Megalomaniac wig wearing Blowhard Donald Trump recently took a pop at Scotland’s renewable energy policy. Notably its plans for more off shore wind farms (one of them near his infamous golf course). He’s promising to put money into a vigour’s campaign to have them stopped. He claims that windfarms are “a disaster”, kill “thousands of birds”, aren’t reliable due to “salt spray” and thus will only last a few years before needing to be replaced. Also he claims that they will drive away tourists from Scotland to Ireland.
Megalomaniac v’s the wind farm [Credit: Treehugger]
Unfortunately, all Trump’s ravings prove is that he lives, like most pampered celebrities, in a “Yes man Bubble” where none of his minons nor hangers-on will dare criticise him or provide corrected facts that contradict their bosses pre-conceived prejudices. It is like I said a common enough trait among members of the rich man’s club and usually the reason why they manage to cling on to insane or otherwise bizarre beliefs.
However just to pick apart his ravings for a sec, as I’ve pointed out before, birds get killed, in large numbers, by many things – including Glass Fronted Tower Blocks like what Trump builds (a billion birds a year are killed in this way, according to MSNBC)…or by having their nesting site disturbed by people digging them up to build golf courses. So long as wind farms are properly sited they represent only a minor hazard to birds (in the grand scheme of things, article on that here). Indeed given the large threat to bird’s posed by climate change they are the lesser of two evils. And don’t take my word for it, the RSPB’s official policy towards windfarms is that they are broadly supportive of them, but reserve the right to object to individual projects that encroach on rare bird habitats. One advantage of putting wind turbines offshore is that it should lessen the extend of such encroachments.
Causes of Bird mortality [Credit: Engineering Innovation]
The reliability of wind farms, including those at sea has been studied in depth. There is no reason to doubt that they will not last out there rated 25 warranty, the odd bit of storm damage due to extreme weather events not withstanding. Ironically enough, its experience from the oil and gas industry in the North sea that may prove critical to future offshore renewable energy.
Future designs of off shore turbines, an interesting IMechE article on that here, are being considered to further improve their performance and economics. Also this 25 year life merely represents the lifetime of the turbine and mechanics. The tower, foundations and support infrastructure, which represents the overwhelming bulk of construction costs (about 41% of the costs) can conceivably be reused. It is odd that Mr Trump mentioned tourists going to Ireland rather than Scotland because of all the wind turbines in Scotland….he is obviously not aware that on a per capita basis Ireland already has more wind turbines than Scotland (we consistently get about 11% of our electricity from wind with up to 50% of it supplied on windy days).
The Aerogenerator- type offshore turbine [Credit: IMechE]
Trump also cited, as many anti-wind NIMBY’s do, the costs while making vague references to “alternatives”. Currently, the cheapest way to generate electricity is via wind power. Yes, wind power is actually cheaper now than fossil fuels – during periods of high demand and when the wind is blowing. Admittedly of course the wind isn’t always blowing at times of high demand, hence the need for subsides (for the moment). This why I would agree with Trump that an energy policy of wind, wind and yet more wind isn’t going to work long-term. We need to look at storing that wind energy, possibly via the production of hydrogen (also as I pointed out in a prior post the bulk of UK energy demand is for heating and transport fuels which are arguably better supported by hydrogen than electricity). But that requires a change in policy and more joined up thinking from government, plus ultimately yet more wind farms, so not really a solution to anti-wind lobbies dilemma.
There are alternative forms of renewable generation that could be deployed in Scotland, wave and tidal energy for example. But both of these are immature and not ready for commercial deployment (yet!). Clearly in the meantime wind energy is our best option and its one we have to take. Trump also cited the fact that many wind turbines are coming from China. Well good on the Chinese, it’s a pity Trump never paused to think why the Chinese are building them. The Chinese have recognised that renewables is going to be a major growth industry in the future and following the principles of supply and demand economics, they plan to exploit this fact. If we had more forward thinking leaders here in the UK then maybe more of these turbines would be made in Scotland rather than having to be imported from overseas.
If there’s one thing that annoys me about the media it’s how they will allow anti-wind farm NIMBY’s like Trump to sound off (in the interest of “balance”) and not ask that killer key question – what’s the alternative to wind energy? We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels due to climate change and possible future supply issues.
There is on this point a view that unconventional fossil fuel sources such as tar sands oil or shale gas will solve everything. Even putting aside the substantial environmental issues, which I address here (tar sands) and here (shale gas), the likely output from such sources is wholly in adequate to our needs. In the articles above I point out that we can at best get 6% of global oil demand from the tar sands and even the US can only meet about 4% of its energy needs via Shale gas. So both are great news if you’ve shares in a company involved in drilling for it (and are a member of the good ol’boys network), or you’re a lawyer specialising in pollution and poisoning cases, but it’s not much use beyond that.
