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Wind farms gone in 25 years

This is the unmistakeable conclusion of remarks from Richard Dixon, the head of Friends of the Earth Scotland in an interview on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday. The debate concerned Loch Fitty, not far from where I live, which is to be drained, the coal bed beneath mined. Discussion turned to the ongoing effects on the landscape, with a view put forward that a temporary opencast mine replaced with a relandscaped loch was infinitely preferable to a landscape permanently scarred with wind turbines.

Of course wind turbines do not have to be there permanently. Most of them will be there for 25 years. But if we decide to remove them then they are removed.

This strikes me as rather misleading.

The whole discussion is quite fun. Link below.

GMS 2 Feb 2013

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Reader Comments (43)

When wind turbines are given planning permission with conditions. It is standard for the permission to be for 25 years, after which the turbines have to be removed within a given period and the land returned to its former state. So it is wrong to claim "if we decide to remove them". On the other hand, the developer is likley to go bust to avoid having to pay for their removal and renovating the land. The land owner will then be left with the task, if he can afford it. As Prof Gordon Hughes has told us, the turbines are unlikely to last beyond 15 years anyway.

A new planning permission has to be applied if new turbines are wanted to replace the old ones. But if climate change (ho ho) is still a problem in 25 years time, then we will need to keep replacing these turbines to save the planet (unless some better technology comes along - such as nuclear fusion or fission).

Feb 3, 2013 at 10:27 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Perhaps after 25 years civilisation will have evolved to one which does not use electricity.

Feb 3, 2013 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

DECC energy policy explained here.......(With diagrams)

Feb 3, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterfenbeagle

Perhaps after 25 years civilisation will have evolved de-evolved to one which does not use electricity.

Feb 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

While the turbines appear to be built and operated by large blue chip companies and utilities, close examination will show that in many cases the actual organisations involved are joint ventures and special purpose companies created specifically to build and operate the turbines without exposing the parent companies to unlimited liabilities. So the possibility of them being removed after 25 years is remote unless more public money is spent.

What will happen is that the large swathes of countryside they occupy will be placed off limits to the public for safety reasons as the turbines randomly disintegrate. This will start to happen much sooner than 25 years as it is already becoming evident that they tend to shed large bits at random.

Feb 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Electricity won't really be needed in the UK in another 25 years since "... before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable." - James 'Gaia' Lovelock.

Feb 3, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Rob Schneider
'Perhaps after 25 years civilisation will have evolved to one which does not use electricity.'

No doubt a consummation devoutly to be wished by the eco-fanatics. Back to the 14th century version of 'civilisation'.

Feb 3, 2013 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichieP

Has anybody noticed the BM Reports site showing 7.2 GW Total Metered Capacity.
I bet there are a lot of happy people out there!

Feb 3, 2013 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeithS

Perhaps a condition of granting planning permission for any wind turbine ought to be:-

"If less than 5% of its initially-proposed annual output is generated in any 12 month period, then that turbine must be dismantled and removed within the following 12 months."

It takes no extra effort to monitor this condition - the data will already exist in the form of FIT payments made.

Feb 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

The future seems clear. The USA and other countries will enjoy great benefits from the likes of shale gas. Over here, meanwhile, there will be more windfarms - especially in and around Scotland.

That means there will be more opportunities every year for the media, as and when it wishes, to pillory windfarms: each time we pay for them for not injecting juice into the grid, each time cold weather coincides with low winds or calm, each time they burst into flames, fall over, or fling fragments long distances, each time they are found killing the birds and the bats, each time their diseconomies are computed, each time the damage they cause with deforestation, road building, and vista-contamination is noted, each time their mean time to failure is shifted downwards, each time a prominent visitor groans 'good grief!' at the sight of them, each time diminished wellbeing for those living nearby is studied, and each time someone spots just how cheap electricity could be if only....while heart-wrenching tales of 'fuel-poverty' catch an editor's eye.

In these circumstances, eco-enabled schemers and their victim organisations and individuals will start distancing themselves from windfarms just as some have for bio-fuels. That's not what we meant. That's not what we intended. Wicked capitalists, rentiers and the like, have taken it over. Discussing this is a distraction from issues X and Y that we now wish to push. Time to move on. If felt really necessary, the 'lessons have been learned' wheeze will be deployed. And of course, the blockbuster that presumably allows some of them to sleep at night: look, we're saving the planet don't you know, and there is not much time left to deal with X and Y.

