Insert mandatory “hot air” pun here

It’s a shame that the PCC refuse to rule on misleading headlines, because the Daily Mail has a doozy today: Revealed: Wind farm power twice as costly as gas or coal.

If you read that headline, you might assume that means that all wind farms cost twice as much to run as fossil fuel plants. Certainly, that’s the impression the Mail wants to leave you with but, as always, the devil is in the details.

The true cost of Britain’s massive expansion of wind farms has been revealed.

It costs nearly twice as much to generate electricity from an offshore wind farm as it does from a conventional power station, a scientific report has concluded.

And while the price of wind power is expected to fall in the coming decade, the researchers admit there is a slight chance it could rise even further.

Did you spot the giveaway word in there? Yep, in fact this information only deals with offshore wind farms – though the Daily Mail seems to forget this several times and refer to “wind power” unqualified . According to The Telegraph‘s slightly more accurate report, a megawatt hour of offshore wind power costs £149, a megawatt hour of onshore wind power costs £88 and a megawatt hour of coal power costs £80 (though I’d imagine that refers to old-fashioned coal power, not “clean” coal).

The “scientific report” in question is Great Expectations: The cost of offshore wind in UK waters by the UK Energy Research Centre which didn’t conclude that it costs twice as much at all. Instead, working from the initial data that offshore wind power was expensive, the researchers conclusions were that the costs of offshore wind power have been inflated by rising commodities prices, supply chain problems and the shift of the pound against the euro and that government action (encouraging turbine companies to manufacture parts in Britain, building larger ports capable of accepting the gigantic equipment) should be able to bring the prices down.

In other words, a more accurate headline might be “High costs of offshore wind set to fall”, though of course that would involve realising that this is a complicated issue, with lots of economic forces at work, instead of simply saying “Wind power is more expensive! And what do you do when the wind stops blowing, eh?”

Incidentally, the Daily Express‘s take on the report is even more bizarre:

THE £4billion of wind turbines off Britain’s coast still generate less electricity than a conventional power station, a report revealed yesterday.

And the cost of building offshore wind farms has doubled in the past five years to £3million per megawatt.

The UK’s offshore windfarms generate 1,341 MW. I can only find American data, sadly, but according to that, the average output of a coal power plant is 667 MW. So in fact, our offshore wind is generating as much as two average conventional power stations. I suppose by “a conventional power station” they could mean a monster like Drax or Didcot, but in that case the Express is being very misleading.

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  1. #1 by knightofthedropdowntable on Wednesday, 29th September 2010 - 0:01 UTC

    Calling Drax a typical power station is misleading of the highest order – it’s the biggest power station in Europe! 1341 MW is pretty big, bigger than most in the country, only a few coal and most of the nuclear ones are bigger.

    Even more ridiculous is that the conclusion drawn from the increase in construction costs is that wind power isn’t cost effective – ignoring that fossil fuel power stations are built with a lot of the same components (I’d like to see them try to build one without using any steel!). Although not quite as ridiculous as some of the arrogant comments on the Telegraph from woefully uninformed people – oil prices have plummeted in the last year, not risen, and electricity prices are indeed measured in £s per MWh, not kWh (most people in the business in fact measure electricity in GWh).

    • #2 by atomicspin on Wednesday, 29th September 2010 - 12:44 UTC

      Yeah, that’s another thing. The report makes clear that the cost of all power stations have gone up (nearly doubled, in fact) during the recession, it’s just that offshore wind, being a new industry working on untested technology, has gone up more than the others.

      Yet the Telegraph only mentions this offhandedly, and the Mail and Express don’t mention it at all.

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