Wednesday, 1 December 2010

End of the road for Hackney marshes wind turbine

'No turbine on Hackney Marshes,' reports Hackney council's free sheet, Hackney Today (29 November 2010, p3).

The newspaper reports the Mayor, Jules Pipe, as saying '...the current economic situation has resulted in the banks making it more difficult for electricity generating companies to borrow the money they need to build such turbines...'

This statement is credible, but fails to stress that the council's claims for any potential turbine's efficiency became progressively less believable from the moment the council began its public consultation in 2009.

This blog reported that a wind turbine would generate less than half the council's claimed output.   My in-depth analysis of the claim  was also published in the Hackney Citizen in July this year.

According to the Hackney Gazette (December 1, 2010)  Mischa Borris, Green councillor for Clissold ward in Stoke Newington, said the news that the turbine would now not go ahead was “very disappointing”.

On the other hand, footballers using the space were reported to be 'delighted' that the total area of pitches available to them would no longer be cut.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

East marsh wind turbine - why Hackney council's street lighting claims don't add up

Hackney council's latest projection for the amount of electricity that could potentially be generated by Hackney's east marsh wind turbine is not credible.

I proved in my first post in March this year that Hackney council couldn't answer very basic questions about the output of the turbine on east marsh. Nor did the council hold information from which answers could be deduced.

In light of the recent announcement by the ODA that it was to scrap its  Eton Manor wind turbine, Hackney council said on 7 June: 'Plans for East Marsh wind turbine continue.' (Staff reporter, Hackney Today, 7 June 2010, p.5).  Buried in the fifth column is a revised description of the amount of power that could be generated by the solitary wind turbine on east marsh. It is now '... enough electricity to power two thirds of Hackney's street lights,' says Hackney council's very own newspaper.

East marsh wind turbine power output claims downgraded, but not by enough

Now, Hackney council has dropped any reference to its council office power consumption and  downgraded its street light power consumption claims. But here's why the new  '...two thirds of Hackney's street lights' claim does not stand up.

Until just recently, there were two proposed wind turbines, one at Eton Manor and one on east marsh. Each had a theoretical power output of 2MW (two Megawatts = 2 million Watts) under the right conditions.

It means that the wind turbine on east marsh could provide just 28.7% of the power requirement of all of Hackney's street lights.  This is less than half of Hackney's latest published claim.  (See how I reached this figure below).

What's going on here? Well,  Hackney council's 'two thirds of street lights' claim means they think the wind turbine could generate just over a Megawatt nearly continuously.  That's 50% of the wind turbine's theoretical maximum output, and there's a back-of-the-envelope calculation below if you're interested.

'...hold information in relation to [my questions.] Ecotricity, a turbine developer - working with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Lea Valley Regional Park Authority - has assessed the viability of delivering a turbine at Eton Manor, which is land adjacent to East Marsh. The background work undertaken for the Eton Manor turbine project has helped inform consideration of delivering a turbine of a similar specification at East Marsh.'
The Eton Manor turbine is now out of the picture, but the fact stands that Hackney council couldn't answer my question on how often 50% output was predicted to be achievable.  Odd, then, that it now makes a claim for the wind  turbine's power output that depends on exactly this 50% figure being taken for granted.

Hackney marsh wind turbine: 'Symbolic tokenism', or for real?

Things have moved on since I asked Hackney council what information was available on the east marsh wind turbine's output, but not in a direction that's likely to convince me that we should now do without evidence and believe in unsubtantiated claims.  First, I discovered that London's biggest energy supplier, EDF, had already pulled out of the project over fears of a lack of sufficient wind.  (Strangely, this detail was not included by the BBC when it reported the results of Hackney council's consultation on the wind turbine). Next, the Eton Manor wind turbine was dropped completely.  Now, Hackney Marshes User Group (HMUG) unearth an expert who shows that wind turbines do not operate anywhere close to their maximum theoretical output. 

I really want to believe that the east marsh wind turbine could illuminate as many street lights as Hackney council says it could.  But there's nothing to make the claim stand up.

Writing in the Architect's Journal recently, Gareth Roberts spoke of the 'symbolic tokenism' of the industry that the now-dumped Eton Manor wind turbine belonged to. It's a tag that could readily stick to the east marsh turbine, too.
Here's the back-of-the envelope calculation:

The turbine's 22.8 % 'load factor' (source: engineer talking to HMUG) is 0.228 x 2,000,000 Watts = 456,000 KW (Kilowatts)= 456 thousand Watts.

