Windmills in a green field

Onshore wind farms: a breath of fresh air or an eye sore?

Group 14

Recently, wind farms have been hugely popular.  Green, greener, the greenest- wind turbines are seen as the magic tool to revolutionise the power generation industry. Indeed, in 2016, it was the second highest area of renewable technology growth, in capacity.

Sadly, unicorns do not exist and onshore wind farms pose multiple problems, especially to the local community.

On the one hand, green energy plays an important part for a more sustainable future; at the same time, the question of where to place wind farms is difficult to answer.

In order to assess the effects of onshore wind farms, the ethical frameworks of utilitarianism, macro- and micro-ethics will be used.

In this scenario, the ethical framework of utilitarianism considers if the majority of the community benefits from the installation of wind farms.

Macro-ethics consider effects of morality in the context of complete social systems. Micro-ethics concerns moral factors on a localised scale with reference to the individual stakeholders.

Cost implications

 

Click to Enlarge

Although the manufacturing, installation and operation of land-based turbines incurs costs, they are relatively low  compared to other energy generation methods when considering the levelised cost – the fraction of the total lifetime cost of a power source to the total value of electricity generation.  Electricity generation by onshore wind turbines is around 6.6 to 9.3 pence per kilowatt-hour (p/kWh), which is almost half that of offshore wind turbines and a quarter of solar photovoltaic technology (see Figure). What better way to utilise one of the most abundant and inexpensive resources here in the UK?

 

Local community

Interestingly, windmills are not considered unsightly, as wind turbines are. On the contrary, the former are seen as part of the heritage and landscape of many localities and are even captured in art, such as Mondrian’s Windmill in the Gein’. Local communities heavily oppose the development of wind farms as they change the landscape. This ‘wind turbines are ugly’ consensus devalues properties in their immediate vicinity, meaning that owners sustain a substantial financial hit[4][5].

This does not have to be the case though as wind farms have been transforming into tourist attraction sites, such as the Whitelee Wind Farm, which has attracted more than 300,000 visitors since 2009.

Furthermore, painting wind turbines themselves could increase their aesthetic appeal and ease tensions between stakeholders. Hence, if communication is established between all parties, these problems can be minimised.

Residents in close proximity to wind farms receive benefits from the government Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 imposes planning obligations for developers to improve local facilities and existing infrastructures for the community, including affordable housing and increased funding for services.

For instance, through the RES Local Electricity Discount Scheme, property owners close to RES wind farms receive an annual discount on electricity bills. This justifies the building of wind turbines from the utilitarian point of view, as the majority of the community benefits from it.

Effects on Farmland

Current practice sees many onshore wind farms being erected on farmland. This opens new job opportunities to the local community in occupations such as running the power plant, constructing infrastructure and tourism. The land is also already clear of trees and away from urban areas. Whilst this offers obvious benefits, there is a flipside to the coin.

It is wishful thinking to assume that, when a turbine is constructed, only the footprint will be sacrificed. The heavy machinery used during installation leads to soil compaction which significantly reduces crop yield. And the best part? This same machinery is used each time maintenance needs to be carried out(!) The result of this is further crop losses, in addition to those due purely to the loss of arable land to the turbine pad. This means that the farmer sustains not only immediate economic losses but also more long-term damages. The problem of compaction requires years of careful farming to rectify before maximum yields can be realised, having a huge micro-ethical impact on the farmer.

In these ways, it is inevitable that turbine erection will be at cost of land and result in some economic losses to the land owner.  However, these issues may prove to be minimal when weighed against the more macro-ethical benefits.

Impact on Wildlife

When it comes to wildlife, birds are arguably one of the worst affected species. Apart from the inevitable collision with the turbine blades, wind farms could lead to the alterations to annual migratory routes. Additionally, access to feeding and roosting grounds, may be impeded. Scottish Natural Heritage proposes that those important locations should be considered before the design of the wind farm.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has provided a locational guidance for wind developers to avoid sensitive sites such as bird migration paths in Scotland, where 60% of UK’s onshore wind sites are located[10][11]. Furthermore, wind developers are employing methods, such as using ultrasonic waves and strike detection mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of birds and bats colliding into the wind turbines[12][13].

However, despite these efforts, the threat posed to flying creatures still exists because an external body such as a company or the government might still struggle to locate such important grounds accurately and efficiently. This argument indicates that close interaction between wind developers and the local community should be strived for.

Hence, the impact on wildlife can be reduced if careful considerations are taken.

Also, and most significantly, most of the environmental side-effects presented by fossil fuels, nuclear power and hydroelectricity, (such as air pollution and radioactive waste,) are absent in wind power technology.

Conclusion

Building on-shore wind farms harms the few and benefits the many.

From an economic point of view, building them can be beneficial to the local community.

Construction of on-shore wind farms on arable land may result in individual losses but, on balance, gains on the macro-ethical scale far outweigh these.

It has been shown that the impact on wildlife can be reduced and the positive impact on the environment, owing to the renewability of wind power, prevails.

