Disadvantages of Wind Turbines: Do They Impact Land?
|Topic: New wind farm projects||Read Time: 9 mins|
| Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners | Professional advisers
|Energy: Onshore wind|
Have you been looking for a lowdown on the disadvantages of wind turbines? Join us as we uncover the downsides of having turbines on your land (and how to avoid them).
If you have the land required for a wind farm, you might want to maximise your income by hosting wind turbines. But if you’re not sure what the disadvantages of wind turbines are, we’ve got you covered. In this in-depth rundown, we’ll cover the main drawbacks of hosting wind turbines (and how you can work through them). From access roads encroaching on arable land to wildlife impacts, we’ve got it all right here. Now, let’s get to it.
The Main Disadvantages of Wind Turbines
If you’re trying to figure out what the main disadvantages of wind turbines are, let us run you through it. Although we’re staunch supporters of wind energy, we understand that there are a few drawbacks involved. From impacted farmland and planning permission struggles to potential damage to wildlife and soil, there’s a lot to think about. So, join us as we run you through the disadvantages of wind turbines to weigh up before agreeing to a project.
Impact on the land
For landowners, one of the primary disadvantages of wind turbines is the impact on the land itself. We’ll say that the impact on the land with modern wind turbines is relatively minimal for most projects. But if you’d like to discuss specifics with a developer or site operator before signing an option agreement, these are the main things to consider.
Access roads and maintenance
Access roads are the first thing that will affect your land if you’re trying to get wind turbines up and running. Landowners won’t typically be involved with digging and maintaining these as they’re typically outsourced to a construction firm.
But it’s worth mentioning that these access roads will take up space and potentially encroach on arable land. They may not be a permanent fixture (at least not in their entirety). But they can be quite intrusive during the construction phase. This isn’t to say that landowners won’t be able to carry out their usual activities while turbines are built. But with access roads comes relatively large construction vehicles, ground cable layers, and turbine builders.
So, you should prepare to have your private land and day-to-day operations disrupted slightly while the turbine build is completed.
The length of time that access roads take to build largely depends on their size. For example, longer access roads will naturally take longer to construct. However, the actual construction time for a wind farm is surprisingly short, with most projects being completed within 2 to 6 months.
Once a wind farm is fully functional, your site operator will perform regular maintenance checks. Keeping the turbines fully functional is in your best interest as a landowner, and these checks are rarely disruptive. But if you want to minimise any project downtime? It’s always worth keeping an eye on the turbines and reporting any issues to your project developer as they arise.
One of the major disadvantages of wind turbines that landowners tend to worry about is losing arable space. But in our experience, the impact on arable land is usually temporary and relatively negligible. As we mentioned, the building of access roads isn’t permanent. Plus, studies even show that the turbines on your land churning air may improve crop yields.
According to National Geographic:
“In traditional agriculture in many places, farmers grow trees along the edges of fields, a technique that slows the wind and stirs up the air, benefiting the crops in the field.”
If you’re wondering why this is relevant, let us fill you in. One major benefit is that wind turbines reduce dew on crops, which can lead to crop diseases. But that’s not all. Turbines actively mixing the air around crops can also increase CO2 in the crops and even boost ideal conditions. This won’t necessarily benefit every landowner as it’s only applicable to farming yields. However, it’s certainly a worthy counter-argument if we’re discussing the disadvantages of wind turbines.
We couldn’t write an article about the disadvantages of wind turbines without referencing the impact on wildlife. From collisions to nesting disruptions and habitat displacement, wind farms can certainly have negative impacts on wildlife.
Wind turbines can be problematic for migratory birds and bats as they can sometimes collide with the turbine blades as they move. Plus, turbines may also cause birds to move away from their typical areas to find a less disturbed habitat.
As a result, breeding and nesting patterns can be disrupted. There’s also evidence that the noise pollution from turbines can be detrimental to wildlife and drive local animals from their homes.
The collision mortality of songbirds is said to be under 0.01% in the UK, which is minimal. But North American figures estimate between 140,000 and 679,000 birds are killed by turbines every single year.
Overall, there’s no shortage of studies that claim wind turbines have a significant impact on aviary mortality. However, that’s not to say that turbine blades are guaranteed to cause wildlife deaths. Studies show that birds’ movement patterns adapt to wind turbines from approximately 120 metres away. And it’s said that they become increasingly adaptive the closer the birds get to the turbines. So, there are certainly two sides of the coin to assess here.
Impacts on soil
Another one of the main disadvantages of wind turbines is that they can potentially dry out soil. It’s not overly significant, with studies showing an average decline in moisture levels of 4.4%. This may have a slight impact on arable land, but with the UK’s decent level of rainfall, this should be replenished. Aside from moisture depletion, there’s also a risk of soil disturbance and a decline in organic carbon. Less organic carbon typically means less food for living organisms in the soil, which reduces biodiversity.
It’s not assured as the impact from wind turbines in this area is relatively minimal. But if we’re looking at the disadvantages of wind turbines, degraded soils are certainly worth thinking about.
