As I write, South Derbyshire District Council is sitting in adjudication upon a proposal to build a 173-acre solar farm on agricultural land between the villages of Coton in the Elms and Lullington, South Derbyshire. Planning officers are recommending approval despite strong opposition from local residents, parish councils, the local county councillor and South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler. It seems that the environmental benefits are deemed just too great when compared to any of the supposed negative impacts. After all, this is a scheme that could be capable of powering 15,000 homes – provided the sun shines. Even on a cloudy day, however, we would still be talking about – just a minute whilst I work this out – very nearly 1,500 homes. Surely that must be well worth the industrialisation of a rural landscape, the removal of prime arable land from the farming industry, the traffic disturbance to locals and the fencing off of natural habitat to local deer, badgers, etc. Besides which, the feed-in tariffs awarded to the developer, Lullington Solar Park Limited, and the joy to be had by seeing the smiling landlord’s face must surely make it all worthwhile. Just don’t mention the birds.

Did someone just mention the birds? Yes, well I was hoping you wouldn’t bring that up. It’s all very well moaning on about the carnage inflicted by giant rotors that increasingly gate-keep the migration routes of our most treasured bird species (seagulls and whatever) but surely we can all agree that a solid, reflective platform the size of a 173-acre patio door, sprawled across South Derbyshire countryside, couldn’t possible pose a threat – can’t we? Well, we can’t if the statistics are anything to go by:

“In 2016, a first-of-its-kind study estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the US may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually.”

And unlike the raptor-munching windmills, these solar farms were quite egalitarian when it came to their lethality. Any bird that is too dumb to see the difference between sky and reflected sky has been fair game – that’s if you think that encouraging controlled flight into terrain is killing game fairly.

You’d think that societies established to study and protect our avian friends would look dimly upon such matters. And I’m sure they would if they were not funded by the same charitable foundations that are promoting the renewable energy bonanza. Take America’s National Audubon Society, for example. Between 2010 and 2013 they were to receive $11.2 million in backhanders from a group of 10 such foundations (these were identified in a report produced by the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works (EPW)). Audubon, in turn, contributed $100,000 towards the campaign to defeat Proposition 23, a proposition that had been aimed at curbing California’s legislated commitment to large-scale transition to bird-hostile renewables. Far from being a conservation society, Audubon, like so many others, is now just a sock puppet for a renewables industry pushing its idea of a green utopia. All of this may have something to do with why the following glowing endorsement for solar farms can be found on Audubon’s website:

“Solar energy is currently one of the fastest growing forms of energy. It’s economically competitive, and is flexible in the size and location of installations. It can power a single home or an entire neighborhood, and can be privately owned or service a whole community.”

It goes on to refer to the ‘deserved excitement about solar energy’ before striking one cautionary note, i.e. solar farms based upon ‘Concentrated Solar Power’ (CSP). In particular, there is CSP Tower Technology, which uses mirrors to concentrate solar rays onto a receiver to turn the solar energy into heat. The problem, however, with concentrating so much solar energy into one place is that birds are attracted to the light beam and the mirrors, and the intense heat zaps them. The result is so-called ‘streamers’, i.e. flaming carcasses, still flapping their wings as they plummet to the ground under Newton’s law of gravity. To its credit, even the National Audubon Society could see that projectile incineration has its PR downside, and so they deigned to withdraw their approval of this specific form of CSP.

All of the above has to be kept in context, of course; and when it comes to the Birdaggedon debate, there are three contexts in particular that always get a mention.

Firstly, the number of birds that come to grief due to the menace of renewables technology pales into insignificance when compared to the collective efforts of patio doors, domestic cats and car windshields (the activist’s Porsche Cayman 987 and Tesla milk float being equally culpable).

Secondly, there is always some wag who will bring up the study made by Dr Benjamin Sovacool of Sussex University, purporting that worldwide, fossil fuel power kills some 14.5 million birds annually. If this were true, this would make fossil fuel much the bigger of the bad wolves – if this were true.

One of these days I should make the effort to buy and read that study so that I can judge for myself. In the meantime, I am somewhat put off by Sovacool’s track record regarding the nuclear debate. As Ted Nordhaus has put it:

“But for decades, Sovacool and other prominent anti-nuclear academics have published a slew of dubious studies in peer-reviewed publications purporting to find that closing nuclear plants reduces emissions, that nuclear energy is fossil fuel intensive, uniquely dangerous, and inherently expensive, and that renewable energy alone can meet 100% of the world’s energy needs…In the end, everyone knows what Sovacool, Jacobson, and other anti-nuclear academics are up to. They are simply highly credentialed ideologues. It’s the bullshit that I worry more about, because, in its incoherence, overheated conspiracies, breezy utopias, and empty radicalism, it is far harder to interrogate”

I shouldn’t prejudge, but Sovacool sounds like the sort of guy who might as well remain behind his paywall as far as my limited Yorkshireman’s budget is concerned. And I suspect the reason why 14.5 million birds sounds to me like bullshit is probably because it is bullshit.

