is obviously a very common waste product, so most assessments I’ve seen indicate that its far better to use it in concrete than tip it (its very difficult stuff to store as it needs ‘curing’ before it can be safely disposed of). I’m not an expert in concrete manufacture, but I believe that very fine ash makes a far better concrete than virgin sand for some uses, and this is quite common in many countries. The main issue is in ensuring here is no contamination so the material can be properly certified. This is the most common reason why it can be very difficult to persuade the industry to use more recycled materials, not just ash. Its simply easier to specify virgin products, despite the environmental cost.

          1. vlade


            Just a note on mercury – that actually evaporates (it has evaporation temperature just slightly lower than ignition temperature of ethanol, 350-somethignC IIRC) no, which is a problem with crematoria.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Yup sorry, you are right about mercury – but from memory it does I think end up in fly ash (i.e. the stuff from scrubbers). Fly ash should not end up in ash for re-use, but it often ‘accidentally’ gets added in, as happened in the case I mentioned above.

    2. Zamfir

      This kind of accounting can be misleading – it easily becomes left-pocket-right-pocket shifting.

      ROughly put, there are 2 kinds of steelmaking (at scale), EAF and BOF. EAF runs mostly or entirely on scrap, BOF uses something like 20% scrap but mostly fresh iron from a blast furnace. Somewhat simplified: EAF is cheaper, BOF makes better quality. And EAF creates much less CO2, since the scrap metal is already reduced. Blast furnaces need coal to reduce the iron ore.

      It could well be that wind mills mostly use BOF steel (though I am skeptical – most steel in there is regular construction grade stuff) . On paper, they would look better if they used more EAF steel. But there’a snag: most of the usable scrap in the world already gets recycled. So if wind turbines would switch to a more scrap-heavy steel balance, someone else would have to switch to less scrap, for no net gain to the world. It would just be a paper gain, because people look closer to the carbon inputs of wind turbines than of other steel uses.

      To put in numbers: A 5MW wind turbine uses a few hundred tons of steel (or cast iron) for the turbine head, a few hundred tons for the steel tower and rebar in the foundation. If it’s in the sea, it might require 1000 or 2000 tons more for the foundation. BOF steel generates around 2 tons of CO2 for each ton steel. Call it a 1000 tonCO2/turbine on the onshore low end, 5000 tonCO2/turbine on the offshore high end.

      Electricity production for that turbine would be (on average) 9000 MWh/year onshore, 15000 MWh/year offshore. If the wind turbine replaces gas-powered electricity, that’s 4500 to 7500 tonne of CO2/year saved. This means that the steel input is not negligible, but it’s still a minor factor – as long as the turbine is replacing fossil fuels

      1. The Rev Kev

        Man, you and PK have really gone into it. I have a question for you guys. So the turbine is to replace fossil fuels. Is there any sort of calculation made of how much in the way of fossil fuels was expended in building each wind turbine so that it is know at what point that wind turbine has created enough energy to “break even?”

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There are quite a lot of those life cycle assessments out there. The results can be highly variable, especially as many are done on the older, less efficient turbines, but almost all agree that wind energy is far less CO2 intensive than almost any form of electricity production, apart from nuclear. The issue of upland peat loss is quite significant and is not generally calculated in those studies I’ve seen, but from memory one study indicated that at worse it off-set about 2 years worth of wind production, about 10% of the overall gains.

          A lot also depends on what is being off-set. In Ireland, in the last 12 months, the main coal powered plant, Moneypoint, has been taken off-line specifically because of wind energy (albeit balanced with natural gas, which is pretty problematic by any standard).

          It should be emphasised though that the latest generation of super large turbines are vastly more efficient than those built in the last 20 years so are likely to be far and away the most carbon efficient form of energy generation, in addition to being more ‘land’ efficient as you need fewer of them and they can be located pretty much anywhere (i.e. closer to demand or existing power infrastructure).

          1. Eric Young

            It should also be noted that building any equivalent conventional power station would also require large amounts of structural steel. I don’t have any ideas of the actual amounts to compare though.

