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October 2006 

Wind turbines for Horsham?
Vice President's letter to West Sussex County Times  13.10.06

Dear Sir

'Free' electricity may not be worth the cost

One of the Horsham Society's functions is to try to make Horsham a better place for us all.  The society is as keen as anyone to embrace 'green' technology and alternative sources of power need to be looked at.  Two of these have implications for the visual environment and I have been asked by the society's executive committee to sound a note of caution.

Power generated locally has a superficial attraction, particularly if it is 'free'.  Electric solar panels and mini wind turbines can be fitted to houses and produce electricity to top up what is bought from the grid.  There are, however, some major problems.  The Horsham Society's committee at first thought that the only drawback would be the unsightliness of the installations but further study reveals that these devices are also unlikely to be cost effective.

Photovoltaic solar panels (the sort that generate electricity) are very expensive and relatively inefficient.  The amount of electricity you can get out of them is small relative to the installation costs.  So while they might be good for an isolated road sign or parking meter they are not much help in reducing the cost or environmental impact of buying power from the grid.  As most of our power requirements are after dark they also need an efficient battery to store the electricity for when it is needed, at further cost.

Solar panels are usually mounted on a roof or special framework.  For maximum efficiency (albeit still very low) they need to be oriented to the sunny side of the house and this may result in considerable visual impact in the locality.  Is it worth it?

The same question can be asked of the small wind turbines now being promoted by DIY chains and some electricity companies.  They have additional problems.  Not only is there an even greater visual intrusion but, in order to catch the wind to any great extent, they need to be mounted well above the roof line on a substantial pole.  It is important that the fixings are very strong and at least one of the suppliers of these devices warns that garages and gable ends are unlikely to be strong enough.

It has to be remembered that the electricity might be free but the installation cost will be considerable, corresponding to many years' electricity bills.  The wind turbine will almost certainly be worn out and need replacing before it has paid for itself.  As well as visual impact there may also be noise implications for the owner and the neighbours.

The suppliers of these wind turbines and electric solar panels claim that they can be 'just plugged in' but the Instution of Electrical Engineers says that this can lead to dangerous situations.  Clearly a live plug with exposed pins is unacceptable but, in addition, the fuses or circuit breakers in your installation might not work properly if the power is fed in at a remote point instead of at the main switchboard (consumer unit).

The message, therefore, is: 'Please think very carefully before installing electric solar panels or a mini wind turbine on your house'.  You are unlikely to get your money's worth and you may well be spoiling the local environment instead of enhancing it.

Horsham District Council is starting to get planning applications for mini wind turbines.  The Horsham Society advocates that the planners (officials and councillors) consider their policy very carefully before giving blanket approval for these devices.  There may be considerable environmental impact for little or no benefit.

N C Friswell
Vice President, The HorshamSociety

Article: Wind Turbines - are they economically viable in Horsham?