Finally, there’s the big one: global warming is destined to kill far more birds than renewables ever could. Well, when they say ‘destined’, I think they mean ‘conjectured’. Which raises the question as to how many dead birds in a mathematically modelled bush are equivalent to a dead one flying through the air in flames. I guess this is one for the availability heuristic to sort out and we will have to leave it at that.

Meanwhile, by my calculation, the Derbyshire District Council should be just about finished by now and will be making their press announcement shortly. I’m going to put my reputation on the line here and predict that this will be a victory for the NIMBY. But fear ye not. I’m quite sure the Government will be able to declare a state of emergency and drive roughshod over all democratic process. Yes, Coton in the Elms and Lullington, you shall get your solar farm after all.

Enjoy.

Postscript:

The verdict is now in and, as I suspected, the plan has been rejected by the South Derbyshire District Council almost unanimously (just the one abstention). So what was it that tipped the balance in the end? Was it concern for the birds? Was it the eyesore resulting from the industrialization of the landscape? Did the council reject the idea that there was a climate crisis that could only be addressed by a mad dash for renewables? No, none of the above. In fact, the council had long since declared a climate emergency and so were well aware of the supposedly disastrous consequences of their decision.

No, the problem, in the end, came down to the fact that turning the fields into a solar farm would have resulted in the loss of valuable land used for growing potatoes to be turned into Walkers crisps. Crisis or not, a nation needs its crisps and the South Derbyshire District councillors were wise enough to recognize that imperative.

The irony, of course, is that our penchant for eating crisps would have to be one of the most damaging things that we do to the environment. Not only are there the millions of discarded packets that end up in landfill, there is also the fact that a 35g packet of crisps has a 75g carbon footprint. At least it did back in 2008 when Walkers, to their credit, signed up to the carbon labelling initiative. Since then, they have benefitted from an almost bottomless well of greenwashing PR as initiative after initiative has seen the carbon footprint drop consistently. Still, the best thing that Walkers could do to address the ‘problem’ is to tell us all to stop buying their product. But if the South Derbyshire District Council ruling is anything to go by, that advice is unlikely to be well received.

29 Comments

  1. It’s always the same isn’t it?

    1. Democracy and the wishes of the people count for nothing’ and

    2. Saving the planet involves trashing it and killing lots of wildlife.

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  2. Disclosure: I had misremembered what Sovacool had said regarding avian deaths. It was, of course, fossil fuel that he blamed for 14.5 million deaths annually. This is now corrected.

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  3. Although my mistake was embarrassing, it is not nearly as embarrassing as Sovacool’s paper. I had to stop reading when he started complaining about acid rain. If he can still think that is a thing then I am entirely in agreement with Ted Nordhaus. Sovacool is an ideologue who appears to peddle nonsense.

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  4. John I believe in acid rain and have seen incontrovertible evidence for it in Ontario. Not perhaps from burning fossil fuels, but certainly from processing metal sulphide ores. There is an Ontario town, whose name I cannot recall, that has no trees within or around it. Photographs show surrounding hills turned brown and stripped of vegetation. Since those times and after mining had ceased, the neighbourhood has gradually returned to its more natural state. A local museum had been extremely clever. They enclosed part of an affected rocky outcrop within a plastic box, isolating it from the changing atmosphere and preventing the restoration of the pre-mining appearance of the area. I know this is not really the affects of acid rain: it’s strictly acid deposition, but that’s only acid rain on speed.

    Before regulations prevented the use of sulphur containing petrol or diesel, sulphur dioxide was broadcast into the atmosphere, becoming sulphuric acid, the effects of which were most evident in areas of thin, already acidic soils, like the Adirondacks of NYS. When I taught at Toronto, acid rain was the predominant environmental scare, not global warming. When I was an asthmatic boy in London I suffered during the smogs, so I know that acid rain was a reality.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The town in Ontario is Sudbury, and the metal being dug up was mainly nickel. I worked in one of the mines in the late 1960s, when they were working 24 hrs a day 7 days a week, supplying the US war effort for Vietnam. I lived in a suburb called Coppercliff, which was another element mined….
    And indeed the landscape for a long way around was lunar like, with nothing growing. the refinery pushed out fumes with a high smoke stack then, but originally it did not even have that. The fumes were so bad apparently that they were then pushed out much higher up into the atmosphere. Nothing like exporting your pollution!
    International Nickel (Inco) was the main company, and. that’s who I worked for. Saved enough money in nine months to finance a year’s worth of wandering around America … well worthwhile deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. heriotjohn: My father worked for Inco all his life, starting with the Henry Wiggin subsidiary in Hereford and ending up as head of HR in Toronto. Not the glamorous – or polluting – side of the business but a loyal company man. We were a tad different in that regard!