Planning permission woes
You might get planning permission for a project eventually. But it’s no secret that one of the main disadvantages of wind turbines comes at this tricky-to-conquer stage of development. Now, there are talks of planning permission restrictions loosening in England over the next few years. But there’s currently a de facto ban on new onshore wind projects under the Conservatives. As a result, getting approval is difficult.
Not only do projects need to be almost unanimously approved by local authorities, but local communities can currently object. Although landowners won’t have major involvement with the project in the planning stages, it can seriously halt development. For example, if you’ve signed an option agreement but can’t get planning permission for 5 years? Well, the project may fall through, or you’ll need to extend your option agreement.
If you were hoping to reap the rewards from a project more quickly than this, it can feel like a huge disappointment. We’re hoping to see improvements to planning permission guidelines as net-zero limits become more pressing. But as just a handful of local authorities have bookmarked suitable sites for wind power (11% to be exact), progress is slow.
If we’re talking about the indisputable disadvantages of wind turbines, we need to mention intermittency. There’s no denying that wind is an excellent renewable energy source. But you simply can’t rely on wind turbines to supply a continuous amount of electricity throughout the year. This is down to everything from seasonal changes from the time of year to disruption from buildings and temporary structures. This isn’t to say that wind turbines aren’t efficient sources of clean energy. But their output across an average year can be relatively difficult to measure.
And we’ll also say that different parts of the country will be vastly more reliable than others. For example, Scotland’s higher altitude areas and generally better wind speeds will naturally produce more energy than the English countryside.
This isn’t to say that every Scottish location will beat its English counterpart, but it’s worth thinking about. Realistically, when you’re putting turbines on your land for the first time, you want to know how much it’ll make.
So, to try and reduce the uncertainty factor, we always advise landowners to carefully consider their developer. A developer with a decent track record should be able to scout suitable sites and maximise output. And not just that, but they should be able to lock the electricity in at the most favourable prices.
Opinions on wind turbines have changed significantly over the years, but many still see them as an eyesore. Although studies have largely disproved this, people also think that wind turbines can devalue the land they’re placed on. We’re pleased to say that turbines don’t devalue the land they’re placed on. We’ve even found that turbines can significantly increase the value of land when you consider the boost in income.
Before putting turbines on your land, you’ll need to take into account the opportunity cost relating to several factors.
These include (but aren’t limited to):
- Potential lost revenue from arable land while developers construct the turbines
- Lost revenue from the building of access roads (these can occasionally block viable farmland)
- Being unable to use reserved land for other purposes while an active option agreement is in place
Although we don’t personally think any of these factors are deal-breakers, they’re important to weigh up. And while construction phases are typically shorter than you’d expect, it’s important to keep abreast of any developments. For example, we occasionally find that supply chain issues have pushed timelines back slightly. So, it’s always worth keeping in touch with your developer throughout the process to manage your expectations.
They’re expensive to set up
Unless you’re a landowner-developer who’s fronting the cost of your own project, expenses aren’t a landowner’s concern. But we just had to mention one of the main disadvantages of wind turbines – the general startup cost.
Wind turbines cost a lot of money to set up, and that’s especially true if you’re building large 3.5MW ones. Commercial turbines of this size can cost upwards of £3.13 million to build. Plus, these large turbines also come with sizable maintenance costs that’ll put a dent in a site operator’s pocket. This can be as much as £175,000 for the average 3.5MW turbine, which isn’t exactly pocket change.
And when you consider that you won’t be receiving anything but an upfront payment during your option agreement period? Well, the costs of reserving your land can certainly add up.
To round off our rundown of the main disadvantages of wind turbines, we have decommissioning woes. Although decommissioning often falls to the developer, returning your land to its original state can be a headache. And that’s because landowners are technically responsible for restoring land at the end of a project.
Landowners will usually bake decommissioning responsibilities into their initial lease for safety. But if this doesn’t happen, you’ll feel the impact on your land for a long time after the project is no longer viable. But you can easily avoid this with a watertight lease. In our experience, a decommissioning fund provision is a must before you think about getting turbines on your land.
Who Is Responsible for the Cost of Damage to the Land?
As we previously said, decommissioning is a legal responsibility that falls to the landowner. But in our experience, landowners rarely handle the decommissioning process. And that’s because the majority of landowners will get clauses in writing for developers to pay the costs. We’re firm believers that lending your land to a renewable energy project shouldn’t result in a costly removal process. So, it’s important to protect yourself legally with clear decommissioning instructions in your initial lease. If you’re planning a wind farm extension (or want to repower), the same rules apply.
If you’re planning on having a new wind farm project on your land, it’s always best to weigh up the pros and cons. In our experience, the disadvantages of wind turbines always tend to pale in comparison to the pluses. Although the effect on arable land is something you’ll want to consider, the overall impact is minimal. And if you’re willing to work out an excellent payment arrangement and a reliable option agreement?
Well, the steady stream of income will make the disadvantages of wind turbines worth grappling with. If you want more advice about choosing developers or getting turbines on your land, feel free to get in touch. Our expert team will offer you jargon-free advice that’ll help you maximise your potential site’s income.