            1. Zamfir

              I found an LCA for a combined cycle gas plant of 500 MW

              They put the construction at 97 ton of concrete per MW, and 30 ton of steel per MW. 1 MW of gas power is equivalent to 3 or 4 MW of installed wind power (because a wind turbine usually runs at less than rated power).

              So the steel and concrete usage of the gas plant is an order of magnitude less than for wind power.

              Interesting factoid from that study: over its lifetime, the gas plant will burn 50 times its own weight in natural gas…

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      How much coal was burned to make all the steel in a wind turbine?

      How much electricity will that wind turbine make over its lifetime before any of its steel parts needs to be replaced?

      If that amount of electricity were to have been made by burning thermal coal, how much thermal coal would have had to have been burned to make that amount of electricity?

      If the amount of coal which would have had to have been burned in order to make that amount of electricity is more than the amount of coal needed to make the wind turbine, then burning the coking coal to make the wind turbine is net-net carbon beneficial.

      So that is what I would really like to know. Does it burn more coal to make a wind turbine? Or does it burn more coal to make the electricity which the missing never-made wind turbine will not make?

      1. Zamfir

        The exact numbers depend on the details, but I can give you rough numbers.

        It takes on the order of 1000 ton of steel to build a large wind turbine including tower and foundation.

        A steel plant needs 700 ton of coal to make that steel, and will release 2000 ton of CO2 while doing so

        If burned in an efficient plant, those 700 ton of coal would generate 2500 MWh of electricity

        The wind turbine has to run for several months to generate that same amount of electricity. If you compare the turbine to a gas power plant instead of coal, it takes twice as long to break even in terms of CO2

        Of course, there is other stuff in a turbine (especially concrete in the foundation). People make more detailed version of this calculation, and they usually conclude that it takes between 6 months to 1 year to “pay back” the turbine in energy or in CO2 terms

        The original article points to a complicating factor: effect on land use is usually not taken into account in such calculation. Apparently, the worst case in land usage can have a much larger CO2 effect than the construction materials themselves.

        That does not apply to every wind mill, only to specific locations and specific methods of construction. And of course, other construction in that same location can have similar effects, it’s not restricted to wind mills.

  9. Eric Young

    Can I suggest a slight change to your title for this entry?

    The original title, while catchy, also is a turn-off for new readers like myself. It can be read like “Wind Power just stops working if built on peat bogs” which makes no sense, and is a disincentive to read further.

    Suggest something like:
    “Wind Farms Built on Carbon-Sinking Peat Bogs Damage BOTH their Climate Change Fighting Abilities”

    Best regards

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      As a new reader, you may not have noticed but this is crosspost – meaning it originated at another site. In that case, I usually (although not always) try to stick with the original headline, and this is the one The Conversation, the original publisher, came up with.came with. Also, we usually don’t change headlines post-publication, unless there’s a glaring error in the original – think typo. (It does happen, albeit rarely.)

      But thanks for your feedback and welcome. I hope you find plenty to enjoy here, even if our headlines occasionally fall short!

  10. PlutoniumKun

    I posted a response to this yesterday, but it seems to have gotten lost somewhere. Just a few points:

    1. Windfarms do damage to upland blanket bogs, but the amount of damage is dwarfed (certainly on the Atlantic coasts), by overgrazing and conifer plantations. The latter are particularly damaging, but ironically wind farms are the best counter to this as they are generally more profitable to landowners – you can’t have conifer plantation and wind farms on the same land (at least not without significantly reducing power capacity). Far more damage to upland blanket bogs was historically caused by overstocking of sheep – ironically, the foot and mouth outbreak in the early 00’s did a lot of good by highlighting this – many upland bogs I’m aware of have recovered significantly. I’ve seen massive destruction of upland peat habitat in my lifetime – but its almost all been due to forestry and agriculture, turbury and inappropriate management. Windfarm development is really a minor part of this, and increasingly minor.

    2. The carbon emissions from wind farm construction have been quantified for many years – Scottish estimates I’ve seen have calculated them on average as being equivalent to around 2 years of the wind farm output. As wind farms generally have a lifetime of 20-25 years, this is still relatively minor.