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  7. Hi John

    “After all, this is a scheme that could be capable of powering 15,000 homes – provided the sun shines. Even on a cloudy day, however, we would still be talking about – just a minute whilst I work this out – very nearly 1,500 homes.”

    After digging, (why are so many reporters coy?) we discover “….If approved, the (Lullington) solar farm will have an export capacity of 50MW”

    https://www.staffordshire-live.co.uk/news/local-news/villagers-launch-fight-against-massive-5841466?_ga=2.147194481.730436793.1658915000-1758936545.1658914999

    Perhaps the decision-makers at South Derbyshire District Council should be made aware of how p1ss-poorly solar performs in “…. one of the darkest countries in the world” (© the late Professor Sir David John Cameron MacKay Kt FRS FInstP FICE) throughout Januarys, our month of greatest electricity demand. Jan 2022 from 13,324MW of capacity”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Heriotjohn. Thank you for identifying Sudbury and using the adjective that described the countryside around it – lunar. Even in the 1980s when I visited the area, it could still be described using that adjective – although the black and brown discolouration of rock outcrops had largely disappeared (except within the museum box).

    Thank you for also illustrating the reach of our blog to people we have no means of knowing about.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. John

    “Disclosure: I had misremembered what Sovacool had said regarding avian deaths. It was, of course, fossil fuel that he blamed for 14.5 million deaths annually. This is now corrected.”

    Sovacool’s ineptitude relating to nuclear was this effort (with coauthors) ” ….to claim to demonstrate that deployment of nuclear energy around the world did not reduce carbon emissions.”

    https://thebreakthrough.org/issues/energy/on-anti-nuclear-bullshit

    😉

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  10. Alan,

    There is an interesting discussion to be had here regarding acid rain but not just now, because I’m afraid I have a hospital appointment to attend. Judging by current NHS waiting times, I’ll probably be getting back to you tonight. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. P.S. Just so you know what to anticipate, I’m going to be referencing the ten year National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) established by Congress, and its endorsement of the study made by Edward Krug and Charles Fink. In particular, I shall be referring to that study’s observation that the situation regarding the Adirondacks amounted to a reversal of a period of ‘ecological aberration’ in which felling of trees had resulted in a hitherto reduction of soil acidification. This reversal had been misattributed to the acid rain theory. I won’t be attempting to challenge anyone’s observations of localised and intense acidification resulting from mining activity.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alan,

    By ‘acid rain’ I refer to the idea that widespread deforestation was taking place as a direct result of the acidification of soil and water tables and that this was caused by the burning of fossil fuels. This idea originated in Sweden and quickly spread across Europe and to Canada. The science behind it was always less certain than maintained at the time and the evidence for deforestation was scant. Nevertheless, largely thanks to Bert Bolin (the guy behind the IPCC) the idea became one of those things that scientists challenged at their peril. One such scientist was Ivan Rosenqvist who was booed at by the audience when he stood up to present his paper at a science conference. Another was Edward Krug, who pointed out that soil formation was essentially an acidifying processes and that historical land usage had thinned the soils in the European forest lands. What we were seeing in the 1980s was acidification resulting from recovery of the soil. He too became victim of an aggressive smear campaign that used most of the dirty tricks available to discredit his ideas. Fortunately for him, the scientific body set up by Congress (i.e. NAPAP) recognized that he was talking sense and embodied his work in its findings. That’s not to say that acidification resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is not a thing, it just doesn’t have anything like the environmental impact claimed for it, and the soil acidification observed by Krug was a much better explanation. As Krug put it, “We know the acid problem [due to fossil fuel burning] is so small it is very hard to see”.

    All of this was written up in a report by NAPAP at the end of its ten year study. Unfortunately, the report had zero impact and was completely ignored by the media, and also when it came to forming US legislation. As one senator put it:

    “We spend over $500 million dollars on the most definitive study of acid precipitation that’s ever been done in the history of the world anyplace and then we don’t want to listen to what they say.”

