The Danes have an expression, as do most European cultures, to wish one good fortune on parting. The expression comes from the days of sail: God Vind or Good Wind!
The wind is good in Denmark, and it is still blowing strong despite myths to the contrary.
As the first country to prove that wind energy could be developed on a grand scale and contribute significantly to a nation’s electricity supply, Denmark is always a favorite target of those who live in fear of wind energy’s success. These wind critics first attempt to diminish Danish accomplishments, then when that fails, dismiss it altogether with claims that are, there’s no other word for it, outlandish.
Let’s take the case of Michael J. Trebilcock who published a series of op-eds in the Toronto Star and the Financial Post in April, 2009. Both op-eds are derived from the same talking points and are essentially the same piece. Trebilcock opposes Ontario’s proposed Green Energy Act and the new wind turbines that may be installed if the act passes.
Trebilcock, like the others before him and no doubt the others that will follow, works from a series of talking points that circulate freely on the internet. Much of what he writes is simply unsubstantiated assertion and can be refuted with a little searching on google.
Trebilcock Myth #1:
“There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world’s most wind-intensive nation . . . has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power’s unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).”
Trebilcock, a lawyer, makes a common mistake of those who don’t take the time to understand the difference between energy and power. Then again, maybe he does know, but it serves his propagandistic purpose to conflate the two. He can make unsubstantiated claims that require wind’s proponents to rebut. In the meantime his claims circulate within the anti-wind echo chamber-as though circulation itself confers respectability. Here are the facts.
- In 2008, Denmark’s 5,100 wind turbines generated 6.98 TWh (billion kWh), according to the Danish government.(1) It’s impossible to generate that much electricity and not offset a substantial amount of carbon dioxide. Each kWh of wind energy offsets about 1 kg of carbon dioxide from a coal plant and about half that from natural gas. Thus, each kWh from Danish wind turbines will offset between 0.5 to 1 kg of carbon dioxide because Danish electrical energy is a mix from the generation by both resources.
- Average carbon dioxide emissions (emissions adjusted for weather and exports) in Denmark from 1990-2007 fell 31%, according to the Danish government! Yes, fell, not increased as claimed.
- Average carbon dioxide emissions (emissions adjusted for weather and exports) from coal-fired power generation in Denmark from 1990-2007, fell 41%, according to the Danish government!(2) Yes, again, emissions fell.
- During this period, wind energy’s contribution to Danish electricity supply increased 484%.(3)
- During this period, wind energy generation in Denmark increased 1,075%.(4)
- Denmark has effectively cut its generation of coal-fired power and reduced its carbon dioxide emissions in contrast to Trebilcock’s claim otherwise.
- Denmark does not need to “close” a coal plant if it does not “use” it. This is where Trebilcock confuses energy with power. Power plants can site idle. They don’t pollute when they are not being used. When you use them by burning coal or natural gas, then they emit carbon dioxide because the “energy” is required.
Trebilcock Myth #2:
“Industrial wind power is not a viable economic alternative to other energy conservation options. Again, the Danish experience is instructive. Its electricity generation costs are the highest in Europe (15/kwh compared to Ontario’s current rate of about 6). Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries says, ‘windmills are a mistake and economically make no sense.’ Aase Madsen , the Chair of Energy Policy in the Danish Parliament, calls it ‘a terribly expensive disaster’.”
Again, Trebilcock resorts to classic propaganda by using value-laden words, such as “industrial wind”, designed to frighten people because his argument is false. Here are the facts.
- Denmark’s electricity generation is not among the most costly in Europe.
- Danes can produce electricity just as cheaply as anyone else.(5)
- Danes do, however, pay hefty taxes on energy, including electricity.
- In 2007, 56% of the cost to the Danish electricity consumer was VAT, tax, and carbon tax (~$0.015 CAD/kWh for the carbon tax alone). That is, more than half the cost of Danish electricity is tax. The high cost of Danish electricity is a result of deliberate government policy and not, as claimed, due to wind energy.(6)
Trebilcock Myth #3:
“Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.”
Increase in emissions in the abstract, as Trebilcock claims, is not the same as an increase in real-world emissions. All studies to date, in fact all rational observation would indicate otherwise. Making an unsubstantiated assertion, does not make it true.
Trebilcock Myth #4:
“Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries says, “windmills are a mistake and economically make no sense.” Aase Madsen , the Chair of Energy Policy in the Danish Parliament, calls it “a terribly expensive disaster.”
At least Trebilcock should find more recent sources. Aase Madsen left Danish politics in 2005. She represented the Danish far right party, Dansk Folkeparti. In the last election the party received only 13% of the vote and no one serves in today’s cabinet.(7)
Of course it’s easy to find one or two people who support your point of view in a nation of five million people. There’s bound to be someone who agrees with you.
If, as implied by Trebilcock, the Danish people and hence the Danish government are so opposed to wind energy, why do they continue to support it? This must be one of life’s great mysteries.
As recently as February, 2009, the Danish government of the center-right parties agreed-in writing-that the country will continue with wind energy. Not only will they continue with the wind turbines operating today, they will increase the role of wind energy. Here is the energy policy agreement among the ruling parties. Note that the “Liberal” party uses the term liberal in the European context, that is, “free-market liberalism.” This coalition is equivalent to Canada’s Conservative Party or America’s Republican Party. Denmark has been ruled by the right for much of the decade. The Social Democrats are equivalent to the Canada’s New Democratic Party or America’s Democratic Party.
- “The Conservatives and Liberals have today entered into a comprehensive energy agreement with the Social Democrats, Danish People’s Party, Socialist People’s Party, Social Liberals and New Alliance. The agreement includes better terms for wind turbines and other sustainable energy sources such as biomass and bio gas. The parties agree that renewable energy should cover 20% of Danish energy consumption in 2011. . . Aside from significantly raising the transfer rate for electricity from land wind turbines, biomass and bio gas, the parties agree to install 400 MW from new offshore wind turbines by 2012.”
- “It is expected that about 1300 MW of wind turbine capacity will be constructed between now and 2012. This includes previously agreed scrapping plans and the current construction of offshore wind farms at Horns Rev and Rødsand. . .” (8)
Denial of obvious fact and the distortion of reality may in some circles be considered the sign of a sophisticated attorney. In other circles, it’s the sign of skilled propagandist.
1. Danish Wind Turbine register 2009 (xls), visited April 11, 2009.
2. Danish Statistics 2007 (xls), visited April 10, 2009.
3. Danish Energy Statistics 2007 (pdf), visited April 10, 2009, page 11.
4. Danish Energy Statistics 2007 (pdf), visited April 10, 2009, page 12.
5. Euro Statistics (pdf), visited April 11, 2009.
6. 1990-2007 Danish Energy Agency statistics, visited April 10, 2009.
7. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dansk_Folkeparti, visited April 12, 2009.
8. Energy policy agreement, 21 February 2008, visited April 10, 2009. “Scrapping plans” means that old wind turbines will be taken down and new ones installed in their place.