Therefore, on-shore wind farms should be built but with careful consideration for the local stakeholders and their concerns.

76 thoughts on “Onshore wind farms: a breath of fresh air or an eye sore?

  1. You say that onshore wind farms are acceptable because they benefit more people than they harm, but what about the harm that the unlucky ones have to undergo? How high is too high a cost to pay? There are several health issues that have been linked to wind turbines, would this be a good enough reason to get rid of onshore wind installations? I think it’s important to consider this (!)(!)(!)

    1. Thanks for your comment. The group that are affected by onshore wind is the motivation of this discussion. We agree that it is definitely an important consideration, especially if health is deteriorated. I do not think there is a simple yes or no to the issue, but we agreed with a yes – if steps are taken to minimise the negative impacts affecting the local community as far as possible. It is a good point raised and I personally would be interested in looking deeper into health issues associated with onshore wind.

  2. One of the first ever final year projects I supervised was concerned with how much energy we could get from a traditional wind mill, so I liked your comment that windmills are not considered unsightly (just ask the Dutch!) Incidentally, Sam in his project worked out that twenty seven homes could be powered from a traditional mill using an improved sail design. People could also live in the traditional mill.

    With regards to your article, I think it is interesting. Can you expand (a little bit more) on the ethical arguments for both sides please?

    1. Hi Dr Patrick, thank you for your comment. That is very interesting that a whopping 27 houses can be powered by an improved traditional windmill. It can be a great integration of power generation and local culture, similar to our line of thought in painting the wind turbine, but in a much more feasible and acceptable way.
      Drawing back to utilitarianism, from the wider community’s standpoint, it is acceptable to build onshore wind farms because of the cost savings and the higher usage of renewable energy. From the local community’s point of view, the same theory can arguably apply if we look at the economics. The reduced energy prices for the local community and new job opportunities introduced are two practical advantages for the group, although it would be worth focusing on the other three ethical theories and further expanding on them to get a wider perspective to justify the cons stated above.

  3. A good article with several interesting points raised. I agree with the conclusion that the positives outweigh the negatives, and there are ways to manage and lessen the impact of those affected by these disadvantages. With this in mind, as long as these negative points are considered and resolved where possible, to me on-shore wind farms are no longer an option, but a necessity for producing clean, renewable energy and reducing the UK’s fossil fuel energy consumption.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree with the urge of onshore wind farms particularly in the UK, that it is more than just an option. Supported by facts, it is by far one of the most abundant yet renewable source of energy the UK possesses.

  4. Nowadays, a lot of alternatives have been found in order to avoid pollution and wind turbines are one of them.
    I truly believe that wind turbines are the future as for the green energy because of its efficiency and, as stated in the article, the low cost compared to the quantity of energy produced.
    The argument saying that wind mills are ugly isn’t acceptable as I never heard anyone dying to its ugliness. Also, I do not see the issue of it being ugly if it helps to avoid pollution and save the planet.
    Furthermore, people say that it affect the animals such as birds and that it kills a number of them every year. However, numerous actions have been taken as to protect them and try to minimize the impact that the wind mills have on them. Of course, I think that all human constructions will always have a repercussion on the nature and animals of the planet, as small as it cane be.
    Following this argument, I believe that wind mills cause way less damage to the birds and other animals than other human actions. For instance, human constantly destroy the forests (like the amazon) as to dig out oil/petrol which has an disastrous impact on the planet’s wild life and creates a big pollution issue. I love animals, I am for their protection and I truly believe that destroying the amazon is so much worse than installing wind mills. The amazon is home to hundreds or even thousands of species of animals and almost non of it is left due to human actions.
    Also, not only do human destroy the forests and kill animals, but what they get out of it (oil/petrol) goes to have energy for cars etc… And all of this is creates a lot of pollution.
    The death of thousands of animals, the melting of the ice etc.. all being caused by pollution.
    If another way is found such as green energy, a way which would reduce the damage caused to animals and nature, I am in favor of it.
    Also, the point that states that wind mills affect people living nearby, well, I think that they already receive some discounts on their energy bills or other advantages and if they still complain, they should move out. Because wind mills are better than killing numerous species of animals. I have seen a lot of windmills farms in Europe and I have never been bothered by them as they are usually installed near a highway which is far from everything.
    Finally , if they find them ugly, just paint the windmills in a flashy color and here you are. Add some flowers if you want so that the people stop complaining.

    PS: unicorns do exist by the way…

    1. Thanks Wallie. Interesting take on the wildlife part of the issue. I agree that any human construction will result in a certain extent of harm to nature and wildlife. And yes you are right, actions have been taken to try to minimise the impact. Some stated above were tracking and avoiding bird migration paths. An interesting article I recently came across in the link below has also stated several ways that wind energy companies are employing to reduce the harm on birds and bats. Particularly, I found the ultrasonic acoustics idea interesting! It looks like a win-win since it helps preventing both birds and bats from flying into the turbines, and the acoustic waves are out of the human hearing range.
      https://grist.org/climate-energy/for-the-birds-and-the-bats-8-ways-wind-power-companies-are-trying-to-prevent-deadly-collisions/

    2. Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comments.
      I especially like your suggestion that benefits to the environment through the use of renewable energy sources should be seen to totally offset questions of aesthetics

  5. I agree that wind energy has a future in the UK. From the infographic I find it interesting that nuclear power could be cheaper than wind by 2030, it also has other advantages such as consistent power output, is the use of radioactive material a worth trade off?