There are 11,091 street lights in Hackney. (Source: Hackney council.)  Their total annual power consumption is 6,493,900 KWh. (Source: Hackney council.)

So, the power consumed by all the lights is 6,493,900 KWh divided by the number of hours they are on.  This is 4,087 hours per year (Source, Hackney council), so that's 6,493,900 KWh/4,087 hours= approximately 1,589 Kilowatts= 1.589 Megawatts. That means Hackney's lights need a source of power that can provide 1.589 Megawatts to turn them on all at once.

Two thirds of  1.589 Megawatts is about 1 Megawatt.  But as we saw earlier, the single remaining turbine is projected to be capable of delivering 456 Kilowatts when it's in situ.  That's less than half of a Megawatt, and not even one third of the power needed by Hackney's street lights.  (In fact it's 456/1,589 *100= approx. 28.7% of the required power.  Hackney's 'two thirds' is 66.7%, so our figure weighs in at less than half of that.
I'm not a wind-power engineer, so I'm not attempting anything elaborate involving the available wind supply or the turbine dimensions.  But this simple sum says that if HMUG's expert - an engineer - is right, Hackney council can't also be right.  

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Justice In the Green: a resource - information, stakeholders, planning on Hackney Marshes

This presentation caught my eye. It's a PDF from Justice In the Green, entitled 'Hackney Green Marsh.' The authors are Matt Wood-Hill, Rebecca Morris, Efetobore Egborge, Cassidi Kunvipusilkul, Deyanira Cerdas Calvo, Dominic Gogol, and Robin Pratap.

I'm struck by the clear visualisation of the relationship between information, stakeholders and the planning process. There's a great sequence of 3 slides (pp.34-36) with a model of an integrated planning process, a scattered planning process, and the planning process used on Hackney Marsh. The model implicitly classes the Hackney Marsh planning process as 'scattered'.

Justice In the Green describes itself as 'an action learning platform aiming at contributing to the generation and sharing of action and reflection on the use and appropriation of Hackney Marsh and connected green spaces by the surrounding communities, in the light of the Olympic Legacy process.'

Justice In the Green is a partnership between two UCL departments - including students of the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development - community groups, the Hackney 2012 Legacy Team, Hackney Olympic and Paralympics Games Unit of Hackney Council, and the Hackney based NGO Social Action for Health.

Scrapped Eton Manor wind turbine - selected published reactions

In early June the ODA announced that the Eton Manor wind turbine project is to crash and burn. Here is a selection of news stories and reactions to the announcement.

'ODA scraps 'key' Olympic Park turbine.' Construction news, Rhiannon Hoyle, 3 June.

'ODA scraps main Olympic Park turbine.' BD online, Anna Winston, 4 June.

'ODA scraps plans for Olympic turbine.' Building, Andrew Hankinson, 3 June.

'London 2012 organisers scrap plans for Olympic Park wind turbine.' Guardian, Amelia Hill, 3 June.

'London Olympic Games site wind turbine scrapped.' BBC staff reporter, 4 June. Not sure if this is a BBC idea, but this report inventively describes the scrapped turbine as 'The Angel of Leyton.'

'Olympics wind turbine is scrapped, threatening green pledges for 2012.' Times, Jill Sherman, Fiona Hamilton, 4 June.

'Olympic wind turbine cancelled.' Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, Shaun McCarthy. This is my top pick. It's worth looking at the whole article, but refreshingly, McArthy moves beyond mere announcement of the ODA's decision.

'The fact is, the ODA are ditching nothing and we expect them to honour the commitment they made to deliver 50% carbon reduction and 20% energy from renewable sources. In the face of increasing challenges with wind power, they have now chosen to deliver their 20% renewable energy commitment using biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system and other renewables, not a wind turbine.'

Eton Manor wind turbine scrapped - high time for electricity production facts on the east marsh wind turbine?

The Olympics Delivery Authority's (ODA's) decision to scrap its Eton Manor wind turbine has been widely reported. The ODA is now looking for alternative sources of renewable energy at the Olympic Park.

