Face up to wind power

Following the latest row over wind farms in Cumbria, Phil Burge and Daniel Doncaster argue that they are vital for our health and wealth.

The recent furore over the positioning of wind farms in the Lake District has produced the predictable emotive arguments against turbines.

This time, however, celebrities including novelist Melvyn Bragg and mountaineer Chris Bonnington sailed into the debate against wind as a renewable energy source.

The sentiments of the various lobby groups opposed to wind energy are sincere. However, we agree with the recent report delineated to government by Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission that wind energy is viable and necessary.

We must consider that this Cumbrian installation is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly every year while powering local homes.

At SKF our position on such projects is clear. Our chief executive Tom Johnstone has stated that he wants the company to secure a sustainable future, both economically and environmentally. So for SKF, reductions in CO2 emissions are directly linked to sustainability — both financially and environmentally. This connection between economics and the environment is vital — particularly as many opponents of wind farms choose to ignore this clear development driver.

What must be considered is that wind farms represent environmentally sustainable construction projects, even though protesters often claim the reverse. According to most sources the energy used to build a turbine is repaid in three to seven months. Furthermore, the DTI calculates that onshore wind farms return about 80 times the energy they need to operate.

Offshore farms can provide even higher returns, although they are more costly to construct and maintain. Here, though, we have seen nacelle technology advance to levels where maintenance intervals are very long, and sophisticated condition monitoring makes the farms cheaper and easier to manage.

Another important point is that the UK landscape is a man-made environment of fields, walls, farms, crops and livestock. In this modern age of high-energy consumption we are farming wind for energy just as we do grass for cattle to graze. So not only are turbines sustainable buildings, but they also fit into our history of the UK landscape as a natural progression.

The bottom line is that wind farms are part of the process to reduce CO2 emissions, whether on or offshore. This is true on both a local and a global level; the risk to biodiversity due to global warming will leave greater scars on the landscape than wind turbines.

If objectors still cannot see past the aesthetic considerations, they should bear in mind that wind farms may only be a temporary solution. In the near future they may be surpassed by other, as yet unknown, alternative technologies.

But in the immediate term they are vital. They can be put up quickly and removed as fast — the catch is that we need to face up to the need before we can bring the technology to bear.

Phil Burge is marketing manager at SKF (UK) and Daniel Doncaster is business engineer, Renewable Energy.