    In terms of on vs. off shore wind the Whitelee wind farm in the article is spread over a whopping 55km for 0.5GW on a windy day! How much countryside would be left unaffected to generate a reliable electricity supply for the UK especially when the sea is so vast and empty? Maybe local residents are opposed to the sheer scale of the farms?

    1. Interesting take on nuclear. Yes, personally I don’t see why not. If it can be safely developed, nuclear is a sustainable form of energy in my opinion. This will be its own huge topic in engineering ethics.

      Infrastructure planning should be carefully carried out. Ideally, both natural country and wind farms should exist evenly. Onshore wind farms have their advantages over their offshore counterparts, such as easier maintenance, so I think they both should be used but not over-relying on one or the other

  6. Ethically this seems simple. One of the main objections being that wind turbines are unsightly is only a matter of opinion. For some they are an eyesore for others they are are beautiful. As for the economic damage, they can also bring economic benifits. It appear the risk associated with them is limited to affecting migrating birds, some economic damage (which is potentially offset) and offending some people. However the refusing to build wind farms hurts our attempts to reduce climate change which will undoubtley cause economic damage, affect migratory birds and many other creatures and risk the lives of thousands of people.

    1. Indeed, some find them unsightly but some find them a beauty of technology. In addition, most of the time the turbines are quite wide spread, rather than looking like a dense power generation station. I think you raised a solid point that using this form of renewable energy helps to reduce climate change which in turn benefits the ecosystem. More people should consider this point.

    2. Thanks for your comments. Particularly insightful was your suggestions that those factors which are adversely affected by wind farms would suffer much worse at the hands of climate change associated with fossil fuel usage.

  7. This is a very interesting article and presents a balanced argument. Whilst I am personally in favour of onshore wind farms, I understand the negative impact they can have on those who live near them and to the environment.

    When deciding where a wind farm should go, the environmental impacts should be considered, in my opinion, with greater weight than our selfish human monetary considerations. Aside from the endangerment of life to birds and damage to wildlife which should be avoided entirely, the majority of other negative consequences outlined (the aesthetics of wind farms/affect on house value etc) seem like a small price to pay to protect future generations and more importantly – our planet.

    1. Thank you for your kind words.
      I think that is a valid argument. Do you think then that the local community should make the sacrifice, if their area is the area with the least environmental impact for placing the wind farms?

  8. Finding new renewable energy sources and developing existing ones is of the upmost importance in our modern world. Lets be realistic, fossil fuels have a huge damaging effect upon the environment but we will not stop using energy – we still want to drive to work and use our computers at night. Wind farms are a step in the right direction, and although they don’t fully meet our energy requirements at this present time, they might just do so in the future.

    Concerning the sight of a wind farm, i think they are quite majestic. They are often in rural communities and i do not think it is unreasonable to say that elderly people represent a large percentage of these communities. Wind farms are as much of a source to complain about as their NHS prescriptions!

    1. True that the energy demand is greater than ever! Despite methods we try to reduce energy consumption, with the increase in population and industrial advancement there is still a rising trend. In support of that, do check out this link of the energy consumption trend in the UK
      https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/energy-consumption-in-the-uk

      While I still think that it is important to consider the thoughts of people in rural areas, as that is their home and they should feel happy and comfortable in, I too personally think that wind turbines look majestic. However, we cannot bypass the fact that they are not liked by some who have to see them everyday. By writing this article, our group hopes that there will be a solution to make the local community happy whilst still growing the wind energy industry.

    2. Thanks for reading our article and contributing to the discussion!
      I hadn’t considered the demographics within the communities affected and your comment prompted me to see if there are any statistics on this – according to a survey of 500 people, only 60% of over 55s support wind farms. When compared to 16-34 year olds (86% support) and under 24 year olds (100% support), I think it’s fair to say that the older generations living in rural areas are partially responsible for the difficulty faced by investors when trying to persuade these local communities to support new builds. Maybe it would be helpful to develop their understanding somehow of the long-term benefits associated with wind power and show more consideration for their concerns?

      1. Great points raised re the demographic of those opposing wind farms. Really interesting to identify opposition is more prevalent among the older generations. Thanks!

  9. All the ideas are good. However, some points are not strong enough to persuade the readers. It will be better if some research data is mentioned behind of each point.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Which arguments do you think are not solid enough in terms of evidence? We will be happy to expand further.

      I found these articles quite informative. I hope that helps!

