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 Nature.
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 planet.
“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 decision- makers.”
Peat retains its carbon only when kept in its natural damp, boggy condition. 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 dioxide release.
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.”