by David Gutierrez
March 14, 2013
Large British wind farms will actually release as much carbon
dioxide as fossil-fuel power plants, according to a study conducted
by researchers from Aberdeen University and published in the journal
energy - Avoid constructing wind farms on peat).
The source of the emissions is not the windmills themselves, but the
land on which they are being constructed.
"Much of the cheap land being targeted by developers desperate to
cash in on wind farm subsidies is peat land in remote wild land
areas of the UK," said Helen McDade of the John Muir Trust.
"This [study] is a timely reminder that we must have independent and
scientific assessment of the effects of policy and subsidies."
The uplands of Great Britain, where conditions are generally thought
to be ideal for wind farms, consist largely of
peat soil; indeed,
two-thirds of Scottish onshore wind farms (and half of those in
Great Britain) are slated for bogs and other peat land.
The peat contained in these areas hold at least 3.2 billion tons of
carbon, making it one of the most important carbon sinks on the
"The world's peat lands have four times the amount of carbon than
all the world's rainforests," said peat scientist Richard Lindsay of
the University of East London, who was not involved in the study.
"But they are a Cinderella habitat, completely invisible to
Peat retains its carbon only when kept in its natural damp, boggy
But the development that goes along with big energy
projects, from roads and rails to the windmills themselves, damages
the peat and disrupts the flow of water, causing massive carbon
And while the wind industry claims that it constructs "floating
roads" (made of rocks piled atop fabric) to prevent just such
degradation, scientists dismiss such measures as symbolic.
"Peat has less solids in it than milk," Lindsay said. "The roads
inevitably sink, that then causes huge areas of peat land to dry out
and the carbon is released."
"Devastating blow" to wind boom
The study is considered a major setback to the British wind
industry, as it was conducted by the very same researchers who
developed the method - now the industry standard - for calculating
how long it will take a wind farm to produce carbon savings if
constructed on peat soils.
When the researchers designed the "carbon payback time" equation in
2008, they estimated that a wind farm on peat soil would take 23
years to produce carbon savings, even though the average life of a
wind farm is only 25 years.
But the new report is even more severe, concluding that such wind
farms will never produce carbon savings at all.
"This is a devastating blow for the wind factory industry from which
I hope it will not recover," said Struan Stevenson, a Scottish
Member of the European Parliament.
"The Scottish government cannot realize their plans for wind farms
without allowing the ruination of peat bogs, so they are trying to
brush this problem under the carpet. This is just another way in
which wind power is a scam."
Wind Farms Will Create More Carbon Dioxide
by Andrew Gilligan
23 February 2013
Thousands of Britain’s wind turbines
will create more greenhouse
gases than they save,
according to potentially devastating
to be published later this year.
The significance of the research is increased by the fact
that it is
funded by the broadly pro-wind Scottish government
The finding, which threatens the entire rationale of the onshore
wind farm industry, will be made by Scottish government-funded
researchers who devised the standard method used by developers to
calculate “carbon payback time” for wind farms on peat soils.
Wind farms are typically built on upland sites, where peat soil is
common. In Scotland alone, two thirds of all planned onshore wind
development is on
peatland. England and Wales also have large
numbers of current or proposed peatland wind farms.
But peat is also a massive store of carbon, described as Europe’s
equivalent of the tropical rainforest. Peat bogs contain and absorb
carbon in the same way as trees and plants - but in much higher
British peatland stores at least 3.2 billion tons of carbon, making
it by far the country’s most important carbon sink and among the
most important in the world.
Wind farms, and the miles of new roads and tracks needed to service
them, damage or destroy the peat and cause significant loss of
carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.
Writing in the scientific journal Nature (Renewable
energy - Avoid constructing wind farms on peat), the scientists, Dr
Smith, Dr Dali Nayak and Prof Pete Smith, of Aberdeen University,
“We contend that wind farms on peatlands will probably not
reduce emissions… we suggest that the construction of wind farms on
non-degraded peats should always be avoided.”
Dr Nayak told The Telegraph:
“Our full paper is not yet published,
but we should definitely be worried about this. If the peatland is
already degraded, there is no problem. But if it is in good
condition, we should avoid it.”
Another peat scientist, Richard Lindsay of the University of East
“If we are concerned about CO2, we shouldn’t be
worrying first about the rainforests, we should be worrying about
“The world’s peatlands have four times the amount of carbon than all
the world’s rainforests. But they are a Cinderella habitat,
completely invisible to decision- makers.”