      Effects on farmland:
      Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature – Zhou, L et al

      Effects on wildlife:
      Behavioral Responses of Bats to Operating Wind Turbines – Horn, J.W. et al
      Assessing the impacts of wind farms on birds – Drewitt A.L. et al

  10. Interesting read! for myself would have to say that building a wind turbine on shore is a great idea! First of all, about the soil compaction and how it affects local farmers, i suggest something like a subsidy of some sort be given to the farmer that is directly affected by the erection of the wind turbine. In terms of environmental effects such as bird strikes, I feel that the birds are more likely to hit a reflective skyscraper window which are abundance in major cities eg: london.

    Also, if we are going to rely on coal or oil, that creates even more pollution. I feel that it is not a matter of what is cheaper but the important thing is society needs clean energy (solar, wind, tidal etc) in order to not destroy Earth by 2020.

    to reiterate things, besides being more environmentally conscious such as reducing plastic waste, i believe that building on shore wind turbines is a way forward towards a cleaner, greener, happier and healthier Earth.

    1. Subsidising farmers is a good idea, or even making it a responsibility for wind energy developers to recover the land (soil compaction treatment etc).

      I am feeling optimistic about the efforts to mitigate bird strikes that are currently in progress, as posted in a previous comment. Avoiding migration paths itself should significantly reduce the number of bird collisions.

      Thanks for stressing again that we need clean energy, and price is a secondary consideration. That is one of the wonders of onshore wind, as it is clean yet it costs less. It is an attractive technology that definitely constructs the motivation of reviewing ethical causes of these projects. If this is concluded to be ethical, we can enjoy its many benefits.

  11. I would wholeheartedly agree with the positive comments made in this article about wind turbines. Of course there are negatives, as with any large infrastructure project, however, viewing the bigger picture, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. We need to find sources to feed the increasing electrical requirements of the UK in one way or another, and to see a clean source of energy as the most economically viable seems like a no-brainer for development!

    It is stated that there are local effects to wildlife, which do need to be taken into account, but with sufficient research hopefully there will be solutions found to these problems. If you take a moment to compare these effects on wildlife to those from effects from other energy industries, for example the deepwater horizon disaster, then it is all put into perspective. People need to take a moment to step back from emotional irrationality, wherein they may be upset about directly seeing a few birds die from colliding with wind turbines, because in doing so they forget about the environmental atrocities happening across the world around us due to the fossil fuel industry.

    At the end of the day, whichever economically viable energy solution that objectively has the least impact on the environment around us should be used. A few people being upset by the aesthetic impact of such technologies should not be the ones to decide the future of our planet. We only have one planet, we must look after it, and wind turbines may be a key player in sustainable developement.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Interesting views on the impact of wildlife. In my opinion, any kind of development will have a certain impact on its surrounding, at the very least it will change the ecosystem of its area of construction. One thing about wind turbines is that the effect we focus on is during the operation of them, not the construction. Although there is only a few birds hitting the turbines each time, but if not well-planned, this could accumulate across the whole lifetime of the wind turbines. However, you are right it is worthwhile quantifying the damages to compare the environmental impact factor that this technology yields.

      Interestingly, wind energy is not the only renewable energy that comes with an adverse environmental impact. The process of manufacturing photovoltaic panels too involve mining of quartz, which leaves a large amount of land barren. One thing we know is that the nett effect of these renewable energies is good for the environment, and ultimately reducing carbon emissions. By addressing these environmental issues will contribute to further enhancing the benefits of renewable energy.

  12. A very good and interesting article and I do agree with the final conclusion that the benefits of wind power outweigh the disadvantages. Especially when you consider that without the strive to create renewable energy resources, farmers world wide will experience much worse crop yields due to the effects of climate change. So I do think that the potential effect that climate change will create will be far greater than the impact posed by on-shore wind turbines.

  13. This is a very interesting article with good points raised on both the benefits and disadvantages of having onshore wind farms. Whilst personally, I feel the few disadvantages faced are small in comparison to the overall bigger picture of overcoming climate change by reducing our reliance on fossil fuel, I believe that it would take a few more years for the overall population to fully grasp the significance of producing clean energy. I believe this is so as the majority of those who are currently against having onshore wind turbines are those who live close by to these IWT in rural regions of the UK and are not directly affected by global warming as those who live in the city. Even so, I agree with your conclusion that on-shore wind farms should continue being built but with careful consideration for the local stakeholders and their concerns. Rationally, the needs of the majority of the world population and the future generations to come outweigh the minority affected by the negative impacts that come with IWT. With the many recent advances in renewable technology over the last decade, it won’t be long before any impact on wildlife and the environment can be fully mitigated.

    1. I have never thought about it that way! – that people in the rural region have a likelihood of being shielded from the urge of climate change due to the well-preserved environment there. Ironically, they have to face the changes the country makes collectively when it comes to placing wind turbines.

      Your thoughts directed me to think again about why not offshore wind energy. Besides the higher cost as mentioned above, I found out that offshore wind again poses its own impact on the ecosystem. In addition to birds colliding into the turbines, there is also an impact on marine wildlife. Further complications involve the challenging maintenance and construction of offshore wind farms. These again strengthens the need to develop onshore wind energy in high wind capacity rural areas.

