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Letters: We need an open debate about wind power costs

We need an open debate about wind power costs

Antony Oliver hails the plans for the expansion of offshore wind as a great opportunity for civil engineers; equivalent to a second North Sea Oil event (NCE last week).

In the unlikely event that we do construct 47GW of capacity by 2020 at a cost of £150bn, we shall then face a subsidy bill for the electricity produced.

At the expected average turbine load factor of 40%, and each MWh produced attracting two Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) subsidies worth £100, the total annual subsidy for the 160TWh produced would be £16bn.

Add to that the additional ROC subsidy that will still be paid for all the onshore windfarms that we will have in 2020, plus the massive cost of the new national grid needed to accommodate such a departure from the existing electricity generating configuration.

Then add the cost of the generating capacity needed on standby for when the wind either does not blow or blows too hard, you have to wonder whether the politicians, never mind the NCE editor, have thought this through in economic terms.

This decision has been taken by politicians driven only by targets. Hard headed engineers know what is involved to construct such turbines in the North Sea in 60m water and up to 200km offshore and keep them maintained and working for up to 25 years.

It is these hard headed engineers who should now be at the forefront of properly scrutinising these proposals instead of rubbing our hands at the future job prospects that such expenditure would appear to offer.

  • Nick Dekker, 1 Nairn Way, Cumbernauld G68 OHX

I am one civil engineer who is definitely not excited by the planned expansion of offshore wind (NCE last week).

Indeed as a UK taxpayer, I am appalled that I will be subsidising, for years to come, an initiative that will make little contribution either to the UK’s energy needs, or to global warming.

I have worked in the offshore oil industry, and for 10 months, with a wind power developer working on a Round One offshore license. Your comparison between the two is flawed.

Each of the new generation of high output wind turbines requires support structures that would compare well with the early southern North Sea production platforms, yet the energy expected to be produced by that single wind turbine is a tiny fraction of what the equivalent gas platform would produce, day in day out for 30 years.

Furthermore, all the mechanical equipment in the wind turbine is located inaccessably more than 80m above the sea, whereas the gas platform can be accessed and maintained readily from a quarter of the height.

Wind turbines typically have forecast outputs of roughly 65% of installed capacity, yet some currently operational turbines are struggling to achieve 20%.In all cases, fossil fuelled generation capacity is required to be available on standby to cover this downtime.

Has anyone performed an honest cradle to grave analysis of emissions savings from the offshore wind industry, including the construction and decommissioning impact of the fossil fuel alternative that has to be permanently available?

  • Nick Dawson (M), Beech House, Cromwell Gardens, Marlow, Bucks SL7 1BG

The whole of my career has been in maritime engineering including offshore oil and I find the challenges in the proposed offshore wind to be very exciting.

However, who will be able to afford the electricity generated? I was taught in school geography that electricity is a secondary source of energy.

It is merely an efficient means of transmitting energy from one place to another.

Nobody has suggested that when offshore gas is used for electricity generation the power station should be built in the middle of the sea. Maintenance access would preclude such a solution and the same argument applies when using wind as a primary energy source.

The Industrial Revolution accelerated when constant power was provided on demand. The politicians ask us to believe we can power a modern economy linked to fickle elements. The tale of the Emperor’s new clothes come to mind.

  • Michael J Meadowcroft (M retd), Primrose Hill House DH46DY

Will Crossrail 2 ease Euston congestion?

Mark Hansford is right that Crossrail 2 has merit (News last week) but High Speed 2 (HS2) must not be saddled with its adoption.

The solution to the additional demand at Euston from HS2 is to adopt the proposal published by Network Rail shortly before Christmas: connect the West Coast Main Line slow lines into Crossrail 1. Although ruled out when the Strategic Rail Authority proposed it back in 2003, this scheme’s time has come.

Sorry to solve the problem at a fraction of the cost. But we must surely get Crossrail 1 functioning properly with balanced demand east and west before embarking on a second cross-London venture.

  • Jim Steer (M) Director, Steer Davies Gleave, 28-32 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD

Don’t give track to TOCs

I shudder to think what the outcome will be if the government decides to reorganise our railways along the lines suggested by the article “TOCs to get track work” (News last week), which purportedly is based on the forthcoming McNulty report.