One typical large peat site just approved in southern Scotland, the
Kilgallioch wind farm, includes 43 miles of roads and tracks. Peat
only retains its carbon if it is moist, but the roads and tracks
block the passage of the water.
The wind industry insists that it increasingly builds “floating
roads,” where rock is piled on a textile surface without disturbing
the peat underneath.
But Mr Lindsay said:
“Peat has less solids in it than milk. The
roads inevitably sink, that then causes huge areas of peatland to
dry out and the carbon is released.”
Mr Lindsay said that more than half of all British onshore wind
development, current and planned, is on peat soils.
In 2011 the Scottish government’s nature protection body, Scottish
Natural Heritage, said 67 per cent of planned onshore wind
development in Scotland would be on peatland.
Struan Stevenson, the Tory MEP for Scotland who has campaigned on
the issue, said:
“This is a devastating blow for the wind factory
industry from which I hope it will not recover."
"The Scottish government cannot
realize their plans for wind farms
without allowing the ruination of peat bogs, so they are trying to
brush this problem under the carpet.
"This is just another way in which wind power is a scam. It couldn’t
exist without subsidy. It is driving industry out of Britain and
driving people into fuel poverty.”
Scotland’s SNP government has led a strong charge for wind power,
promising that 100 per cent of the country’s electricity will be
generated from renewable sources.
But even its environment minister, Stewart Stevenson, admits:
“Scotland has 15 per cent of the world’s blanket bog.
"Even a small proportion of the
carbon stored in peatlands, if lost by erosion and drainage,
could add significantly to our greenhouse gas emissions.”
In 2008 Dr Smith, Dr Nayak and Prof
Smith devised the standard “carbon payback time” calculator used by
the wind farm industry to assess the CO2 impact of developments on
“Large peatland wind farms introduce
high potential for their expected CO2 savings to be cancelled
out by release of greenhouse gases stored in the peat,” they
“Emission savings are achieved by wind power only after the
carbon payback time has elapsed, and if this exceeds the
lifetime of the wind farm, no carbon benefits will be realized.”
Even the initial version of the
calculator found that the carbon cost of a badly sited peat wind
farm - on a sloping site, resulting in more drainage of the peat,
and without restoration afterwards - was so high that it would take
23 years before it provided any CO2 benefit.
The typical life of a wind farm is only
The researchers initially believed that well-managed and well-sited
peatland wind farms could still cut greenhouse gas emissions, over
time, compared to electricity generation overall.
But now they say that the shrinking use of fossil fuels in overall
electricity generation has changed the equation, making the
comparison less favorable to all peatland wind farms.
“Our previous work argued that most
peatland sites could save on net [CO2] emissions,”
they said. “But emissions factors [in UK electricity generation
as a whole] are likely to drop significantly in the future.
"As a result, peatland sites would be less likely to generate a
reduction in carbon emissions, even with careful management.”
The significance of the Aberdeen
researchers’ work is increased by the fact that they are funded by
the Scottish government and are broadly pro-wind.
They wrote in a previous paper that,
“it is important that wind farm
developments should not be discouraged unnecessarily because
they are a key requirement for delivery of the Scottish
government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
Helen McDade, from the John Muir
Trust, which campaigns to protect wild land, said:
“Much of the cheap land being
targeted by developers desperate to cash in on wind farm
subsidies is peatland in remote wild land areas of the UK."
"This statement, from the academic team who developed the carbon
calculator for the Scottish government, is a timely reminder
that we must have independent and scientific assessment of the
effects of policy and subsidies.”
The wind industry insisted that the
impact of properly managed wind farms on peat and carbon emissions
Niall Stuart, director of
Scottish Renewables, a trade association, said that damaged peatland
could be restored in as little as a year.
He said the association had signed a,
“statement of good practice
principles” with environmental groups promising that “every
reasonable effort” will be made to avoid “significant adverse
environmental effects” on peatland, including “properly planned
and managed habitat restoration”.
Jennifer Webber, a spokesman for
RenewableUK, the industry lobbying group, said:
“Wind farms continue to be an
important tool in decarbonization and energy independence, with
actual measurements showing wind displacing gas from the system.
This is why they retain support from environmental