  14. Quite often “be all, end all” solutions to problems are heralded with little or no consideration given to what problems these solutions raise themselves. I’m ashamed to say that until quite recently I was also on the wind energy bandwagon, but your article gives covers good scope on the issue, and so it was definitely worth the read.

    I do hope that energy companies looking into wind power options, actively seek opening effective communication channels with the various stakeholders these projects concern, as you’ve said. If suitable incentives could be offered and provided for those who may benefit from them in a bid to mitigate their discomfort then they ought to and should be given. Post-reading I will say that I’m still on the wind power bandwagon, as the current state of the environment due to fossil fuel usage leaves too little room for energy solutions that make everyone happy, but at least now I’m on the bandwagon with a mind to take on the full tour; good parts and parts that need to be improved.

  15. Good article and I must agree with the conclusion too. Would it be possible to offer farmers some compensation to balance the effect of low farm yield – free electricity perhaps? Still a little unconvinced about the protection of birds. We, as a species, have been far too inconsiderate about other species on the planet – as evidenced by the last white male northern rhino dying this year, and it’s time we changed that. More work should be done on this aspect but it doesn’t seem an insurmountable problem.

    1. Free electricity for people living within a proximate radius is a good idea in my opinion. With the sacrifice they have to make I think this is a fair incentive.

      Regarding to bird preservation, I think we are making an effort to minimise the impact compared to a few years back. More and more NGOs are stepping out to protect these flying creatures. The example of the Scottish Natural Heritage above is just one of the organisations that are putting in much effort to do so, for example they have laid out the bird migratory paths so that developers can avoid that area to build onshore wind farms. However, referring to this same example, more communication between energy companies, the organisations and the government should be made. Efforts to protect wildlife can only be fully achieved if each stakeholder cooperates with each other. If the government enforces that energy companies should avoid the migratory paths outlined by wildlife protection organisations, then we can be sure that wind turbines will not be built in those regions.

  16. The use of wind turbines do provide a lot of energy and it is currently one the best sources of energy in the UK.
    However there is the issues of noise pollution and health problems and local economic losses does appear to impact people living close to wind farms. The global economic benefits are good when not considering the local economic benefits. So is that worth sacrificing the local people and how can they be compensated? Finally have you considered the possibility and the uses of off shore wind farms and it’s impacts?

    1. I think you made a great point on the health issues in the local environment, which is something that should not be neglected. This should be critically reviewed as I think it is even more important than the economic benefit.

      I do not agree that onshore wind damages the local economic benefits though. Although some area of farmland will be damaged, but large area of it is still in use. I do think that energy companies should cure the land after construction is carried out to restore the soil density and condition of the farmland. Besides, the reduced energy bills for residents close to wind turbines also poses a local economic benefit. Developing the onshore wind industry opens to new job opportunities, especially in the local area. For example, jobs in the tourism sector are opened following the growth of Whitlee wind farm into a sight of attraction. Workforce is also needed in the construction and maintenance of the turbines. Having said that, the economics should be carefully considered, as these can only happen if planning is carried out. It is important to focus on the local economics as building a wind farm will not magically change the economics to what that has just been mentioned.

  17. Great that a large amount of consideration has been put in this project. The environment will be affected but given that there will be a reduce in the usage of non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuel, and of course the negative effects that come with it, I think that we should have more wind farms in places that has the privilege of receiving wind energy.

  18. Regarding the point that onshore wind energy costs less, more consideration has to be taken into account for the maintenance cost to strengthen this point.After considering this, justification has to be made on the cost-effectiveness of employing onshore wind turbines for its economic benefit and area of land used.

    1. Energy generated per unit area is a crucial point indeed! I think this is especially important in onshore wind, secondary to solar energy, because wind turbines are often a standalone system, whereas photovoltaic plates can be placed on top of structure thus saving space despite also taking up a significant amount of area. I agree that this definitely has to be looked into because land area seems to be a main source to the issues mentioned. However, I think it is optimistic that with the increasing efficiency of wind turbines through research will help increasing the energy generated per unit area.

  19. My first thought after reading the title was if it’s simply an eye shore then its technically not a problem at all! Then reality kicked in and kudos for highlighting some well thought problems regarding on shore wind farms. I was not aware on the impact wind farms had towards the soil compaction and thus drop in crop yield.

    However, it does seem like we have no other option here. Being among the cheapest renewable energy to generate it is necessary for us to invest in wind farms as global warming is at an alarming rate. Thus despite the reduction in yield and impact on wildlife, in utilitarianism perspective, development of wind farm will benefit more people as it has lower carbon intensity.

    In conclusion, I think its a good article and I too stand with your group’s standing that is invest in wind farms with taking careful considerations while doing so.
    Congratulations for managing to attract some very well postulated comments as well!

