A Practical Solution: The Turbine Traffic Light Scheme

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To everybody who thinks this blog is one long moan, and in answer to the age-old question I get in forums: “OK, what would YOU do then, if you’re so clever?”:

I do indeed have some great solutions to the problem of turbine torture.

Maybe I should jump ship and get a job with the Planning Inspectorate. Boy could they do with me in charge. Heads would roll for the mistakes made over the last decade; there would be a root-and-branch overhaul of the basic training received by inspectors (including compulsory cartographical exams – if they can’t hand-draw from memory a map of the hills, mountains, rivers and settlements of the UK, then they’re simply not knowledgeable enough to have a valid opinion on planning policy).

There’d also be much more emphasis on understanding the UK’s social history as it relates to matters of conservation; far more engagement with the public, more of an “open source” approach to the inner workings of the Planning Inspectorate, encouraging all citizens to contribute to the nation’s knowledge base and to actively feel part of the planning process, rather than having to stand back and let people with less geographical knowledge make important decisions on their behalf. At all times there’d be a culture of Kaizen, the Japanese approach to total quality management and continuous process improvement, in which feedback and new information is ALWAYS welcomed and incorporated, rather than resented and obstructed with a haughty “We know best” attitude.

NO, PLANNING INSPECTORATE, YOU DON’T KNOW BEST. I BLATANTLY KNOW FAR MORE ABOUT THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE PENNINES THAN YOU.

I KNOW FAR MORE ABOUT THE IMPACT OF INAPPROPRIATE WIND BLIGHT ON MY NATURAL HABITAT THAN YOUR INSPECTORS WILL EVER UNDERSTAND.

UNTIL YOU START LISTENING AND LEARNING FROM PEOPLE LIKE ME AND MY WIND WARRIOR FRIENDS, YOU WILL CONTINUE TO BE CONSIDERED PART OF THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION.

Let’s hope Scout Moor marks a new era. I’m glad you made the right decision. Better late than never.

If I was in charge of the Planning Inspectorate, above all there would be a ZERO TOLERANCE policy to any kind of gratuitous eco-destruction whatsoever. The Planning Inspectorate would start off pure BANANA in its mentality towards wind turbines: Build Absolutely None Anywhere Near Anyone. This is clearly and unambiguously the best policy for the environment: zero building equals zero carbon footprint. Therefore refusing all turbines would be the default position of the Planning Inspectorate. If someone brave wants to chance their arm on a wind turbine proposal, they would have dozens of stringent hoops to jump through before even beginning to get planning permission.

We are where we are, however, and sadly the Planning Inspectorate was corrupted for a decade, using flawed processes open to abuse and malpractice. The inspectors I’ve named and shamed, Robin Brooks, Brendan Lyons and George Baird, ARE guilty of eco-vandalism (not a libellous allegation, but a proven scientific fact) because they each made a personal decision to allow our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be degraded for profit.

You can argue the toss of whether they broke the law in any way (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say their decisions were lawful, if unethical), but the end result is undeniable: these were the individuals who could have said “NO!” to the bulldozers, they were entrusted with the personal authority to uphold the will of the councils that had already rejected the applications; they were legally empowered to reinforce the view of the communities that each scheme was unacceptable. Instead they chose to allow the imposition of horrible wind blight on the public, against their will and without their consent.

Thankfully, having learned from my training materials, the Planning Inspectorate finally called it right with their rejection of the Scout Moor expansion. Good stuff, and credit where credit’s due. Maybe things have changed now, in which case it’s just the legacy issues that need resolving.

It’s only because of the mess left by the Inspectors, and those who hadn’t trained them properly, that we now need a remedial solution, and I have one. I present my Turbine Traffic Light Scheme. I’m drawing inspiration from my day job (remember, I work for a huge and globally popular corporation, so my ideas aren’t just back-of-a-fag packet, they’re based on seeing what successful people do). Every 90 days I carry out a full IT Health Check at various sites. I turn up, I clean and maintain every single piece of kit onsite, I audit software and hardware and work with the client to evaluate the performance of every device. Should I unearth an issue with an item, I log it and assess the viability of repairing it or replacing it. Once I’ve left a site, I know exactly what equipment is there, what state it’s in, and what needs doing to make any necessary improvements.

