Here is a selection of our most Frequently Asked Questions:

Why has another windfarm near to Skelmonae been built?

Successive UK Governments have, since the late 1980s, supported the development of renewable energy technologies.  The escalation in demand has also led Ofgem, the energy regulator to warn that the UK could face such severe power supply shortages, that electricity rationing might have to be introduced during peak periods. Growth in the use of wind power all around the world has continued because of both climate change (caused in part by the use of fossil fuels) and also an ever-increasing demand for electricity, which many people are reluctant to build new nuclear power stations to provide.

The cost of generating power from onshore wind turbines has fallen dramatically in the past decade, making it now the cheapest source of electricity production.  Additionally, Skelmonae Windfarm has been in operation for a number of years and many of its facilities, such as the electricity sub-station and grid connection, are now being shared with the adjacent windfarm at Hill of Skilmafilly, so making this much more efficient than building a completely separate new windfarm.

Don’t wind turbines spoil the landscape?

Wind turbines aren’t invisible, but, to many people, sensitively sited windfarms are a welcome addition to the landscape.  Windmills have existed in the UK for hundreds of years and, in their time, windmills for milling grain were as controversial as modern wind turbines are today.

Are wind turbines noisy?

Wind turbines are not noisy.  The evolution of windfarm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines almost undetectable, with the main sound being the aerodynamic “swoosh” of the blades passing the tower.  It is possible to stand underneath a turbine and hold a conversation without having to raise your voice.  As wind speed rises, the noise of the wind itself masks the noise made by wind turbine blades.

Do wind turbines create electromagnetic problems?

This question could relate to the location of wind turbines in relation to existing radio or television stations on the one hand, or on the other, to possible electromagnetic emissions produced by the turbines.  It is a fact that the transmission from some radio or television broadcast frequencies can be influenced by obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver.  The issue in relation to wind turbines is that the moving blades can sometimes cause signal variations, due to deflection.  This effect was more of a problem with first generation wind turbines, which had metal blades.  The blades of modern wind turbines are made exclusively of synthetic materials, which have a minimal impact on the transmission of electromagnetic radiation.  Any possible interference problems can be prevented by proper design and location or corrected at a relatively low cost through simple technical measures, such as the installation of additional transmitter masts.  With regard to compatibility and interference in telecommunications, it is worth mentioning that in other European countries, wind turbine towers not only do not create obstacles, but are already being used for the installation of aerials to improve communications, such as mobile telephone services.

All windfarm operators in the UK are required to test TV and radio signals before turbine construction, again within 6 weeks of completion, and annually thereafter, to check for any interference or deterioration of signal.  Moreover, the Department of Energy & Climate Change has noted that, “When there are predictions of TV interference, developers often enter into legally binding agreements to rectify any problems.  In the majority of cases, they have been able to remove the interference.”

As for radiation emission, the only parts of a wind turbine that could possibly “emit” low level electromagnetic radiation are the electrical generator and the medium voltage transformer.  The electromagnetic field of a wind turbine is extremely weak and confined to a very short distance from the exterior turbine housing, which is at least 50 metres above the ground. Hence, there is no exposure to measurable electromagnetic radiation at all, even at the base of a wind turbine.  The transformer is enclosed by the steel base of the tower and is itself locked inside a metal compartment only accessible to electricity company employees.  Therefore, there are no harmful electromagnetic emissions or other types of radiation from wind turbines.

Aren’t these windfarms the thin end of the wedge?

There are no plans to put “a turbine on every hill” or “cover the UK” or any such idea.  One estimate is that there may soon be around 5,000 wind turbines in Scotland.  That would still take up only 0.0006% of the land.

The number of wind turbines erected will be determined largely by public choice – for example, more people are choosing to buy “green” electricity and there is widespread public support for reducing the carbon emissions from power generation.  In any case, unless we choose to build more nuclear reactors, burn more oil or gas, or import electricity from abroad, renewable energy – including wind power – has an increasingly certain future.

Why don’t they make turbines that look like old-fashioned windmills?

The old-fashioned windmill is viewed with nostalgia and some people prefer the look of them to that of their modern counterparts.  Just because wind turbines are modern, it doesn’t mean they won’t look just as good over time.  A modern wind turbine is simply an improved windmill.  Every aspect of their design has been optimised, making them far more efficient than old-style windmills would be at generating electricity.  To make them look more old-fashioned would just result in more expensive electricity.

Why don’t we put all the wind turbines out to sea?