  20. A well thought out and explained article that touches on the broader positives of on-shore windfarms. I like how the societal impacts on a human level were considered, often these decisions are made by large by large corporations and the greatest stakeholders are in fact those nearest to the implemented project. I do wonder whether all these problems warrant the need for on-shore windfarms as opposed to off-shore wind farms – what are the major disadvantages of these? It seems that many of the ethical dilemmas can be avoided using off-shore windfarms.

    That being said, wind turbines present a relatively new opportunity in the field of renewable energies and given advances in current technologies, problems regarding noise pollution, visual pollution and size may be reduced in the coming years. Any change in infrastructure will result in, to some degree, changes in the local environment and it is important to consider the time element in these ethical discussions, whilst a few may suffer in the short term, potential many more may benefit over the life span of these structures – who is more important?

    1. Solid point made on the effects of stakeholders. The government and energy companies are indeed the decision-makers in this dilemma, but quite often they are presented with the wider picture that wind energy benefits the majority. The affected stakeholders though, are the local community which interest are quite often neglected by the decision-makers. Better communication definitely has to be established for this.

      There are some major challenges with offshore wind energy. Offshore wind turbines often face more unpredictable conditions from wind and tidal effects. The construction and development of these are much more difficult and expensive as compared to onshore wind. It poses an extra set of environmental issue, which is the consideration of marine wildlife, on top of the effects on colliding birds. However, with the advancement of research in this area, it is hopeful that more reliance will be shifted towards offshore wind to reduce the population of onshore wind turbines.

      I fully agree with the importance of the time element. Over time this will have major benefits on both the entire nation and the local community. Short term, this might not be the greatest thing that has happened to the local community. On the grand scheme of things, we are talking about a few to 20 years in the short term. Although this seems like a relatively short period of time in our technological revolution, it can be a big part of the life of the affected community. From an engineering ethics point of view, I think this should not be neglected.

  21. This is a very interesting article about the issues caused by onshore wind turbines, which is not something I think about due to the lack of them where I live. Something I disagree with, however, is the argument against due to birds being endangered – i’d like to hear your ethical standpoint on this, as I struggle to see how birds have more of a positive impact on people than clean renewable energy does.

    1. My ethical take on this is from the care ethics framework. Yes, it is the right thing to proceed with developing onshore wind farms due to its obvious positive impacts on mankind, not only in providing clean energy, but also in the advancement of technology and economic growth. Cultivating the well-being of the relationship between mankind and the ecosystem should not be overlooked, even if it does not have a direct monetary benefit to us. I think this will also reveal its advantages in the long run, when the extinction of certain species is successfully prevented. Therefore, as much as I am FOR onshore wind energy, I also think that we should put in more effort to preserve the ecosystem.

    2. Thanks for your comments.
      We are not suggesting that wind energy be scrapped as a renewable scheme due to the negative impacts on birds but that this effect should be minimised as far as possible. Reducing the negative effects man has on his fellow creatures should be intrinsically incorporated into engineering design and execution.

  22. You bring up several strong points both for and against onshore turbines in this article, and also mention local communities in wind farm areas – I think a good idea would perhaps be to lay out to these communities, in detail, the advantages and possible disadvantages that installing turbines would bring, then ask them for their opinion, via a democratic majority vote system, whether they want the turbines to be installed or not. This seems to me to be the most ethical method of deciding whether to place them in a certain area.

    1. I am resonating with this idea. In fact, politicians are urging the idea of the local community having a say in whether or not to build the wind farms in their area. It is important to lay out the facts in detail, which includes providing details of the positive impact, area of land used, construction lead time and compensation provided. In 2015, the UK government has implemented that the local people should have a final say on building onshore wind farms (see link). However, this should be enforced as it currently does not seem like it is fully followed, hence this dilemma. Laying out the details and being transparent should be one of the ways for this law to be enforced.

      https://www.gov.uk/government/news/giving-local-people-the-final-say-over-onshore-wind-farms

  23. I think that overall, the positives outweigh the negatives in terms of onshore wind farms. The need for renewable energy sources has to come before the devaluation of properties. The development of new technology will always come at a price, and unfortunately for this issue, the price to pay may be the death of birds and unhappy residents.

    However, offshore wind farms eliminate many of the problems that onshore wind farms have, so further investment must be placed into them.

  24. I think the article is well thought out and that the question as to whether onshore windfarms should be constructed is a difficult one. The comment about harm to others is valid however within this, the harm caused to wildlife in the area must also be addressed. The gains obtained by providing homes with green, renewable energy are obviously a positive however the cost to the local ecosystem may be at risk. Even though this is addressed in the article, a suggestion of precautionary measures to avoid risk to wildlife would have been useful. The ethical frameworks could do with a bit more expansion in terms of which theory applies best to the situation and how the other theories apply as well.

  25. Personally, I think the idea of discounting the use of windfarms based on pure turbine vanity is obscene. Even though I do not think wind turbines are ugly, I think that people should pull their heads out of their bottoms and think not about what things look like, but the good that they do. Greenhouse gases are killing our planet and wind turbines are a viable means of harvesting clean energy, especially in the UK where we have an incredible amount of wind energy to harvest compared to the rest of Europe.

