Professor slams wind farm critics

Owen Kennedy 27 November 2008

A University Physics Professor, who has written a book on the future of sustainable energy in the UK, has criticised the Telegraph for misrepresenting his arguments, even before the work has been published.

“Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, written by David Mackay, is intended as an analysis of what is necessary to meet the UK’s energy demands over the coming decades, and how much can be met by renewable forms of energy such as wind or tidal power.

Professor Mackay told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that his aim was “to help people understand the numbers for all forms of energy and to understand how much energy we could get from renewables, from nuclear and from clean coal.”

But the headline for the article on the Telegraph’s website reads “Wind turbines would need to cover Wales to supply a sixth of country’s energy needs”, with the strapline claiming that this “has cast doubt over the Government’s push for wind energy”. The article went on to outline a number of objections to wind farms, including suggestions that they are ugly and present a danger to wildlife, even though these had little to do with Mackay’s book.

Mackay does calculate that onshore wind farms could potentially provide up to a sixth of the country’s energy, if the 10% of the country that gets most wind was given over entirely to them – an area roughly the size of Wales. But while he did not intend this to be a recommendation, he is equally clear that the government’s current plans to build wind farms – which are rather less ambitious – should not be abandoned in the light of his findings.

“Whatever we go for, enormous amounts of building are required. Any form of renewable energy has to be used countrywide to make more than a figleaf of difference,” he said.

Asked why he thought the Telegraph had misrepresented him, Mackay suggested that the writer of the article had always intended to write an article opposing wind power, regardless of what his book said.

“I think this chap was already going to do an article on wind power and, being the Telegraph, I think they wanted to poo-poo it. His mindset was that he wanted to say some critical stuff.”

Mackay’s main criticism of the government’s current energy policy, in fact, is that it is not nearly ambitious enough.

“If we build 33 gigawatts’ worth of wind farms, as the government is currently planning to do, that’ll only generate 4% of our total energy needs. If every replacement power station we build is nuclear, that’s 4% again. What about the other 92%?

“The trouble is that the British people are very good at saying no to everything,” he added.

“They say no to wind farms, and they say no to nuclear. If they keep saying no we won’t have power in 50 years.”

The book is out on Monday. Professor Mackay will be giving a talk about the book on the same day at Churchill College at 7.30pm, and another on Wednesday at 6.30pm in Heffers.

Owen Kennedy