Another example of BBC green distortion

(Update to this post now added at the end…) AM reader, Ron H, kindly draws attention to Friday’s coverage of the wind farm cable corridor for the offshore development known as East Anglia One. This is the proposed first phase of the East Anglia Offshore Windfarm Zone (EAOW) being developed by Scottish Power Renewables and Swedish wind power operating company Vattenfall, with a planned installed capacity of 1,200MW.

It provides us with yet another example of the weasel words used to overstate the likely amount of power that will be generated.  Compare and contrast:

We are working with stakeholders to realise the full potential of the zone, with initial studies identifying a target capacity of up to 7,200MW, which could provide enough clean, green energy for over 5 million homes.
East Anglia Offshore Windfarm Zone

The full East Anglia Offshore Windfarm Zone, when built, is expected to power five million homes.
BBC News

While EAOW carefully words its information to say that a capacity of 7,200MW could provide enough energy for over 5 million homes, it knows that an average offshore wind load factor of around 30-35% means the installation will never generate that amount of power.  It is very likely to produce somewhere in the region of 2,300MW.  But this doesn’t stop the BBC from exaggerating the amount of power that will be generated by the East Anglia Offshore Wind Zone, as it says the zone is expected to power five million homes.

Expected by whom?  Certainly not the companies who are preparing to soak themselves in huge sums of money extracted from taxpayers and energy company customers.  The distortion is blatant and dishonest.  It underlines that on environmental and renewable energy matters (among many others) the BBC simply cannot be trusted.

For the long suffering taxpayer and energy consumer the issue is the cost of this vast array of wind turbines.  The capital cost of wind is many times that of nuclear power and gas fired power. To achieve 2,300MW of power via nuclear plant has been assessed as one sixth the cost of wind, and gas works out more than 22 times cheaper than these sea based bird choppers.  When viewed through that cost prism, is this wind farm folly something to get anything other than violently angry about?

Update: On Twitter, the CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Member of the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All and Visiting Professor at Imperial College, Michael Liebreich, (all that prestige!) has responded to this blog post thus:

I have enquired of the great man on what basis he is contesting the cost figures, asking for his figures and working, but at the time of writing he has not provided a response.  The figures I have used to explain how much cheaper nuclear and gas are than wind, megawatt for megawatt of actual power generated, were explained by Christopher Booker in August last year:

[…] a Swedish firm, Vattenfall, has spent £500 million on building 30 five‑megawatt turbines with a total “capacity” of 150MW. What Shukman did not tell us, because the BBC never does, is that, thanks to the vagaries of the wind, these machines will only produce a fraction of their capacity (30 per cent was the offshore average in the past two years). So their actual output is only likely to average 45MW, or £11 million per MW.

Compare this with the figures for Britain’s newest gas-fired power station, recently opened in Plymouth. This is capable of generating 882MW at a capital cost of £400 million – just £500,000 for each megawatt. Thus the wind farm is 22 times more expensive, and could only be built because its owners will receive a 200 per cent subsidy: £40 million a year, on top of the £20 million they will get for the electricity itself. This we will all have to pay for through our electricity bills, whereas the unsubsidised cost of power from the gas plant, even including the price of the gas, will be a third as much.

What this does not take into account is that the gas fired power stations will last twice as long as the wind turbine equipment, so the replacement cost of the turbines would increase the cost still further – making offshore wind up to 40 times more expensive than gas, megawatt for megawatt.

Perhaps Liebreich will eventually get around to telling us which of these figures is ‘bollox’ and offer some evidence, rather than just play the part of Dr No.

15 Responses to “Another example of BBC green distortion”


  1. 1 Joe Public 12/02/2012 at 12:30 pm

    “While EAOW carefully words its information ….”

    But at least a massive project like that will provide numerous local jobs.

  2. 2 John Coles 12/02/2012 at 1:24 pm

    No small part of the problem with the BBC is that it is staffed by darlings with degrees in the arts and humanities: in short, their editorial staff is completely untroubled by any engineering knowledge or insight.

  3. 3 Span Ows 12/02/2012 at 2:16 pm

    yes Joe, about 200 grand per job created. Nice.

  4. 5 Adam West 12/02/2012 at 2:18 pm

    I’m not so sure about this. Ofgem put average household electric consumption at 3300 kW/h a year. (pdf)

    The wind far at 7200 mW at an impossible 100% capacity would provide enough power for nearly 20 million homes* based on the Ofgem figures. 25% capacity would be around the 5 million mark.

    The spanner in the ointment that is so obvious it passes unsaid in these kids of reports is that demand for power and wind power production cannot easily be synchronised. We cannot afford to live our lives only when the wind blows.

    * My working out being ( 7200 x 24 x 365 ) / 3.3 = 19112727.27

  5. 6 Adam West 12/02/2012 at 2:24 pm

    On second thoughts looking at the above is 7200mW for nearly 20 million homes just doesn’t look right to me, but I can’t see what is wrong with my working out. I appreciate the country uses a lot of gas for a lot of heating and cooking. Is the Ofgem estimate an unreasonably low figure?