We will need a mix of both onshore and offshore wind energy to meet the country’s challenging targets on climate change.  At present, onshore wind costs an average of $0.04 per kilowatt hour to produce and so is more economical than development offshore, at an average cost of $0.08 per kilowatt hour.  Furthermore, offshore wind farms take a longer time and cost more to develop, as the sea is inherently a more hostile environment.  To expect offshore to be the only form of wind generation allowed would therefore be to condemn us to miss our renewable energy targets and commitment to tackle climate change.  In the north of Scotland in particular, we are lucky enough to have good wind speeds both on and offshore.

Are wind turbines dangerous?

At the end of 2020 there were more than 341,000 turbines operating around the world in about 80 countries, some of which have been working for over 25 years.  Wind energy has been proven to be a benign technology with no associated emissions, harmful pollutants or waste products.  No member of the public has EVER been hurt by a wind turbine.

Do wind turbines frighten livestock?

Wind farms are popular with farmers, because their land can continue to be used for growing crops or grazing livestock. Sheep, cows, pigs, goats and horses are not disturbed by wind turbines.  The first windfarm built in the UK, Delabole, also has a stud farm and riding school, and the farmer often rides around the windfarm on his horse.

Here at Skelmonae and Hill of Skilmafilly, we have neighbours who happily exercise their horses near the turbines, in fact, we have even laid a 5km trail around the site that is in daily use as a bridle path.

See for yourself a video of cattle grazing peacefully under wind turbines, by clicking on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3aopQGUZmo

Do windfarms kill birds?

The RSPB stated in its 2004 information leaflet, “Wind farms and birds“, that “in the UK we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms“.

Windfarms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment prior to approval and BWEA members follow the industry’s Best Practice Guidelines and work closely with organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB to ensure that windfarm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites.  Moreover, a recent report published in the journal “Nature”  confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change.

Ruth Davis, Head of Climate Change Policy at the RSPB, said in March 2009: “The need for renewable energy could not be more urgent.  Left unchecked, climate change threatens many species with extinction.  Yet, that sense of urgency is not translating into action on the ground to harness the abundant wind energy around us.  The solutions are largely common sense.  We need a clear lead from government on where windfarms should be built and clear guidance for local councils on how to deal with applications.  We must reduce the many needless delays that beset windfarm developments.”

Does the presence of a windfarm harm property prices?

There is no evidence in the UK showing that windfarms adversely impact house prices.  However, there is evidence following a comprehensive study by the Scottish Executive that those living nearest to windfarms tend to be their strongest advocates.

Are windfarms bad for tourism?

There is no evidence to suggest this.  The UK’s first commercial windfarm at Delabole received 350,000 visitors in its first ten years of operation, while 10,000 visitors a year come to take the turbine tour at the EcoTech Centre in Swaffham, Norfolk.  A MORI poll in Scotland showed that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a windfarm.  Furthermore, windfarm developers are often asked to provide visitor centres, viewing platforms and public access onto their sites.

At Skelmonae and Hill of Skilmafilly we have installed pathways, picnic areas, information boards and car parking for the use of visitors.  We have already conducted numerous guided tours of the turbines for schools, scout groups, colleges and community groups, as well as private individuals.

How popular is wind energy?

Wind energy is one of the most popular energy technologies.  Opinion surveys regularly show that on average 80% of the public support wind energy, less than 10% are against it, with the remainder undecided.  Surveys conducted since the early 1990s across the country near established windfarms have consistently found that most people are in favour of wind energy, with support increasing among those living closer to the windfarms.

Can windfarms really help to reduce climate change?

Wind power is a clean, renewable source of energy, which produces no greenhouse gas emissions or waste products.  The UK currently emits 560 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2 ), the key greenhouse gas culprit, every year and the target of the Scottish Government is to cut this by 90% by 2040, and to achieve net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045.

Power stations are the largest contributor to carbon emissions, producing 170 million tonnes of CO2  each year.  We need to switch to forms of energy that do not produce CO2.  Just one modern 2.3 MW wind turbine can save approximately 2,600 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

How efficient are windfarms at generating electricity?

A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed.  Over the course of a year, it will typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output.  This is known as its load factor.  The load factor of conventional power stations is, on average, 50%.

Will wind energy ever replace conventional power stations?

The simple fact is that fossil fueled power plants in the UK are already being shut down, either because of legislation that enforces reduction in harmful emissions, or due to sheer old age.  We need to act now to find replacement power sources.  Wind is an abundant resource, is cheap to harness and indigenous to the UK, so has a vital role to play in the new energy portfolio.