Readers may remember that it was an earlier Conservative government that gave us the existing fragmentation of railway management with its myriads of contracts, companies, boards of directors, accountants and lawyers all playing at trains and all needing to be paid for.

To suggest now that organisations that are essentially bus companies can make a better fist out of maintaining the tracks than Network Rail (for all its shortcomings) is akin to putting the inmates in charge of the asylum.

Why not give train operations to Network Rail?

The problem there, of course, is that that would resurrect British Railways, which, as we all now rather belatedly know, could “do for a tanner what it now takes at least two-bob” and often more to achieve.

There is a suggestion in the NCE article that “signalling” could somehow be separated from “track” and only the former handed to the train operating companies (TOCs).

This is surely a recipe for disaster, as where would responsibility for this safety-critical interface lie?

Please let us not make what is already a complicated system much worse.

  • David Myles,, Wingerworth, Derbyshire

Passengers versus freight

I read in your latest edition of NCE that the McNulty report is considering hiving off railway operations and signalling to the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) where they are the dominant operator.

Anglia is cited as the TOC that operates the bulk of passenger services in that region. However, it is easy to forget that significant freight imports/exports come through Felixstowe Docks and then go through the recently improved route to the West Midlands via Peterborough (or via Stratford).

If there is a conflict of interest, say, a late-running passenger train against a punctual freight train, who gets priority?

  • Neil Raw (M), Oriel Grove, York,

Should Boris back new airport for Birmingham?

The article on airport capacity for London (News last week) begs the question as to whether Birmingham International will become the fourth London airport if High Speed 2 (HS2) is built.

It is planned to serve the airport with a new station and will be 38 minutes from Euston. This stands comparison with the other three London airports, as the Heathrow Express takes 15 to 27 minutes, the Gatwick Express 30 minutes and the Stansted Express 46 minutes.

Birmingham will probably have a catchment area bigger than Heathrow as it will be able to serve not only the Midlands but Central and North London. Sheffield will be 37 minutes by HS2, Manchester and Leeds both 42 minutes and Liverpool 58 minutes.

Perhaps London mayor Boris Johnson should champion Birmingham as the fourth London airport, surely a cheaper option than a new airport wherever it might be built.

  • Peter JH Smith (M), Royston, Herts,

Cold snaps damage pipes

The letter regarding the effects of temperature on water pipe bursts (NCE 27 January) was clearly inaccurate and needs to be corrected.

Temperature has a clear effect on the number of water main bursts, as illustrated in the attached graph, and this is widely known in the water industry. We have had our busiest period ever fixing water mains in the Christmas period this year after the unseasonal cold snap.

To say that “the effects of ground freezing on water mains is simply not a factor” is nothing short of nonsense.

  • Matt Humphrey, client project manager, Anglian Water, Thorpe Wood House, Peterborough PE3 6WT

Material witness

Your story on the A46 upgrade (NCE last week), states that “this is the first time cardboard formwork has been used for such large columns”.

I was working for Balfour Beatty in the late 1960s and we made extensive use of cardboard formwork for circular columns of 500mm, 600mm and even 700mm diameter.

If memory serves me right after over 40 years we used a product called Hydrotex and the concept was borrowed from the French.

  • Oliver Q Bailey (F),

Letters to the editor

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)

  • Cold snaps damage pipes - Matt Humphrey

    As suggested to the Editor after the first recent round of broken pipes and elevated/destroyed road surfaces, we need some new measurement of anticipated frost depth in the different regions of UK.

    For this, there was formerly a stipulated figure of 45cm, to take precautions against frost heave beneath roads i.e. frost susceptible soils or pavement materials should not occur within this depth (on the assumption that the water table will get there anyway, to feed the frost heave/ice lenses).

    How is this depth measured, remotely or by inserting probes into the ground, and whose job is it to do so and publish records? Or can it be calculated from the extent and duration of air frost?
    There is map of USA provided on the www with contours of freezing depth,
    This for the purpose of avoiding frost disturbance of survey bench marks.
    Does anyone know of such a map of the UK?

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