The operating companies for these absurd windfarms will of course go bankrupt in due course, whether that be near the end of their dreamt-of 25 years, or a lot earlier as failing turbines or public anger leading to legislative devices to reduce net payments to them one way or another make it attractive to 'concentrate on business elsewhere'.

Bringing nearer that day when Dreadnought's great poem will then be on the walls of schoolrooms throughout the land:

I met a traveller from a distant shire

Who said: A vast and pointless shaft of steel

Stands on a hill top… Near it, in the mire,

Half sunk, a shattered turbine lies, whose wheels

And riven blades and snarls of coloured wire

Tell that its owners well their mission read

Which did not last nor, nowhere to be seen,

The hand that paid them and the empty head.

And scrawled around the base these lines are clear:

‘My name is Milibandias, greenest Green.

Look on my works, ye doubters, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round this display

Of reckless cost and loss, blotless and fair,

The green and pleasant landscape rolls away.


Feb 3, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

The Guardian Teacher Network Green Schools Hub is promoting teaching resources which claim that turbines don’t kill birds and bats, don’t increase emissions, and don’t damage your health (unless they fall on you of course). The authority they quote is none other than Leo Hickman, author the “Wind Myths” series of articles in the Guardian.

Feb 3, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

How refreshing to hear somebody tell a FOE walla that he was talking rubbish.

Feb 3, 2013 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

I thought operators are obliged to commit to decommissioning as a condition of the licence, and to set aside financial securities during the operational project life to underpin it.

Feb 3, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Doesn't work for me...[]

But I copied/pasted the complete poem into google and that worked.

Lots of very amusing poems/rhymes back to 2010.


Feb 3, 2013 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Walsh

Pharos: You thought wrong. It is the lack of a bond or money set aside to decommission turbines that is a big bone of contention at the planning stage.

Feb 3, 2013 at 1:14 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Pharos (as noted by Philip Bratby), I have just finished commenting on a wind turbine application, the main document of which was over 300 pages long. There were many references to how decommissioning would be controlled, but no absolute commitment to do it (note "if" in the inset paragraph).

If you need proof of what's likely to happen, drive up the A65, past Addingham, and look right across the reservoir at the top of the hill, and admire the redundant structures there. You can even see them on Google Maps/Street View. Not a pretty sight.

In my comments on the above-mentioned application, I asked the planners what they were going to do to ensure there would be an absolute commitment.legally backed, to remove the plant when no longer required.

Feb 3, 2013 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

Bishop, I think you got it wrong. Richard Dixon is head of WWF Scotland, not FOE. He's an obnoxious character anyway, systematically making wrong predictions (back in 2003 he was predicting summers would get drier and hotter in Scotland. Last year he was back in the press saying they would get wetter and colder. That's what he calls the scientific method. Not sure what his PhD is in...)

Feb 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

The decommissioning "requirement" is an interesting one. Is that applied to any other public (or other) works in the UK? To put it another way, are any other permits to construct issued for life limited projects?

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Andy, Dixon was WWF, he recently moved seamlessly across to FOE when WWF cut back their Scottish operation. Still spouting nonsense in the media, just the employer has changed.

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

But the 1,000 tons of concrete that form the base of these monstrosities will be there forever.

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

@neil craig

'But the 1,000 tons of concrete that form the base of these monstrosities will be there forever'


If the plans for defence cuts come to fruition, there may be some people around who can help with that little problem.......windmills are often on dark and lonely spots. serviced by roads ideal for Land Rovers driven by guys with camouflage overalls and general demolition experience.

Apropos of nothing at all, near the Bish's residence is this statue in a wild and lonely place.....

No idea why it sprang to my mind.......

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

@Andy Feb 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM

"Not sure what his PhD is in..."


Feb 3, 2013 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterSassenachJohn

"Electricity won't really be needed in the UK in another 25 years"

Really? - I thought we were all going to be driving electric cars by then...

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

The sooner the better.
Windmills are not serous forms of power generation.
Now will they ever be.
They offer unreliability at a very high cost to the rate payer.
They are only built to satisfy insider deals for land rents and power sales and tax schemes.

