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Letters: Does wind energy really need such a big subsidy?


Does wind energy really need such a big subsidy?

I can only conclude from last week’s article on “capacity payments” for gas fired power stations when the wind is blowing and their generation capacity is not required that our politicians and “engineers” have finally lost possession of their senses.

With the current value of ROCs at £40 and offshore wind qualifying for 2 ROCs per MWh, a 1GW wind farm at 30% efficiency is subsidised to the sum of £24,000 per hour, £600,000 per day or £210M per year!

Are we then suggesting that, in addition, a gas fired power station, with all its attendant electrical distribution system as well as its gas pipelines, storage and import facilities should be provided with a subsidy to stand idle when the wind blows? It is obvious that this magnificent obsession with wind, especially offshore, is driven by the fact that it is simply a money making machine for the developers at the expense of electricity consumers and the nation in general and can only lead to an electricity supply system that is totally uneconomic and unaffordable.

If 30GW of offshore wind were ever to be built, an annual subsidy of over £6bn per year would be required, without the gas fired back up.

Are we sure that engineers welcome this? This one does not.

  • Derek Limbert (F), Knotty Green, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2BB

What are “tried and tested” wind turbine foundations?

The prominence given in your lead news article to the challenge of offshore wind foundations is welcome in view of the importance of this subject to future UK construction jobs and activity (NCE 17 June).

The argument that reliance must be placed on tried and tested solutions from the oil and gas industry is too short term.

There are significant differences in economic context, duty and construction requirement between oil and gas platforms and wind turbine structures. Reduction of capital cost is a much more important issue for offshore wind, with foundations representing 25% to 45% of the installed capital cost.

The large number and high production rates required for Round 3 wind farms is quite different from the oil and gas context and indeed from the early offshore wind programme. This presents great opportunities for economies of scale arising from “mass production”.

The Carbon Trust is surely right to have promoted a competition of innovative foundation designs.

The foundation design type featured as “tried and tested” in the article is the steel jacket structure. This is undoubtedly a promising line of development and an initial batch of structures has been constructed for the Ormonde wind farm.

However the “tried and tested” label can equally be applied to gravity base designs, which are one of the types represented in the Carbon Trust OWA programme. In fact both types of designs need substantial adaptation for use in offshore wind farms.

We need a range of competitive foundation solutions, in steel and concrete with different approaches to fabrication and installation, to give a basis for dealing economically with different site conditions, provide a broader industrial resource base and keep open a variety of development paths for further improvement.

There is an opportunity and need for innovation at all levels of design and production. The planned Round 3 programme involves a capital spend of £12bn plus on foundations alone.

Surely it makes sense to invest heavily now in useful innovation before this programme gets fully underway.

  • AH Tricklebank (F), consultant, Gifford,

How we should spend £20bn

You ask what infrastructure would you spend £20bn on to best benefit the economy immediately? While I’m enthusiastic about grands projets such as Crossrail, I would use a proportion, say £5bn, to kick-start a long-term national programme of energy conservation and efficiency.

Targeting the existing housing stock would generate thousands of (well-paid) jobs, reduce UK energy demand, and alleviate the rising fuel poverty now affecting 1 in 5 households.

  • Jean-Marc Barsam (M),

Mixed message

Your recent editorial “Middle Eastern Promise” asserts that “there is still a realisation by the coalition that the UK must invest in …enhancing power supplies”.

How can this be reconciled with the decision to withdraw an £80M loan facility from Sheffield Forgemasters which had been explicitly requested to invest in the technology required to produce highly specialist castings for the nuclear industry?

Presumably these castings will now come from Korea or Japan?

  • David Ricketts (M), Interim Consultancy Solutions,

Stop the high speed rail studies

Our government has very limited funds available to spend on transport infrastructure.

As such it has to focus that spending on projects that will best benefit us, the taxpayers.

In this respect, top priority must be the modernisation of the existing rail network in such a way as to encourage more of us to switch from road to rail.

Any further expenditure on engineering studies for the Adonis hobby horse High Speed rail system would detract from that fundamental objective.

Professor Ashford is quite right in calling for the abandonment of this scheme and it is to be hoped that he, and other eminent experts, will find a way to convince Cameron and Clegg.

  • Michael Beeby (M),

Sandbag the Gulf of Mexico leak

In Britain and America, sand is delivered to site in 1 tonne bags.

If the contents of the bags are arranged to be: one part cement, two parts sand, four parts crushed rock, mixed together dry, bagged and shipped to the Gulf of Mexico oil well, the bags could be dropped over the side of a ship to form a plug.

The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam used approximately 20M.t of concrete.

If all else fails to stop the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, 500,000t of bagged concrete could provide a plug.

Two experiments should be carried out. First, practice dropping concrete bags, away from the well site, to find the scatter of bags on the sea bed in one mile depth
of water. Then the practice bags should be brought to the surface to test the quality of the concrete.

  • Doug Brown (M), Beaver Lake Farm, Crow Hill, Ringwood, Hampshire BH24 3DE

Bridge of sighs

It cannot be very often that a photograph in NCE can stir romantic memories.

For me it was so on the cover of the 17th June edition showing Blackfriars station.

In the years 1948/49 the workplaces of myself and my girlfriend (now my wife) were near to Blackfriars station. Most days we would meet on the train for our journey to London. Sometimes during our lunch hour we would meet at the place on the picture and walk, hand in hand, along the Thames Embankment (Aah!).

Perhaps I can regard Blackfriars as one step along the journey that has led to nearly 58 years of happy marriage.

Thanks for the memory.

  • George Ellis Tucker, 16 Yew Tree Drive, Bromsgrove Worcester, Worcestershire, B60 1AL

Make petrol price the road user charge

Mike Keatinge (Letters last week) raises concerns about the impact on people in rural areas that would result from abandoning the road fund licence and using an increase in fuel tax as a road user charging mechanism.

For those living and working in the countryside, short trips on uncongested roads and driving at speed appear far preferable than the low speed and low mpg urban drivers must endure and pay for.

The coalition government should not shy away from using an increase in fuel tax as a road user charge just because it would add significantly to the cost of longer distance rural-urban and inter-urban commuters.

Higher pump prices combined with no road fund licence could quickly deliver an equitable and effective “pay as you go” road user charge thus delivering a well-engineered solution to an issue that, evidenced by the recent letters generated by Antony Oliver’s 3 June “Comment”, is not going to go away.

  • Mick Oliver (M), Taunton,

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.


Readers' comments (1)

  • Thank heavens for Derek Limbert and his effective and concise assessment of the massive unsupportable total overhead costs for UK plc as provided by the intended programme of Wind Farms and his focus on the truly distorted and misleading "evidence" currently being provided by others to substantiate and support such systems for Power Generation.

    The various U.K. Engineering Institutions, including the ICE, should be ashamed of not having previously formally presented such precise total costs evidence for public information and government appraisal together with a joint Professional Engineering Institutions submission strongly advising against such an unnecessary and counter-productive and grossly inefficient and over-expensive Power Generation System.

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