Bird Society Leads by Example: Operates Large Wind Turbine at Headquarters

June 22, 2016 - By Paul Gipe

In early 2016, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) installed a large wind turbine at their headquarters in central England. The 100-meter (330-foot) tall turbine was installed at the Society’s headquarters in Sandy midway between Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

The 800 kW Enercon turbine began operation in February and is expected to generate 1.85 million kWh annually, about half the electricity consumed by the 127 RSPB facilities across Great Britain.

The RSPB is the British equivalent of the National Audubon Society in the United States or the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux in France.

The project is a partnership between the RSPB and Ecotricity, a private developer of distributed wind turbines.

I’ve written about the RSPB’s plans previously (see Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Plans Large Wind Turbine) and have included a passage on the project in my new book Wind Energy for the Rest of Us. An article by Craig Morris tipped me off that the turbine was finally slated for installation.

The society’s move stands out in a sea of timidity, hype, and greenwashing from groups in North America.

The RSPB and the Audubon Society have publicly made the case that they support the responsible use of wind energy to address climate change and reduce pollution and habitat destruction from fossil fuels. The RSPB specifically notes that they have objected to only 4.5 percent of the 1,500 planning applications for wind projects in Britain they have reviewed.

In contrast to the RSPB’s courageous stand in support of wind energy, North American environmental groups have been content with building renovations (Audubon), and the installation of token wind turbines (Nature Conservancy) and some modest solar demonstration projects.

The RSPB’s Enercon is not a token turbine. It is not a “demonstration” project. The 53-meter (175-foot) diameter wind turbine is a modern machine that could be found installed singly and in small clusters by farmers in Germany or in wind farms by commercial wind developers throughout the British Isles.

Ecotricity operates several of the German wind turbines in prominent locations. For example, they installed an Enercon wind turbine like that at the RSPB’s headquarters alongside the M4 motorway from London to Bristol.

I am not aware of any examples in North America of the Audubon Society or any other environmental group installing an equivalent size wind turbine.

In the early 1980s, Bill Hopwood and I installed a pioneering 1 kW Bergey at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve near Pittsburgh for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. The wind turbine was joined by a 1.5 kW PV array. Unfortunately, the turbine has been out of service since 2002 and there are no plans to repair it.

In 2007, the Audubon Center of the North Woods installed a 2.4 kW Skystream at its Crosby Lodge between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota. That demonstration turbine is still operating.

Both the Bergey and the Skystream are real wind turbines, but they are quite small by today’s standards.

Some North American organizations have been content to install wind devices of questionable provenance. In the spring of 2012, for example, the Nature Conservancy in Indianapolis, Indiana installed three poorly sited Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines on short towers in front of their recently renovated office building. In a fit of hyperbole the Nature Conservancy called these turbines the "crown jewel" of its new state headquarters. (See Another Poorly Sited Hoosier VAWT Vying for Worst Turbine Install.)

The Nature Conservancy "wind turbines" (they are more correctly identified as lawn ornaments) will produce — at best — tens of kilowatt-hours annually, if they produce any net energy over and above that consumed by their inverters.

At a time of planetary emergency, such “greenwashing” by the Nature Conservancy and others — at a minimum — does little to further the use of renewable energy. At worst, it serves critics who continue to argue that wind turbines don’t work. Such “demonstrations” also feed despair that we can never scale up renewable energy fast enough to make a difference.

The often naïve and poorly informed positions of groups such as the Nature Conservancy in Indiana differs strikingly with the sophistication of the RSPB's proposal and its accompanying defense of why it is taking such action. Watching this video of project, Constructing a wildlife friendly windmill for the RSPB, it’s hard not to be inspired.

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of conservation, said in justification for the project, “Climate change is the single biggest threat to our planet. This is about our birds and wildlife as well as our way of life.”

In his companion statement at the dedication of the turbine, Dale Vince, Ecotricity’s founder, sounds like an American revolutionary, or as they say in Germany, an electricity rebel. “Green energy puts power in the hands of the people — the technology allows us to democratize and decentralize energy in Britain,” he said.

“Using wind energy is a proven and reliable technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But turbines must be located where they are sympathetic to our natural environment,” said RSPB’s Harper. “I hope that our wind turbine will inspire others to take action and join us in using renewable energy to power our country.”

Indeed, let’s hope RSPB’s bold move stirs environmental groups in North America to drop the greenwashing and tokenism that has so characterized their renewables efforts so far.

This article was originally published by Wind-works.org and was republished with permission.