Feb 3, 2013 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Wow. Dixie Boy moved from WWF to FOE just like that, eh? Jobs for the boys, eh? Shows how much there's to choose between them. Good to know WWF cut down their Scottish operations. Must have felt they've done enough to screw up this country already...

Apologies for not doing me homework properly, thought he was still at WFF.

Feb 3, 2013 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Latimer, that statue to David Stirling: the interesting bit of that report is that the pictures of the memorial have been carefully taken to avoid showing the Braes of Doune wind plant which is just behind it! It used to be one of the grand sights of Scotland, the road towards Doune, and now it's marred by those awful turbines.
Incidentally, the point which of course has got to be made whenever anyone comes up with the 'it's only twenty five years' meme is that a) if it is really only for 25 years, then it's all a huge wast of money and landscape (the scars will never heal, the concrete will never be removed, the peatlands will never recover from the 7m wide tracks. The NTS have tried patching up old bulldozed tracks in the Cairngorms with very little success. It takes forever on a high hill for heather to build up on dirt. It is demonstrably false that unless we have 25 years of turbines humanity will be wiped out. So if this horn of the dilemma holds, then the FOE are criminal in their support of the destruction of our hills; b) if instead it's a ruse to get us to accept turbines pretty much forever, then it means the hills will be lost forever, the tracks will be used for 4x4 recreational use and so on. So, whichever alternative holds, it's the end of the hills. And that someone who works for an organisation called 'Friends of the Earth' should support this outrage tells a lot about the frame of mind of these folks. More like, 'Friends of Concrete' like.

Feb 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Re link problem, Peter Walsh (1:04PM). The link still worked for me when I tried it just now. But this one is more direct to a slightly later post: and it contains more poems too!

Feb 3, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

"Electricity won't really be needed in the UK in another 25 years"

We all would have l died from fuel poverty

Feb 3, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Our local authority (Anglesey) has just set conditions for windmill development amongst which are the requirement for a decommissing bond (along with conditions concerning distance from houses and a block on development within 2 km of the coastal AONB). They did this, surprisingly, in response to a wave of local protests against proposed windmill development, including many proposals within the AONB.

That should just about stop development in its tracks, at least until the higher authority loonies get their hands on this.

Feb 3, 2013 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

It always seemed a bit odd that WWF had an office in Dunkeld, it's not like these green outfits to venture out of Edinburgh where they are conveniently near the politicians who bankroll them and the trendy shops and pubs they frequent. I wonder if Dixon lived nearby or something.

Feb 3, 2013 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Look on the bright side: Broken off-shore windmills may be shipping hazards and expensive monuments to human folly, but they will also be a boon for the marine organisms that love sunken ships so much.

Maybe Greenpeace will embrace them because they are a different shape to the Brent Spar:

Feb 3, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@ SassenachJohn

"Not sure what his PhD is in..."


Would his forecasts be any more accurate if he had studied astrology instead of astronomy?

Feb 3, 2013 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

"Electricity won't really be needed in the UK in another 25 years"

It will be needed, it just won't be available.

Also, electricity is not a power source!

Someone has to put the energy into the National Grid, somewhere, even if it is water that has been pumped up hill using a different energy source, for it to be extracted elsewhere, and at the same time.

And the process is not 100% efficient either.

Feb 3, 2013 at 5:24 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

"Our local authority (Anglesey) has just set conditions for windmill development amongst which are the requirement for a de-commissioning bond"

A bond is usually provided by a bank to cover payment to a second body (the Local Authority) after a default by a third party (the wind farm project company), it being assumed that the third party will carry out its obligations and not require the 'insurance' of the bond. The third party pays for the bond on a regularly basis - e.g. monthly or yearly. A bond has terms and conditions. I should be most surprised if the bond provides complete cover for the local authority in the (likely) event of a contrived bankruptcy by the wind farm company close to the end of commercial viability in around 25 years. Would you have provided a perfect bond in such circumstances? Based on present estimated costs or allowing for realistic inflation? Alternatively, is cash held in an increasing escrow account by the Authority? - unlikely. I am not sure of the street cred of local authority officers in Anglesey but it may be that they think that they can assure a long term future payment from a clued up commercial single project company.

