Wind farms will create more carbon dioxide, say scientists

February 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Writing in the scientific journal Nature, the scientists, Dr Jo Smith, Dr Dali
Nayak and Prof Pete Smith, of Aberdeen University, say: “We contend that
wind farms on peatlands will probably not reduce emissions …we suggest that
the construction of wind farms on non-degraded peats should always be

Dr Nayak told The Telegraph: “Our full paper is not yet published, but
we should definitely be worried about this. If the peatland is already
degraded, there is no problem. But if it is in good condition, we should
avoid it.”

Another peat scientist, Richard Lindsay of the University of East London,
said: “If we are concerned about CO2, we shouldn’t be worrying first about
the rainforests, we should be worrying about peatlands.

“The world’s peatlands have four times the amount of carbon than all the
world’s rainforests. But they are a Cinderella habitat, completely invisible
to decision- makers.”

One typical large peat site just approved in southern Scotland, the
Kilgallioch wind farm, includes 43 miles of roads and tracks. Peat only
retains its carbon if it is moist, but the roads and tracks block the
passage of the water.

The wind industry insists that it increasingly builds “floating roads,” where
rock is piled on a textile surface without disturbing the peat underneath.

But Mr Lindsay said: “Peat has less solids in it than milk. The roads
inevitably sink, that then causes huge areas of peatland to dry out and the
carbon is released.”

Mr Lindsay said that more than half of all British onshore wind development,
current and planned, is on peat soils.

In 2011 the Scottish government’s nature protection body, Scottish Natural
Heritage, said 67 per cent of planned onshore wind development in Scotland
would be on peatland.

Struan Stevenson, the Tory MEP for Scotland who has campaigned on the issue,
said: “This is a devastating blow for the wind factory industry from which I
hope it will not recover.

“The Scottish government cannot realise 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. It couldn’t exist
without subsidy. It is driving industry out of Britain and driving people
into fuel poverty.”

Scotland’s SNP government has led a strong charge for wind power, promising
that 100 per cent of the country’s electricity will be generated from
renewable sources.

But even its environment minister, Stewart Stevenson, admits: “Scotland has 15
per cent of the world’s blanket bog.

“Even a small proportion of the carbon stored in peatlands, if lost by erosion
and drainage, could add significantly to our greenhouse gas emissions.”

In 2008 Dr Smith, Dr Nayak and Prof Smith devised the standard “carbon payback
time” calculator used by the wind farm industry to assess the CO2 impact of
developments on peat soils.

“Large peatland wind farms introduce high potential for their expected CO2
savings to be cancelled out by release of greenhouse gases stored in the
peat,” they said.

“Emission savings are achieved by wind power only after the carbon payback
time has elapsed, and if this exceeds the lifetime of the wind farm, no
carbon benefits will be realised.”

Even the initial version of the calculator found that the carbon cost of a
badly sited peat wind farm — on a sloping site, resulting in more drainage
of the peat, and without restoration afterwards — was so high that it would
take 23 years before it provided any CO2 benefit. The typical life of a wind
farm is only 25 years.

The researchers initially believed that well-managed and well-sited peatland
wind farms could still cut greenhouse gas emissions, over time, compared to
electricity generation overall.

But now they say that the shrinking use of fossil fuels in overall electricity
generation has changed the equation, making the comparison less favourable
to all peatland wind farms.

“Our previous work argued that most peatland sites could save on net [CO2]
emissions,” they said. “But emissions factors [in UK electricity generation
as a whole] are likely to drop significantly in the future.

“As a result, peatland sites would be less likely to generate a reduction in
carbon emissions, even with careful management.”

The significance of the Aberdeen researchers’ work is increased by the fact
that they are funded by the Scottish government and are broadly pro-wind.

They wrote in a previous paper that “it is important that wind farm
developments should not be discouraged unnecessarily because they are a key
requirement for delivery of the Scottish government’s commitment to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions”.

Helen McDade, from the John Muir Trust, which campaigns to protect wild land,
said: “Much of the cheap land being targeted by developers desperate to cash
in on wind farm subsidies is peatland in remote wild land areas of the UK.

“This statement, from the academic team who developed the carbon calculator
for the Scottish government, is a timely reminder that we must have
independent and scientific assessment of the effects of policy and

The wind industry insisted that the impact of properly managed wind farms on
peat and carbon emissions was minimal. Niall Stuart, director of Scottish
Renewables, a trade association, said that damaged peatland could be
restored in as little as a year.

He said the association had signed a “statement of good practice principles”
with environmental groups promising that “every reasonable effort” will be
made to avoid “significant adverse environmental effects” on peatland,
including “properly planned and managed habitat restoration”.

Jennifer Webber, a spokesman for RenewableUK, the industry lobbying group,
said: “Wind farms continue to be an important tool in decarbonisation and
energy independence, with actual measurements showing wind displacing gas
from the system. This is why they retain support from environmental

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