Simon Maden: ‘the truth about wind turbines’

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I think that the public deserve the truth about wind power and Maden Eco. Many of the assumptions and misconceptions are not very accurate.

My company is not involved in wind farms and neither supports nor objects to them. We choose sites very carefully and only install productive individual generators.

Maden Eco is not dependent entirely on subsidies. Fifty per cent of our activity is still construction, 40 per cent on solar and 10 per cent on wind. Our wind activity is taken very seriously, and careful siting and turbine choice is paramount.

The suggestion that wind turbines do not produce what is claimed could not be further from the truth.

In a bid to quell the confusion about how much power a turbine can generate, we will soon be publishing the annual yields of all our installations and there is an open invitation to anybody who wants to come and inspect meters with us and meet our clients.

There is a turbine identical to one of ours at Overlangshaws Galashiels which regularly produces in excess of 160,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) per anum. The average house uses 5,000 kwh of electricity a year.

The turbine at the Meadow Hill guest house near Berwick is 12 per cent over productive, generating 10,500 kwh on a prediction of 9,000kwh. The identical machine at Beal performs the same. The proven P35-2 at Felkington farm is bang on the power curve. The two P35-2’s on Coldingham Moor are ahead of expectation. Similarly, all the Evance machines are extremely reliable.

Maden Eco is ranked third in the UK as installers of this robust turbine. When we ask planners for higher masts it is not to be argumentative. The machines work better in clear open wind.

With careful siting and a quality turbine, applicants can enjoy fair returns, but nothing spectacular. The government’s Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme, introduced by the UK government in April 2010 as a financial incentive to encourage uptake of renewable electricity-generating technologies, is reducing. But with turbines not reducing in price the rate of return on an investment can be around 10 per cent.

If the government policy was not meant for a reason it would not be there. But most turbines take about ten years to pay back, so they are not quite the cash cows some would believe.

The subsidies are dropping by 40 per cent in the 0-100kw sector, and the installations are increasingly being done by companies with large energy demands who can make big savings in CO2 emissions. Of course the subsidy helps, but it is not the whole picture.

The other type of customer is the small holder who wants to generate their own energy. A 10kw Bergey turbine on a fair site can produce in excess of 20,000kwh.

The turbine costs £45,000 per unit to install, £2,000 for planning and is worth about £5,000-7,000 per anum as a combination of FIT income and savings on electricity.

The biggest problem for the small wind industry is that if somebody tells you something enough times you will start to believe them. That is where a lot of negativity is born.

I do agree with some of what the objectors say. There are certainly instances of bad siting and poor generators overstating yields. But Maden Eco is competent enough to not fall into that category. We do not go above a 30m mast height as we also agree that there is a greater visual impact above this height.

My worry is that some of the incorrect badly advised comments are being used in planning committee discussions when technical reports have proved the points. I do not envy the planners, and wind is a hot topic, but clear guidance has to be the way forward.

It is worth remembering most people who support anything going before council planning departments very rarely write to support. Only those who feel strongly write to object.

There are over 300,000 people in Northumberland, but a lot less than 1 per cent object to individual farm-scale generators. In a recent case of planning permission being refused, objections were at around 3 per cent of the local community.

It is also worth underlining that individual turbines and wind farms are two completely different things. If farm-scale turbines are installed of a fair capacity, they will flood the local grid with clean green energy and reduce the amount of power drawn down from the national grid to that area. The farmer can use frequency switching to run machinery when power is available.

The wind is not infinite and that is where higher towers and larger swept blade areas come into the 
5-7 metres per second (m/s)sites. On big wind sites the swept blade areas (diameters) are reduced so that less wind is required to keep machines running constantly for longer and produce more stable power supply.

I respect the views of objectors, but I also wish people would research the subject matter more thoroughly. If objectors push planners and developers into siting turbines incorrectly then this will massively affect the yield, so the same objectors should then not use poor performance as an argument if their own actions have contributed to output.

Had the Meadow Hill turbine, which produces 10,500kwh per anum on a 10m mast, been installed on an 18m mast, the yield would be significantly more and have a much greater effect on the energy bills.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the comments made by people who don’t know what they are talking about. Things like noise. Did you know at 10 m/s the noise of the wind is greater than the noise generated by most turbine blades?

Things like the impact on wildlife. Every Sunday in the summer I pick a small bird carcass up from the path in front of my living room window.

I have never picked any wildlife up from the base of a wind turbine and I have visited hundreds of them.

Our company’s door is open for anybody, objectors or supporters, who would like to know more about micro generation.

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Simon Maden is a director
at Maden Eco