Most of us would have doubts. It is far more likely to be a convenient cover to allow development to proceed.

Feb 3, 2013 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterCPSJ

The windmill towers will always be valuable for the scrap metal, but the fiberglass blades and concrete foundations will have no value. the blades might make good reefs, if the greens would allow it, but I fear that the foundations are there forever.

Lysenko comes to mind...

Feb 3, 2013 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

I've seen a lot of wind turbines in Western Canada, in Hawaii. With the economics of windpower being so subsidy dependent, I've wondered about how much is being put aside for replacement and repair.

If your business is inherently profitable, you put aside funds to keep the business going. If your business is subsidy based, you plan for the subsidies to stop, at which point you cannot, even if you wished, go forward. So you dividend current profits, maintain as needed, but do not set aside replacement costs. If you did, when the subsidies end, you could be forced to put the "profits" into the field, which would be throwing away money as it is still inherently unprofitable: a refusal to do so could be politically unacceptable to those formerly giving you the public's money.

Your investors would be furious if you did. So would your spouse and kids.

So I look to these turbines and wonder about the life expectancies. Even in five years, I wonder how many will be permanently idle. In 20, probably all will need to be replaced, but won't be. So dude's comment that they will be gone in 25 years is probably right.

Oh, at public cost, because the business is bankrupt, though the previous owners are living large in Switzerland.

Feb 3, 2013 at 9:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

Feb 3, 2013 at 7:24 PM | CPSJ

I should be most surprised if the bond provides complete cover for the local authority in the (likely) event of a contrived bankruptcy by the wind farm company close to the end of commercial viability in around 25 years. Would you have provided a perfect bond in such circumstances? Based on present estimated costs or allowing for realistic inflation? Alternatively, is cash held in an increasing escrow account by the Authority?

It should not be difficult to require an unconditional undertaking by way of a bond or guarantee in these circumstances. A "make good" clause could conceivably be triggered in the instance of bankruptcy of the developer or its successors. Failure to maintain the bond or guarantee should be immediate grounds for removal and should come consequences for the board of directors of the developer or its successors.

Feb 4, 2013 at 1:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

There generally are no decommissioning requirements placed on wind farms. That’s the principal reason why Hawaii and California are littered with hundreds of abandoned turbines and their wreckage. Speaking from direct observation in Ontario, there are no decommissioning obligations placed on wind turbines that mean anything. In the event of end of life, the company will simply dissolve the corporation and its liabilities along with it.

And if any of you folks believe that any company is ever going to remove obsolete off shore wind turbines, well, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

And you folks don’t know what heavy-handed government really is. To prevent local authorities from introducing all kinds of inconvenient measures to protect the public interest, the provincial government, in its Green Energy Act, suspended all municipal zoning laws with respect to renewables. Quite simply they removed the entire renewable industry from having to answer in any way to local municipal government. They are already exempt from any kind of scrutiny under federal or provincial environmental assessment.

Someone asked earlier about decommissioning funds. The only energy source to my knowledge that does so is the nuclear industry. Generally on a global basis, nuclear operators must have fully funded decommissioning funds as a condition of operating. This includes uranium mines and fuel production facilities. Naturally some governments, notably the US and Britain, fail these requirements for their strategic nuclear facilities. Interesting isn’t it how governments always try to avoid the restrictions they impose on others?

Feb 4, 2013 at 5:39 AM | Unregistered Commentercgh


I didn't come down with the last shower. I would think that even mention of decommissioning-bond provision would sufficiently taint the golden egg that any concerns as to its insurance value will become secondary. Even if the local council is not finacially astute, there is a host of current and retired power engineers on the island to audit any provision.

Feb 4, 2013 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Your local council takes advice from members of the public?

Feb 4, 2013 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Considering many of the windmill proposals were being made by councillors, and previously they'd given consents within the AONB and 400 m from dwellings, how else would you explain the reversal of policy following public protest?

Feb 5, 2013 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Didn't I read somewhere that the 'real world' life of Denmark's offshore wind turbines is 7-12 years..?
25 years..? Not a cat in hell's.....

Feb 5, 2013 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Enough public protest can make them back down, I meant they are unlikely to take advice from members of the public trying to tell their finance department that they are being taken for a ride on the decommissioning guarentees.

Feb 5, 2013 at 5:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

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