Monday, 28 March 2011

Does it make any difference if we object to wind power developments ?

Loch Ness from Lochend beach
I am rapidly coming to the dismaying conclusion - based on the recent approval of the vigorously opposed Corriemollie scheme - that an increase in blood pressure is the only thing likely to be gained from the opposition of wind farm developments. As a consequence of the no doubt well-intentioned Renewables Obligation,  a lot of people stand to gain a lot of money - your money and mine - from the construction of wind farms. The only way that the current frenzy of wind farm construction could be halted would be from the very top down; by dismantling the legislation that makes their construction so very profitable for the developers and the landowners. I really cannot see that happening any time soon.

The wind industry has a highly effective propaganda machine, but in truth it is hardly needed. Misguided environmentalists and angst-ridden carbon guilt trippers all do their bit to hide the truth about wind power. Before I throw in the towel I will air that truth one more time.

Firstly, wind energy as currently pursued does little to reduce carbon emissions. Because wind is fundamentally unpredictable and intermittent, other sources of power are required to pick up the slack when the wind drops. Wind energy makes a lot of sense if a method of storing the energy generated when the wind was blowing is available; for example as chemical energy in the batteries of electric cars or as potential energy in pumped storage hydro schemes. Feeding the energy into the grid makes much less sense because you need to have backup for when the wind stops blowing. If this backup takes the form of fossil fuel fired power stations then the carbon emission reductions claimed by the wind lobby are at best drastically reduced. See John Etherington's 'The Wind Farm Scam' for a full discussion of this point.

Secondly, even if we go all out down the renewable route (area the size of Wales covered in land based wind turbines, offshore wind turbines along the entire Atlantic seaboard, tidal in every suitable location, pumped storage hydro in every suitable location, lots of clean coal etc) there is still a gap between what we can generate and what we require. This gap needs to be filled and - however unpalatable it may seem - the best way to fill it is probably to build more nuclear power stations. If we are going to have to build more nuclear power stations anyway,why bother polluting the hills with wind farms? Should we not just bite the bullet and build the nuclear power stations? This is an important debate and one that is currently being stifled by the feel good factor created by the construction of highly visible - but ultimately ineffectual - wind farms. See David Mackay's book 'Sustainable energy: without the hot air' for the calculations that back up this second point.

I could trot these points out on  my blog again. I could become evangelical and attempt to convert every person that I meet to my point of view. Unfortunately I think that the windfarm horse has bolted. We are simply living through the latest in a long line of acts of environmental vandalism: in the past we have had mass conifer afforestation and the damming of lochs for hydro; more recently rampant overgrazing by sheep and deer. The wind movement is at least as unstoppable as these previous scourges. As a nation we have surprisingly little appreciation of our custodianship of Europe's last wild places. Our system of land ownership leaves these wild places more or less unprotected. The recommendations of SNH carry surprisingly little weight. I am sad to say that it is probably only with the benefit of hindsight that people will realise that they have traded their precious wild places for what David Bellamy artfully punned as a 'mess of wattage'.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Skiing: La Grave and Cairngorm

Just back from a long weekend trip to La Grave, a skiing destination with a fearsome reputation and very sparing uplift; a two-stage bubble lift and a single poma.. Pisting is limited to two short blue runs on the glacier at the very top of the mountain, then you're on your own. What follows depends on who you listen to. There is no shortage of sensationalised accounts stressing the danger and the importance of hiring a guide. However, Pete, who had been previously, described it as being rather more friendly. 

The place was rather intimidating at first. The 'piste map' doesn't show much in the way of runs but does show a lot of cliffs and seracs. No obvious ski descent is visible on the mountain, so we were dismayed when Pete fell victim to an underwarm service station tartiflette and was laid low, completely unable to get out of his bed. We primed him with energy drinks and breakfast materials and set off onto the hill in stunning still and sunny alpine conditions. With stable snow and clear visibility Pete's description was spot on. A mellow day with a sensational ommelette for lunch at the Refuge Chancel. Pete had perked up sufficiently to eat some dinner and we were we were all hopeful of exploring more of the mountain in the morning.

The howling wind outside our hotel room left us in no rush to open the curtains. We's heard that anything more than a fart is likely to prevent the lift from running and the wind was clearly gusting at least 50 mph at valley level.  More dismayingly still, Pete was still completely wiped out, seemingly now with a flu. We  headed up to the Col du Lautaret for a short but bracing ski tour before the weather closed in completely. The weather was even worse the next day, meaning that no skiing at all got done. Overall a tremendous trip, but more notable for the banter and the food in the Hotel Edelweiss than for the quality of the skiing or the snow.

Meanwhile it was lashing down snow in Scotland, reviving a winter that had seemed to be on the wane. Keen to take advantage of a still and sunny day with great snow conditions and also partly to redeem the last day of forced inactivity in La Grave, I  skiied at Cairngorm on Wednesday. Strange but true, Cairngorm outperformed La Grave in all but the catering department! What I need to do next year is get back to La Grave in  conditions as perfect as those I found at Cairngorm!

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011


A fine saturday at Firemore beach near Poolewe. With no wind and the sun relatively high in the sky it was possible to bask in the sun without a jacket on. Upon arrival I was treated to an encounter with a cheery  local character, an 85 year old who came for a short holiday 23 years ago and decided to stay. I was delighted to see him puffing on a roll up as he walked his dog on the sands, living proof that statistics can work in your favour as well as against you.

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