What happens when the wind stops blowing?

When the wind stops blowing, electricity continues to be supplied to the National Grid by other forms of generation, such as gas, coal-fired, nuclear or hydro-electric power plants.  Our electricity system is mostly made up of large power plants, and the system has to be able to cope if one of these goes out of action.  It is possible to have up to 10% of the United Kingdom’s needs met by intermittent energy sources, such as wind energy, without having to make any significant changes to the way the system operates.

For the future, various electricity storage options are being researched, but one already in existence that seems likely to be a useful match to wind power is hydro-electric generation.  When the wind is blowing and a lot of power is being produced, the dams at hydro-electric power stations could be closed and water stored behind them, to be released at times when power supplied by windfarms drops.  Furthermore, two new Scottish hydro-electric power stations have been designed to allow power generated elsewhere or at times of low demand, e.g. overnight, to be used to pump water back up to the reservoirs, so it can be turned back into electricity by releasing it to drive the turbines when it is most needed.

What are wind turbines made of?

The towers are tubular and made of steel, generally painted light grey.  The blades are made of glass-fibre reinforced polyester.  They are light grey because this is the colour which is least conspicuous under most lighting conditions.  The finish is matt, to reduce reflected light.

How does a wind turbine make electricity?

The simplest way to think about this is to imagine that a wind turbine works in exactly the opposite way to a fan.  Instead of using electricity to make wind by turning the blades of a fan, turbines use the wind turning the blades to make electricity.

Almost all wind turbines producing electricity consist of three rotor blades that turn to face into the wind and rotate around a horizontal hub.  This spins a shaft connected to a generator, which is a machine that produces electrical energy from mechanical energy – as opposed to an electric motor which does the opposite.  The generator is inside the nacelle (the large part at the top of the tower where all the electrical components are located).

At the base of each turbine tower there is a transformer that boosts the power to 33,000 volts before it flows into the National Grid.  This is the most efficient way to transport the electricity produced, as it allows smaller diameter cables to be used and reduces voltage loss in transit.

How strong does the wind have to be for wind turbines to work?

Wind turbines start operating at wind speeds of 4 to 5 metres per second (around 10 miles an hour) and reach maximum power output at around 15 metres per second (around 33 miles per hour).  At very high wind speeds, i.e. gale force winds, (above 25 metres per second or 50 miles per hour) wind turbines shut down.

Is wind power expensive?

The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically over recent years.  Between 1990 and 2002, worldwide wind energy capacity doubled every three years and with every doubling prices fell by 15%.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) conducted a study in 2020 which found that renewables had become the cheapest form of power generation.  The comparative average costs per kilowatt hour, denominated in US dollars, were:

Onshore Wind $0.04, Hydroelectric $0.05, Solar Photo Voltaic $0.06, Biomass $0.07, Offshore Wind $0.08, Nuclear $0.08 and Fossil Fuels in the range from $0.06 – $0.17.

Furthermore, the wind is a free and widely available fuel source, therefore, once a wind turbine is in place, there are no continuing fuel or waste-related costs.  This contrasts sharply with the environmental damage and clean-up costs involved in fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, which have traditionally been passed back to the taxpayer.

How long does it take a turbine to “pay back” the energy used to manufacture it?

The comparison of energy used in manufacture with the energy produced by a power station is known as the “energy balance”.  It can be expressed in terms of energy “pay back” time, i.e. as the time needed to generate the equivalent amount of energy used in manufacturing the wind turbine or power station.  The average windfarm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, and this compares well with coal or nuclear power stations, which also have pay back periods of around six months.

Furthermore, a modern wind turbine is designed to operate for 25 years or more and, at the end of its working life, the area that it stood on can be fully restored at low financial and environmental cost.  A windfarm is a form of development which is essentially reversible – unlike fossil fuel or nuclear power stations.

Shouldn’t we invest in other renewable energy technologies instead of wind power?

Wind energy’s role in combating climate change is not a matter of either/or.  The UK will need a mix of new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and as quickly as possible.  Significant amounts of investment have been allocated for wave and tidal energy development, and these technologies, along with solar and biomass energy, will have an important role in Scotland’s future energy mix.  However, wind energy is the most cost-effective renewable energy technology available right now to generate clean electricity and help combat climate change.  Furthermore, developing a strong wind industry will promote other renewable technologies that have not reached commercialisation yet, and accumulate valuable experience in dealing with issues such as grid connection, supply chain, finance and power storage.