But let's rewind for a minute. I set this blog up because of an information vacuum: my Freedom of Information Act request to Hackney Council had proved that it just didn't have its head round the power production potential for a second turbine, proposed for Hackney's east marsh. Putting it bluntly, it guessed the thing could spin, but had no idea how many light bulbs it could power.

And it deflected its lack of knowledge about the turbine on east marsh by pointing me to design proposals for the wind turbine on Eton Manor. Yet these were vague, too. There was no readily discernible output figure here, either.

With the Eton Manor turbine now out of the picture, there's nowhere to hide. Just what is the Hackney east marsh wind turbine supposed to be capable of doing?

This reaction, from Gareth Roberts, was published recently in the Architect's Journal online. According to Roberts, the decision to drop the Eton Manor wind turbine '...should be welcomed by the environmental community, as it may at long last reflect the change in the industry from symbolic tokenism to more deep rooted analytical approach to deliver carbon reductions.'

Roberts goes on to compare the effectiveness of alternative sources of renewable energy, and says ' can save six times as much carbon per pound spent, by the use of biomass boilers in comparison to small scale urban wind turbines.'

As the Hackney Gazette reports, however, Hackney council continues to push ahead with its plan for the remaining wind turbine on Hackney's east marsh.

It'll be interesting to see what Hackney council has done, since January, and in light of the Eton Manor failure, to fill the gaps in its own knowledge on the energy production capacity of this remaining wind turbine.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Hackney's east marsh wind turbine: Hackney Marshes User Group (HMUG) publishes modest output figure

Hackney Marsh User Group have made observations on the maximum power output of the Eton Manor turbine and on wildlife mortality. These two considerations are interlinked throughout their anlaysis, which is quoted in full here.

I'm not affiliated to HMUG, but on the face of it, some of the stated aims of the group's are similar to my own. I certainly agree with '[supporting] sustainable energy generation but not hasty publicity-seeking gestures towards sustainability.' Just a small thing, though. I'd like to see fuller attribution in any future HMUG report. Who were the ecology experts and engineers interviewed by HMUG? We need to know.

But I'm very interested to find out that according to HMUG's experts, '...the assumed actual power output of each turbine (the "load factor") is 22.8% of the potential maximum of 2 MW.'   (I can't comment on this technically -  I'm merely reporting the words used by HMUG -  but taking it as a valid statement. )  Those who read my first post will recall that my FOIA request to Hackney council on the proposed new turbine on Hackney marshes didn't return any concrete results whatever on expected energy output - the council just didn't know. Instead, the council pointed me to the Eton Manor project:

'The background work undertaken for the Eton Manor turbine project has helped inform consideration of delivering a turbine of a similar specification at East Marsh.' Frustrating, this tactic, because no power generation figures were available for this proposal, either.

Skip to 'Meeting with experts' in the report below for an illuminating anlyisis of the achievable power output of the turbine - 22.8% of its 2MW theoretical maximum is 456 KW.

Another thing. From what HMUG says, the Eton Manor turbine and east marsh turbines have an identical design of power output. The council had claimed they were merely 'of a similar specification.'

Wind turbines at Eton Manor (LB Waltham Forest) and on East Marsh (LB Hackney.)

Statement on behalf of Hackney Marshes User Group (HMUG) by David Rees

10th June 2010.

"The Eton Manor and East Marsh turbines were conceived as twin symbolic emblems of a sustainable Olympics. They are identical in technical specification, size and potential maximum power output (2 MW). LB Hackney "adopted" the second turbine because the ODA had already gone through the procurement process, which could "save" Hackney the procurement costs due to the similarities between the two. HMUG's concerns have been for the impacts of the second turbine, proposed for
East Marsh.

Meeting with experts
On March 16th 2010 HMUG members met ecology experts who had carried out impact assessments on Marsh wildlife, and engineers, in order to establish some facts about the East Marsh turbine, which we felt were in short supply. In the course of that meeting HMUG established:

1. the assumed actual power output of each turbine (the "load factor") is 22.8% of the potential maximum of 2 MW. (No turbine can produce 100% load factor unless it runs 24/7 at maximum output, which never happens.) But 22.8% is very near the lower end of the band of economical output, and

2. assessments of wildlife mortality (deaths) of birds and bats around the East Marsh turbine have been based on inadequate data and the interpretations placed on that data are questionable, erring towards understating likely mortality rates.