Nuclear? Putting aside all the environmental and safety related arguments, nuclear energy is actually quite expensive power once you remove state subsidies, are slow to build, we’ve no long-term solution to nuclear waste and there’s the thorny issue of nuclear fuel supplies. Currently nuclear generates between 2.5 – 5.1% of global energy demand, and we could at best double or triple this figure…where does the remaining 92.5 – 85% of world energy come from? And all the indicators are that the Nuclear Renaissance is dead and if the nuclear industry manages to maintain existing capacity worldwide they’ll be doing well.
In short, anti wind farm NIMBY’s should not be allowed to get off this easily. Unless they can come up with a comprehensive energy plan that does not involve more windfarms, then they are whistling in the wind. But what happens if we take the anti-wind lobby’s advice and curtail wind farm construction?
I’m planning a future article about Peak oil, which I’m in the process of editing up. I’m doing this with the view to countering the many myths about it that have cropped up. For example, shale gas and the tar sands have not solved peak oil. As I noted above, do your sums you’ll see the production rates from these sources is woefully inadequate to meet future demand. Peak oil does not mean we are running out of oil. There’s plenty of oil left (unfortunately from a climate change perspective) and more in other fossil fuel reserves. Again it’s more of a supply and demand issue. Peak oil will also not result in “the lights going out”, at least not directly. Only a tiny portion of electricity these days is generated by oil. No peak oil represents a “liquid fuel crisis” as compared to a conventional “energy crisis”.
36% of the UK’s energy demand is consumed by transport and +90% of this is provided by oil. This is the danger. Once this oil suddenly becomes much more expensive, so too will transport. This will cause certain economic relationships to break down. And one industry that’s going to take an absolute hammering is tourism. If peak oil happens and Scotland does not have an alternative energy strategy worked out, then the tourist will not come simply because they either can’t afford to do so or governments are now rationing oil and prioritising its supply to essential services and industries. Consequently Trump could well find his course fairways somewhat empty.
Then there is the not-so-small matter of Climate Change to worry about. Putting aside all the horrible outcomes that climate change will unleash, more locally it’s going to cause things such as sea level rise (not good news for someone who just spent a billion on a golf course next to the coast), result in more extreme weather (in Scotland that means hotter wetter summers with prolonged droughts in between) and the migration of plants and fauna. This last one is significant in that it demonstrates that climate change is going to throw all sorts of curve balls at us from unexpected directions.
For example, one thing the Scottish tourist board often fail to mention about Scotland is the highland midge, and its partner in crime the cleg. These little beasties come in swarms of billions of biting insects and can in peak summer, make some parts of the highlands a no go area. If you’ve ever wondered why the Romans, who had previously conquered most of Europe and the Middle East, stopped at the Cumbrian border – try walking north from England in August wearing a Toga and see how far you get!
Fortunately for Trump the Midge and Clegg problem is not nearly as bad on the East coast as it is on the West coast….for now! But conceivably climate change could extend the breeding season of Midges result in more of the little buggers on the East coast. Again, I’m not sure how well attended Trump’s golf course will be if his pampered celebrity clientele start to get eaten alive by midges!
Of course, I’ve no evidence that midge populations will shift, or expand. I’m merely giving an example of the sort of Googlies that climate change is going to throw at us. Still another potential curve ball is that there’s a reason why climate scientist frown when they hear someone talk about “global warming”. They call it “climate change” because the warming will not be uniform. Some parts of the planet will warm faster than others. Changing weather patterns could result in more extremes of climate (hotter summers and colder winters). Some regions of the globe could even see an overall drop in temperatures. In both of these two cases the result would be colder winters in Scotland and more snow – not a good thing if you own a golf course which then need to shut every winter cos it’s buried under a foot of snow each November.
All in all, there is good reason why we should not let NIMBY’s and flat earthers such as Trump get away with such behaviour. By failing to propose a workable alternative they cannot be taken seriously. Indeed it’s even in Trump’s own economic interest for the Scottish to ignore him. One can envisage a scenario in few decades time where his golfing resort, like much of his empire is failing financially. It only gets to open for a few months each year and only a handful of people show up. Consequently after he or his forbears file for bankruptcy, sell the family silverware (and the wig), they are forced to sell the golf course for but a fraction of its current value….likely to a developer who’s interested in putting up a wind farm on the site! Perhaps if he’s lucky they’ll name it the Trump Wind park, as he’s generated sufficient hot air in his time to run a couple of them!