We talk about domains in IT, a collection of devices belonging to an organisational unit. We could say local councils are domains, and so every wind turbine within a council’s boundaries could be seen as a computer on the network. Step one is to draw up the complete inventory for every council. There is no reason on earth why this information shouldn’t be in the public “domain”: every resident of the UK should be able to Google “list of wind turbines in Kirklees” and find definitive, up-to-date information.

No IT Department in the world would allow unaccounted-for computers loose onto the domain, and it should be the same with wind turbines, they should all be registered and itemised, maybe even giving them an “asset tag” (eg KIRKWT0856), like a car number plate. These should be displayed on the turbines, but their main use is in quantifying the performance metrics of each turbine.

What sort of data is in the public interest, and should be added to our inventory? Well, obvious things such as the date of construction, the end date of the contract, the owner’s name, the financial arrangements, the capacity factor of each turbine, the carbon footprint of construction, the CO2 emissions offset so far, the expected date after which each turbine will have saved all the CO2 it took to construct and maintain it. Can you think of any others? This could all be stored in an Excel spreadsheet.

Once we have all the data, we as a society have to look at what we want our service level agreements to be, and what our penalties should be for non-compliance. If a turbine only offsets the CO2 it took to build it nineteen years into a twenty year contract, is that really acceptable? Is nineteen years of psychological harm to people worth it, merely in order to lower CO2 emissions slightly for a few months in two decades time? Would it not be better to hold fire and wait a few years till we can do it more efficiently and less environmentally destructively? All that money going towards inefficient turbines, would it be better invested into R&D for better technologies? We will only know once we have the data available.

The final step of the audit is the Turbine Traffic Light Scheme. I should be able to look at every turbine in a borough and immediately see which ones are performing at a satisfactory level, and which ones are underperforming. We also need to factor in visual impact and the views of the public. If a member of public complains about a turbine, then this will be quantified as a negative reaction.

(There’s no point in recording positive reactions, as knowing the wind companies, they would just astroturf bogus support, whereas I cannot foresee a single person making false complaints about turbines, ergo all complaints will be genuine. Who would make a bogus complaint about a wind turbine, and why? Nobody makes money from opposing turbines, and if someone is motivated by not wanting their home depreciated by wind blight, that’s a perfectly valid reason that should be recognised! The best compliment that could be paid of a wind turbine is that not a single person has complained about it.)

Those turbines that both perform according to the terms of the SLA and have an acceptably low number of complaints would be permitted, on one condition: the turbines would have to be repainted dark green, in keeping with the landscapes and much more blended in to the countryside. Green turbines would be a mark of honour – they would have gone through the audit and proved themselves to be genuinely good for the environment.

Whereas red turbines….these are the ones that have failed, ones that have breached the SLA and had too many complaints from the public. They are basically condemned, dead men walking, and should be scheduled for demolition. Is it worth painting them red if they are to be destructed anyway? Well, maybe we give the operators a choice: six months in the red with a final chance to prove themselves, in which case they can ultimately go green, or else give up right now, admit defeat and take the turbines down without the need to splash out on red paint!

We could possibly have an amber stage, those turbines that haven’t been tested yet or still have work to do to meet all their targets. Ones that aren’t out-and-out failures, but equally haven’t emphatically proved themselves.

Even within a large wind farm, every turbine needs assessing individually. It might be that only two or three out of an eleven turbine array are doing anything, in which case they would get the green paint, and the rest would get the red treatment!

What my Turbine Traffic Light Scheme would do would be to give turbine operators an incentive to up their game and earn genuine approval based on achieved performance rather than simply hopes and promises. It would also stigmatise rogue operators, whose red turbines would immediately stand out as having failed to prove themselves. I would hope that sensible people would rather remove their red turbines than leave them standing as a record of failure!

Well, it’s just an idea to get the ball rolling. The important point is now that I’m starting to form syntheses, refinements of my still-dominant BANANA thesis that also take into account the idea that it might just feasibly be possible to do wind well. I’m doubtful that many turbines in the UK would achieve green paint status, but I’d be prepared to give them a chance to prove their abilities.

Just as long as we stop rewarding failure!

EDIT: My introduction to Kaizen was, like all my other discoveries, based on serendipity. I worked on a short contract installing display systems for hybrid cars at Toyota dealers across the North. “What a great, well-run operation”, I observed. Further research into Toyota’s workflow processes revealed that the company’s methodologies are rooted in Kaizen philosophy. https://lifehacker.com/get-better-at-getting-better-the-kaizen-productivity-p-1672205148

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