    The fact that wind turbines negatively effect the profits of farmers however, is not okay. I think that every effort should be made to place these turbines in areas where the effects on the soil will not be a problem, such as when you see them on bits of grass next to motorways. If there is no other place to situate them but on farmland, then I think some sort of system should be set up to compensate farmers for their losses due to the negative effects on the soil.

    DON’T GIVE UP ON WIND ENERGY LET’S HELP SAVE THE WORLD.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your consideration for the losses felt by farmers. Up until 2016 there were government subsidies offered to compensate for these losses but this was scrapped due to advantages being taken. With the increase in wind farming, the Tories have suggested there may be a reopening of the debate on these payments. It will be interesting to see in the coming years whether anything comes of this…

  26. I would be curious to know if the reduced electricity bills you mentioned offset the reduced property value. House prices can vary a lot so I would wonder whether the owners would ever get their money back.

    Aside from this I can see the numerous benefits of wind farms and can appreciate that apart from the issues mentioned here, on-shore is probably easier than off-shore in terms of maintenance etc. even though on-shore probably have more complaints from the locals. In my opinion, I think if we’re going to continue with renewable energy then inevitably we will use on-shore wind farms more here in the UK and if people want a greener future for the whole planet then they will perhaps just have to accept that the view from their window might have to change.

    1. I would think that the reduced energy bills will help the decreased property value. Property value depreciates because a house for say will become less attractive because people do not want to live next to a wind farm. However, labeling the property with the reduced energy bills may attract property buyers and thus compensating for the reduced value.

      Indeed, wind is an abundant resource we have here in the UK, therefore I definitely see it as a way to go. We truly hope that if these issues were tackled adequately, we can fully enjoy the benefits wind energy has to deliver.

  27. Interesting article with lots of pros and cons to consider! It feels like there will always be a loser with the usage of windfarms but would it be possible to minimise these losses? For example, by focusing on sites with the least amount of people affected. I think the wildlife will have to be sacrificed for the benefit of humans in this situation but looking for solutions with the least amount of humans affected might be the way to go

    1. Thanks for your comments
      It was our hope, with this article, to present suggestions for minimising the negative effects of wind farms. For instance painting the turbines to reduce aesthetic complaints. Until 2016, the government had more generous subsidies to compensate negatively affected stakeholders (eg farmers). It will be interesting to see whether there is a return to this with the rise in wind energy generation…

  28. Unsure about painting wind turbines – it wouldn’t instantly get the “culture factor” that windmills have so they can’t necessarily be compared.

    It would be good if you could quantify the soil compaction factor. Are we talking about just the crops in the circle of 4m around the turbine, or acres?

    1. Thanks for your comments
      we agree that painting wind turbines might be a bit gimicky but it was just a suggestion!
      Re soil compaction: another commentor (who is a landowner with turbines on his land) identifies that construction companies do put down mats to minimise the effect of having heavy machinery running over the land. But more land is sacrificed than just the base of the turbine

  29. I’ve heard from people who live near wind turbines that they can be quite noisy up close, but I’m not sure to what extent. Is it enough to be a contributing factor in your arguments for effects on local community and wildlife? Or even livestock for that matter?

  30. As a land owner, agricultural contractor and manufacturer of industrial machinery, I found your blog an interesting read.

    Firstly, re soil compaction- when maintenance is carried out on the turbines on our land, mats are put down to form a road. This hopes to reduce compaction. That being said, it is indisputable that we see notable crop losses from land that has had the associated machinery over it. However, if the government subsidies are sufficient, we’ll put up with this. Earning money for having a turbine requires much less effort than arable farming!

    I appreciate that the subject of your article is large scale wind farms but, as a manufacturer, I’d like to know more about the build quality of proposed turbines. Many smaller turbines erected on farmland are often ok-ed by the landowner because of the economic incentive the government offer. However, in my experience the smaller turbines are not robust enough to fulfil their forecasted life span and often, by the time they’ve paid for themselves, they’re jiggered!

    Finally, I have a contracting business which bales straw to be burnt at Drax so have some insight into the world of renewables. It’s my observation that a lot of the incentives behind such movements are the economic gains of the middle men. For instance, Collett’s haulage firm have a very cushy number as they have the contract for delivering many of the large turbines that get erected in the UK. Your article does not address these beneficiaries.

    Hope I haven’t knocked the wind out of your sails. Otherwise, cracking article!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. Really insightful to get the opinion of one so involved.

      You’re right, there are stakeholders which haven’t been considered. The haulage company in particular is interesting.

      Thank you for your comments re build quality of turbines. As you identify, the subject of our article is the more commercial scale wind farms.