    3. Most damage was caused by the first generation of wind farms. Partly this was due to a poor appreciation by engineers of the structure of upland soils – the Derrybrien disaster in Ireland proved very instructive (quite literally, it encouraged a lot of new research). Far more is known now about how to build access tracks without causing excessive peat damage. Also, modern turbines are much larger, which means you need far less land take per MW of installed capacity.

    4. The latest large turbines are almost as efficient in lowlands as on high ground, so there is less commercial pressure towards siting wind farms in traditional high wind areas. Although this ironically can push them towards more populated areas, and lowland peat, which has its own issues. Larger turbines also have less impact on upland birds.

    1. rtah100

      I am not so sanguine:
      – wind turbines cannot be sited anywhere. That’s why we have planning laws. They have ruined peoples leaves with their high frequency and low frequency noise and their visual flicker. Most acoustic studies do not follow the rules corectly but are nodded through by non-scientist planners who do not understand acoustics
      – the wind farms in Ulster (EIRE and NI-) appear to be a different species to PK’s. There’s nothing but upland here unless it is lake! Yet the farms have access roads cut 7ft deep into the peat (Sean Quinn built one before he went pop). You can’t see out of the road. And beneath the road, to stop it floating away, is a massive drain. No access road can be built without one. It would be interesting to see the energy budget if they had to pump the water back into the bog – I suspect a farm’s ecological net output is nil!
      – lowland turbines make mincemeat out of birds, especially bats and owls that patrol corridors and rely on sound to hunt.

      Turbines are better off at sea, where they can be as big as they like and optimise scaling factors for efficiency, but the civils are viciously expensive and the environment harsh. I suspect the lifetime calculation is as bad at sea as on land, given that most turbines fail well before the mnfr life rating. It’s just nobody lives there who can object.

      More fundamentally, turbines do not generate when the wind does not blow, which is quite ofte. Every turbine watt needs a dispatchable gas watt as backup. The whole thing is a green version of papal indulgences too subsidise landowners and turbine makers.

      A better solution is lowland solar, with sheep grazing beneath, and battery farms.

      1. vlade

        There’s more birds killed in Ireland by flying into powerlines than windfarms. Don’t know about Ireland, but in other countries you have some siting requirements on windfarms that take birds into account, but building a house in a middle of nowhwere and having a powerline brought to it has no such limitations that I’m aware of.

        Whooper swans are particularly vulnerable to it in Ireland, I believe a few years back a whole flock (15) was killed.

        Could see how bat population would have a large problem by problematically sited windfarm.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The issue of acoustics is complicated – but from my knowledge there is very little evidence of harm from any objective studies (most of the studies, admittedly, aren’t objective). There was a specific problem in Donegal that very high winds meant sand blasting damage to the early generation of upland turbines, this may have caused some problems. However, its important to emphasise that these were first generation turbines, modern ones are very different.

        The main limitations on upland developments now are SPA and SAC designations, which cover much of the Irish uplands, although of course don’t apply any more in NI. These are the major restrictions. The number of birds killed in strikes are very low (again, modern turbines, which are higher off the ground, cause less problems. However, there is an issue with the protected hen harrier and blade strikes, and also worries about the very rare golden eagle.

        But again I’d emphasises that while upland turbines are not environmentally benign, they are much better than conifer plantations, intensive sheep grazing, or deep plough land restoration, which are the main alternatives. I’d love it if the Irish and NI governments bought up all uplands for wildlife restoration and recreation, but there seems little possibility of that happening.

        I do agree that off-shore turbines are a better option, and they are definitely the future. But onshore turbines are significantly cheaper and will be so for the foreseeable future. They also use existing power networks which is a very significant advantage over off-shore, which will require a whole new undersea network for security.

        Solar is very promising, even for rainy Ireland, and there is about 2GW of installed capacity with full permission awaiting the go-ahead for grid connections. But it is not an alternative to wind, in Ireland it is an essential balance. Put simply, Ireland needs wind turbines for winter evenings, and solar for the long summer days. In the Irish climate, they balance each other out extremely well. Its also significantly more expensive than wind, which in winter is by far the cheapest source of electricity in Ireland, even with low gas prices.

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