Just back from a much needed break in North Wales during which I made no phone calls and did not switch on my computer once :-). However, I was unable to switch off my interest in UK energy policy, and I found much to stimulate my thinking.
Wind: One of my most surprising observations was the lack of wind turbines in this famously windy part of the UK. We saw only one on-shore wind farm [Mawla (Moel Maelogen)] and one off-shore farm Rhyl Flats.The 25 turbine, off-shore farm was only just visible on the horizon – the photograph above was taken through a 520 mm focal length lens – but even constructing this farm and its planned extension had caused heated local objections. For example:
Janet Haworth from Llandudno: Llandudno and Rhos-on-Sea have formed an action group…. Save Our Scenery S.O.S. to save the heritage bay… from a wanton act of vandalism to place up to 260 wind turbines in the bay. It will fence off our horizon with a wall of steel…
Lucia Pritchard. aged 12, from Llandudno. I think it will be horrible to put these monsters in our town, it is so beatiful now but for how long will it be like this if they put the wind turbines there? I love on Saturdays going to the beach with my friends and sit down and look at a lovely view and it must stay like that! People think it will make tourists come more, well I doubt that very much.
Hearing these views – and there were many more like them – makes me weary. People living in an economically deprived but beautiful part of the UK are unwilling to put up with even a hint of a windmill on their horizon.
Gas: Adjacent to the Rhyl Sands Wind Farm – at least as viewed from Llandudno Bay, is the The Douglas Complex is a 54-metre high system of three linked oil /gas platforms. I was amazed to see this as I did not realise we produced any fossil energy so close to shore.
Pumped Storage: North Wales is home to one of the most awesome energy projects in the world – the Dinorwig pumped storage facility. The engineering involved is breathtaking – basically a generator/pump connecting two lakes separated by a 600 metre vertical drop. The main manifold connecting the two reservoirs is shown below and gives some idea of the scale of the engineering. The plant is now 40 years old and the turbines, generators and transformers are contained entirely within vast chambers mined out of a mountain. They call it Electric Mountain and local people seemed proud of the facility, but strangely the visitor centre contained only one booklet, and no models or souvenirs. It is worth the tour – but do book in advance.
They use cheap night-time electricity to pump water uphill, lowering the lower lake level by 14 m and increasing the smaller upper lake level by 37 m. And then come peak time, they release the water – responding within seconds to peaks and troughs in demand. It can supply up to 1.2 GW at 12 seconds notice, and sustain 1.7 GW for up to 5 hours. In principle, engineering like this is essential to cope with future supply fluctuations associated with variable renewable electricity sources – particularly wind. But this device is used simply to exploit a change in the price of electricity during the day. And since it is only 75% efficient – this is not actually a power station at all, but a net consumer of quite a bit of power.
Nuclear: We were close, but sadly my children refused to allow me to visit Wylfa nuclear power station 😦 which unobtrusively generates 40% of the electricity requirements of Wales and so essentially bankrolls the Dinorwig operation. Oh Well. There is always next year.
On my holidays, I learned that people in North Wales were just the same as people everywhere else in the UK. They want electricity to be there when they want it, and they want it to be cheap. They care less about abstract ills such as carbon emissions or global warming, than they do about their immediate environment. So if a single blade of a wind turbine disturbs their view of the hills or the sea, they feel oppressed. But if energy generation is invisible or unobtrusive (nuclear, coal, gas or pumped storage) then like the rest of the UK, they care only about the price. People were more concerned with preserving the past and the present, than in creating a sustainable future.
And just in case any of you are worried for my mental health – we did actually spend most of the time walking, looking at sheep, visiting monuments and encountering a waterfall or two.