Economically risky
These two facts were given out at the same meeting, so it is reasonable to assume that the 22.8% figure is based on optimistic assessments of wildlife mortality, i.e. that a realistic assessment of mortality would result in a yet lower load factor. Identical to the Eton Manor turbine, all the same safety and economic
arguments apply to the East Marsh project; in addition, either the wildlife impacts on East Marsh may make the turbine politically unacceptable, or, if it is closed down during bat and bird migratory periods to avoid political damage, operational efficiency (load factor) will further reduce below 22.8%.

Safety rule changes and design changes may be valid reasons for dropping the Eton Manor turbine but critically they have pushed up the costs to the point where a marginally economic project has now become unprofitable.

For wind farms, wind equals profit. Figures in latest wind-farm company annual reports show that installed land-based wind farms are producing less than their budgeted power and so are less profitable than their business plans allowed, due in many cases to wind forecasts not being borne out in reality (i.e. the business plan over-estimated the wind).

Publicity for the real facts
Both projects must win planning approval when the case in favour of the turbines will be up for public scrutiny, including the data on which the environmental impacts have been assessed. HMUG have made their misgivings clear to Hackney who know that the environmental case must be won on the basis of facts. The local authorities, Waltham Forest (Eton Manor) and Hackney (East Marsh), will be on trial if they are seen to have supported projects which are discredited on environmental grounds, and may even suffer the embarrassment of having their own planning departments recommend refusal of planning permission.

Perhaps a new realism, pointing to a more risky environment, has now gripped the prospective supplier.

It seems the supplier of the Eton Manor turbine takes this view. It is likely that a similar view is being taken of the other projected turbine on East Marsh, though this has yet to be stated.

HMUG's position
HMUG takes no stance on the turbine proposal, however we have been very keen to establish the facts behind the project, so that we can adopt a responsible position in due course. As a principle HMUG supports sustainable energy generation but not hasty publicity-seeking gestures towards sustainability."

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Major electricity company EDF pulls out of bidding for the Hackney wind turbine because of doubts over wind reliability at the site

''EDF abandons 2012 Olympics turbine due to ‘lack of wind.''' This is what the London Evening Standard's Matthew Beard reported on 21 January this year, yet curiously, this detail is absent from the council's report on its consultation, completed just four days later on 25 January.

It's also missing from the BBC's report, published on 25 January.

There's no mention of the fact that a mainstream electricity supplier - London's largest - has taken itself out the bidding because the resource it needs to make money just isn't there.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Eton Manor wind turbine backgrounder

In its reply to my original FOIA request, Hackney council refers to another proposed windmill at Eton Manor Here's an extract from the section describing this wind turbine:

The proposed wind turbine is a tall, moving structure that is to be located within the Eton Manor site in the north of the Olympic Park. Its maximum height is 130m. Its three blades will move around a horizontal axis and will be connected to the tower at a hub height of up to 83.5m. The diameter of the circle described by the blades may be up to 93m. The flexibility in the height and diameter is required in order that the selection of a manufacturer is not restricted at this stage.

The hub allows the blades to turn towards the wind and contains all of the gearing mechanisms. It is proposed that the turbine will be light grey in colour. The speed of the revolution of the blades will be controlled, with their movement cutting out at low or high wind speeds. The movement of the blades is likely to make this a significant feature that will generally be seen above the existing skyline within views.

The Wind Turbine is to provide renewable energy for the Games and Legacy communities and deliver significant carbon mitigation in supply of energy. A substation enclosure will house the electrical equipment required to connect the turbine into the site-wide electricity network.

What interests me about this high-level description of the Eton Manor turbine is that once again, there's just no mention of its designed power output. Instead, we just have the impressive-sounding claim that it will 'deliver significant carbon mitigation.' How, significant?

Come on. Once again, we need a few hard facts. What's the power output in megawatts?

Hackney's east marsh wind turbine - how the money works

Under my FOIA request dated 8 February 2010, I asked Hackney council:

8) What is the estimated revenue from re-selling the electricity generated by the turbine?

9) What will this revenue be used for?