  31. there are many controversies surrounding the topic. One of the main subjects of concern when discussing wind power is its inherent intermittency. There is no way to guarantee the amount of wind on a given day, which could become a problem if wind is the only source of electricity. People also argue that switching to wind power does not have a significant impact on carbon emissions because it will never be able to compete with conventional fossil fuel production, but in places where wind farms have already been built, there has already been evidence of significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and based on these models, scientists predict that the reduction in these emissions will only continue to escalate as the use of wind energy increases

  32. First of all, I am a big believer in wind farms

    I think the first thing to do with wind farms is to put them up and manage the impact and risks while looking for opportunities to improve

    Wind farms like all other renewable energy sources should be decentralised, hence the impacts should also be minimised locally due to their small scale.

    Comparing wind energy to fossil fuels, I think the positive impacts it has far outweighs the negative impact it could have on the environment and wildlife.

    Hence, wind energy should contribute a fair share of the future energy sources.

    1. Indeed, in the trial and error process that you mentioned, I think we are now in the ‘error detection’ process. In light of bringing attention to the issues above, we hope that this will yield a better planning method in the new wind farms to come.

      I am a fan of the idea of decentralising renewable energy. We probably would still need a few mega renewable power generation stations, but these mid-large scale farms, if further broken down into more but smaller versions, will reduce the issues stated but potentially still produce the same energy capacity. I think the issue with managing many dispersed wind turbines will then be the higher cost and more workforce. This should be less of an issue though once it is well established.

  33. Good article, I understand you are focusing on the aspects of onshore wind farms. Perhaps if you had additional time you could consider the effectiveness of onshore vs offshore wind farms?

  34. An interesting read. One consideration is that most if not all forms of energy generation cause visual pollution of some kind, so why are wind farms the biggest culprit to visual pollution or are they even the worst? Is it due to their small land use to energy generated ratio? Would we run out of land for things like farmland and cities if we tried to run solely on wind farms? As stated in the article, wind farms from an economical point of view are brilliant but I believe it needs the support of the other renewable energy sources so we can try to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each.

    1. Interesting thought. Visual pollution is a subjective matter. Speaking to peers from my generation, I often find that we think wind turbines are majestic rather than ugly. In fact, I think they manifest the advancement in technology. However, I cannot speak for the entire age range. People that grew up in beautiful rural areas will cherish its beauty fully and I cannot imagine what it will be like for developers to change the scenery that they have grew up in all of their lives. It is a shame that most people that find it majestic do not live in the area wind turbines are placed, but most people that feel otherwise have to face the scene everyday.

      I do not think that we will run out of land for wind farms. As turbines reduce in size, it is easier nowadays to even place them on the rooftop of homes. Recent development have even presented us with portable mini wind turbines. By increasing the efficiency wind turbines, big or small, I think space should not be a problem but that is a great point brought up!

  35. Thank you so much for your comments. Really insightful to get the opinion of one so involved.

    You’re right, there are stakeholders which haven’t been considered. The haulage company in particular is interesting.

    Thank you for your comments re build quality of turbines. As you identify, the subject of our article is the more commercial scale wind farms.

  36. I think that as people begin to grow up with wind turbines around them, they will become the norm and therefore more accepted. Currently many of the people complaining about them have seen these things installed in the last 5 years or so, so knew what the land was like before they were there.

    Children growing up now will know no different, the wind turbines will simply be ‘part of the furniture’ and therefore they will recognise them as what they are, simply smaller scale energy power plants.

    1. Thanks for your comments. You’re right that wind turbines will become much more the norm for future generations and hopefully this will eradicate aesthetics as an issue. Perhaps these arguments will need updating sooner than we think!

  37. I am not a fan of the on shore wind turbines to look at. I do, however enjoy looking at the old school wind mill !! Perhaps some clever engineer could develop a more attractive turbine !!

  38. Thanks for sharing. It is encouraging to hear that some wind mills still appeal to you! I recently came across this article that featured a couple of very different wind turbine designs. It is interesting that designs grow alongside location of application and scale of the wind turbine. What do you think of these?

    (slides 7 & 10)
    https://www.slideshare.net/GaurangK/wind-energy-non-conventional-energy-sources

    Therefore, I am very hopeful that there will be more attractive yet efficient designs of wind turbines to come!

  39. Offshore turbines can be built taller, with larger bladespans and are more efficient than land based turbines. And they don’t have as adverse effects on communities. In my opinion, offshore is a better alternative to onshore

  40. I think it was negligent of you not to address reports of health issues of people living in the vicinity of wind turbines. For example, some people report a ‘turbine fever’ as a result of the noise pollution. I’d want to know more about this before I accept wind energy through turbine generation as an absolute solution to the energy crisis

  41. I am in full support of wind farms, living very near a site myself. For our local community, the erection of the farm has brought with it new job opportunities and increased revenue for cafes etc. from the tourists and workmen who travel to see and work on the site. It has been invaluable in saving our otherwise struggling rural community.

  42. I am pro wind generation but question much of the rationale behind their location.
    For instance, you discuss soil compaction. I put it to you- would turbines not be better built on high moorland and felland? Where no arable crops can be grown? These areas usually are used only as rough pasture land for hill sheep farmers whose quads can operate around the turbines. Why must any rich arable soil be sacrificed at all?

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