  6. 7 Gerry 12/02/2012 at 2:33 pm

    ‘But at least a massive project like that will provide numerous local jobs.’

    Will it? Experience suggests otherwise where other Scandinavian companies have brought their own workforce with them. And for every one of those few local jobs that it might make will put another 3 workers out of their jobs in energy intensive industries such at refineries, petro-chemicals, metal working, glass-making etc as the high cost of energy caused by the need to fund inefficient, inconsistent and unnecessary windpower closes down their plants and takes their jobs elsewhere. Never has there been a plan as stupid as windpower that kills jobs, increases our balance of trade deficit, reduces tax income, increases benefit payments and sees foreign companies profit from building the windfarms. All based on the unproven theory that man’s output of CO2 is changing the planet’s natural solar driven climate cycle.

  7. 8 James P 12/02/2012 at 4:06 pm

    At the moment, the grid requires around 50GW to power us all, or which wind is currently (Sunday afternoon) providing around 0.5GW, or around 1%, so 20 million homes (or even 5 million) sounds hopelessly optimistic.
    I realise that wind can do better, but it often doesn’t when it’s most needed, like now…

    http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

  8. 9 James P 12/02/2012 at 7:14 pm

    or which = of which, I’ve just realised!

  9. 10 john in cheshire 12/02/2012 at 7:35 pm

    Governments never create jobs. They divert resources from where the free market would preferentially allocate them, given the chance, to those areas that a small number of people have decided are worthy. Free markets allocate resources most efficiently, and consequently create work and jobs. Governments distort the markets and thereby impoverish us all. The purpose of government is to set the rules of the game and act as referee. That’s all. The game should be left to be played by anyone who cares to get involved. People such as Mr Huhne, good socialists that they are, can’t envisage the free market option because in their feeble minds it’s too messy and can’t be managed to their ideological ends.

  10. 11 Bill Sticker 13/02/2012 at 12:17 am

    Question; What’s 5% of 7,200MW?

    Answer; The actual delivery of an offshore Wind Farm averaged out over a year.

    This means only 5% of the homes that ‘could’ be powered ‘might’ get enough power over any given year. Sometimes. But not when delivery drops to 1.1% of rated capacity like the other day. A cold winter day when power is needed most.

    Oh, and not when it’s stormy. One really good North Sea blow and there’ll be a glut of scrap Neodymium on the market.

  11. 12 Brian H 13/02/2012 at 6:16 am

    Bill Sticker 13/02/2012 at 12:17 am

    One really good North Sea blow and there’ll be a glut of scrap Neodymium on the market.

    If only. Is there ANY record of scrap recovery of ANYTHING from dead wind turbines? Especially those that fail explosively in flames? I doubt it. As for off-shore recovery — it is to laugh.

  12. 13 chapmandu2 13/02/2012 at 2:54 pm

    I think you need to learn the difference between power (measured in MegaWatts) and energy (measured in MegaWatt-hours). A 7200MW wind farm operating at 35% capacity factor will generate 7200*0.35*24*365 = 22,075,200MWh electrical energy per year. Given that each household uses an average of 4MWh electrical energy a year, enough energy will be generated to meet the demands of 5.5m households.

    When discussing costs, such a wind farm would deliver this approximately this amount of energy every year with no further financial input other than operation and maintenance – ie zero fuel costs. A gas fired plant would indeed be cheaper to construct (capital cost), but would then need to be supplied with gas at unknown cost for the rest of its life. Shale gas may provide us with limitless gas supplies for years to come, alternatively the 35% drop in UK national gas production since 2000 might continue, and imports become increasingly expensive. Take your pick.

    The disadvantage of the wind farm is intermittency – power output at any one moment will fluctuate between zero and 7200MW depending on wind conditions. The disadvantage of the gas fired plant is unknown fuel costs for 25 years. Neither is perfect.

  13. 14 Span Ows 13/02/2012 at 5:05 pm

    Sounds good chapmandu except for your average estimate which should be between 4.5 and 4.8MWh judging from a range of sources (and higher in Scotland)

    Plus the costs would include (presumably) land rental and we have seen recently that maintenance could mean complete rebuild!

  14. 15 Brian H 14/02/2012 at 9:05 pm

    chapmandu2 is attempting the classic Wind Farm Fast One. “The disadvantage of the wind farm is intermittency – power output at any one moment will fluctuate between zero and 7200MW depending on wind conditions. The disadvantage of the gas fired plant is unknown fuel costs for 25 years. Neither is perfect.”

    Theat wee disadvantage of the wind farm has prohibitive costs. First, the need for standby 100% duplication of its capacity (output can go to zero even over whole countries in a still cold high). Second, accommodating the “fluctuations” is very hard on all other existing infrastructure. The “fluctuations” are better described as “wild unpredictable jerking around”. Poland has just barred imports of German windpower because it’s way more trouble and expense than it’s worth, even priced at zero.

    And the airly passed off “maintenance” is uniquely dangerous and expensive, and most often means complete replacement. Further, to repeat my point above, there is virtually no salvage value in the corpses of dead windmills. As with everything else about them, far more trouble (= expense) than they’re worth.

    Stupidity on stilts, thy name is windpower.


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