This is Hackney council's response, dated 8 March 2010:

"In response to the above questions:

The Council will not re-sell the electricity generated by the turbine, but will look to utilise this power for local benefit, for instance to power the borough’s street lighting and main Council buildings."

10) Over how many years will the turbine have paid for itself?

11) Under what budget category is the initial capital outlay?

"In response to the above questions:

The Council does not hold information in relation to Questions 10 and 11. The turbine will be developed by a private company. In developing their proposals, the developer will be expected to consider a full range of financial viability factors."

Hackney wind turbine - enough energy to power a child's torch?

When Hackney Council published its own response to the public consulation ('Green power on Hackney Marshes') it announced:

'The two wind turbines together could generate enough green electricity to power Hackney’s main council buildings and nearly all of its street lighting.'

But as I showed in Facts about the proposed wind turbine on Hackney marshes, Hackney Council just doesn't know how much power could be generated by its proposed turbine. It doesn't know the maximum output and it doesn't know the likely output. It doesn't even know how many days a year the rotor blades won't be turning at all.

Now it may seem a little silly to ask whether a turbine mounted on top of a mast the height of a tower crane could produce enough energy to light a child's torch.

Of course it could. But at the time of posting this, Hackney council just couldn't tell you how many children's torch bulbs it could light.

0.34% of Hackney's resident population responded to the Hackney wind turbine consultation

According to figures published by Hackney council on 10 January 2010, residents overwhelmingly said 'yes' to a turbine on Hackney Marshes. Green Power on Hackney Marshes

But just what does that mean? Well, the percentage in favour sounds robust: 87% of those consulted. But I wanted to know what fraction of the electorate that figure encompasses. Under FOIA, I found out:

Here's my question:

7) What percentage of the population of Hackney does this response represent?

And here's Hackney council's answer:

"In response to the above questions:

712 people responded to the public consultation on the proposal to locate a wind turbine on East Marsh. This represents 0.34% of Hackney’s resident population (estimated in 2008 to be 212,200)..."

So, rather less than one half of a percent of Hackney's population responded to the consultation.

And barely 0.3% of Hackney's residential population positively supported the proposals in the consultation.

Facts about the proposed wind turbine on Hackney Marshes

Hackney's east marsh wind turbine: what the council doesn't, but should know.

1) Hackney council does not know the potential power output of the wind turbine on Hackney Marshes.

2) Hackney council does not know on how many days a year the proposed wind turbine will be able to produce its maximum power output.

3) Hackney council does not know on how many days a year the proposed wind turbine will be able to produce 50% of its maximum output.

4) Hackney council does not know on how many days a year the proposed turbine is predicted to be idling and therefore not producing any electricity whatever.

5) There is no site-specific data on the power-generation capacity of the wind turbine.

6) Hackney council references Ecotricity, a turbine developer with vested interests, in its discussion of modelling carried out on another local site.

Source: The blog author, Alistair Siddons, obtained this infromation from Hackney council under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), on 8 March 2010. Below is a full transcript of the response, as well as the questions I asked under FOIA.

Please note my slip in which in question 1 I describe the marshes as Walthamstow Marhes. However, the context is always clear and in the first line of their response, Hackney council refers, correctly, to the 'proposed wind turbine on Hackney Marshes.'

8 March 2010

Dear Mr Siddons


Thank you for your email of 8 February 2010 in which you requested information regarding the proposed wind turbine on Hackney Marshes.

Your request has been considered and the information requested is below:

1) What studies were carried out to determine the average working capacity of the proposed wind turbine on Walthamstow Marshes? I would like to see a copy of any relevant report.

2) What is the proposed capacity in KW/hrs or MW/hrs of the turbine?

3) For how many days per year is the turbine predicted to be producing the maximum output of the turbine?

4) For how many days per year is the turbine predicted to be producing 50% of its maximum output?

5) For how many days per year is the turbine predicted to be idling?

5a) Have you published any of the figures relating to questions 3, 4 or 5? If so, where?

In response to the above questions:

The Council does not hold information in relation to Questions 1 to 5a. Ecotricity, a turbine developer - working with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Lea Valley Regional Park Authority - has assessed the viability of delivering a turbine at Eton Manor, which is land adjacent to East Marsh. The background work undertaken for the Eton Manor turbine project has helped inform consideration of delivering a turbine of a similar specification at East Marsh.

Our ref: LBH57215-10