Looking good? The aesthetics of wind


June 10, 2011

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In an intensely settled country it is not surprising that the development of wind power has led to much local resistance, mainly due to the effect they have or might have on heritage landscapes. John Busby reports on the visual intrusion challenge.

Although the prospect of noise from the blades is a factor, it is the visual intrusion that raises the most animosity.

Much of the hostility to on-shore wind power has been instigated by the nuclear lobby, that is jealous of the success of the feed-in tariffs and renewable obligation certificates its competitors have enjoyed.

The problem of visual intrusion is exacerbated by the need for building wind generators to increasing heights, particularly on-shore where the wind speed is perhaps 50% higher once it has escaped the attenuation in it caused by the drag over the land. The siting of ever larger wind generators off-shore has met with little resistance and developments are well in hand.

The nuclear lobby admits the visual intrusion of the huge buildings associated with its power plants, but argues that they are in a restricted number of locations. However, if the planned eight Areva EPRs and Westiinghouse AP1000s are built they will need additional 400 kV power transmission lines to connect them to the national grid and there are local protest groups already challenging the planned routes.

Off-shore wind will also need some grid connections and the size of the transmission lines and cables will have to match the maximum output.

The advantage of having a lot of smaller on-shore wind generators is that they can be connected to local networks where their variability can be levelled off and the maximum loads readily carried. In effect the network is able to store the wind power by losing the necessity to generate what the wind provides. This advantage is decried by the nuclear lobby as it argues that back-up power, possibly from fossil fuel is a concomitant of wind.

In general, the visual intrusion of on-shore generators is no more than the power lines needed to connect the nuclear stations, while the investment in massive grid connections can be avoided. If reasonably large on-shore wind is augmented by small scale wind and solar PV by the domestic sector and demand reduced by insulation and energy-saving measures an optimal solution for security of supply and reduction in visual intrusion could be attained.

John Busby offers a unique perspective on project finance, community engagement and the international energy markets. With a background in the chemical and power generation markets, John has written extensively on the measures taken by the UK to reduce its reliance on oil and in 2008 he was appointed energy analyst for economic consultancy, SRA. To find out more about John, visit

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