    As a result, the acid rain fiasco lives on, enabling Oreskes et al to continue portraying the likes of Krug as Merchants of Doubt. Sensible scientists, however, have quietly dropped the fuss regarding the ecological damage caused by acid rain in order to concentrate instead upon the health issues associated with sulfur emissions. As for killing birds, even if Sovacool has not heard of NAPAP, he is surely aware of the fact that legislation was put in place to tackle acid rain and so (assuming the deforestation existed in the first place) we should now recognize that the deforestation has been curtailed. If he wants to link deforestation with loss of habitat and the demise of birds, he needs to look elsewhere and give fossil-fueled acid rain theory a rest.

    As I said earlier, none of this cuts across your observations regarding localized acidification due to mining and mineral processing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have Vinny to thank for not having to fork out money on the Sovacool paper. Which is just as well because, as I suspected, it’s just numberwang.

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  14. Richard and Alan,

    Well — it was my uncle who worked for Inco in London as a chemist, and he gave me an introduction to the head of HR in Toronto, named Mr Wadge. So when the two of us likely lads turned up at Head Office, we got no further than his charming secretary, who told us the next day to go to Sudbury if we really wanted to work in the mines.
    There, during interviews with HR, I let slip I was a graduate of LSE. No, you cant work here, you must go to Toronto as Head Office will want economists. Ah I said, but Mr Wadge told us to come here. Stunned silence, followed by “You know Mr Wadge?” in a rising crescendo. Suddenly all doors were opened and we were signed up. An early lesson in its who you know, not what you know…
    And Alan, I read the blogs frequently, often with wry amusement. Our area of the Borders has been under relentless pressure since around 2009 to accept multiple wind farm applications. Usually resisted successfully until now, but it is now getting even worse with multiple schemes for huge turbines. Facts often come in useful when countering some of the extreme propaganda in the EIAs, responding to the SG consultations about onshore wind, or tackling politicians.
    Something else now threatens our uplands. Huge forestry schemes driven by Net Zero subsidies, which make blanket softwood plantations more profitable than farming sheep.
    Between the two types of “industrialisation” the environmental damage especially to avian species will be devastating. But visually too — so not lunar landscapes, but some thing nearly as bad.
    Please keep the detailed critiques coming!

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  15. Richard and Allan,

    Thank you for your friendly replies — I’m trying to respond despite WordPress appearing to dump my comments!

    It was my uncle who worked for Inco as a chemist in London. He gave me an introduction to the Head of HR in Toronto, who was then Mr Wadge. So when the two of us turned up blithely wanting to work in the mines, it was his kind secretary who told us he wasn’t going to meet us, but he said go to Sudbury.

    HR in Sudbury duly processed us until they asked about education. Naively telling them I was a graduate of LSE nearly sank us, as the reaction was a go to Toronto to work in Head Office. But Mr Wadge told us to come here. Stunned silence, then “You know Mr Wadge??” in a rising crescendo … so a useful introduction to the adage “its not what you know, but who you know”….

    And I regularly read your blogs and comments. useful material dealing with wind farm applications, Scottish Government consultations, politicians and others. Our area of the Borders suffers constantly from wind farm applications, which only get larger and more determined. So far we have largely succeeded in getting them refused by attention to detail and using the EIAs themselves to demonstrate the severity of the likely impacts.

    We are now also seeing multiple applications for upland forestry schemes, driven by the level of grants available under the Net Zero nonsense. As these schemes are for blanket softwoods, often just sitka spruce, the environmental damage especially to avian wildlife will be as bad as wind turbines.

    Please keep up the good work demolishing the nonsenses we see daily!!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Heriotjohn,

    Apologies for the vagaries of WordPress. I have just discovered your comments lurking wrongly in spam, and have set them free.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. John I trust your hospital visit went well and, if you needed one, the lift was operating.

    Once again you and I are not so far apart. I used to use the Adirondacks as a topic when discussing the environmental effects of using fossil fuels. One of the main concerns was the loss of sport fishing in more and more Adirondack lakes as their waters become demonstrably more acidic. Couple this with studies of Canadian lakes in pristine areas that were deliberately and artificially acidified, and consequently lost their fish. However, more detailed work involving consideration of the history of the Adirondacks revealed the true story which gave no comfort to environmentalists. Originally the Adirondacks had acidic and fish less lakes and were forested. Humans logged the forests, this caused lake waters and soils to become more alkaline and introduced sport fish thrived. All this was unravelled by environmentalists who were appalled at the mountains becoming despoiled by continued tree logging, and logging was stopped and new forests planted. It was these changes that resulted in renewed (natural) acidification and the gradual loss of fish from newly acidified lakes. You obviously cannot have

    This and other studies have thrown considerable doubt upon the effect of sulphur bearing emissions causing widespread environmental damage. But still I wonder. Sulphur emissions from energy generation in Eastern Canada alone amount to many millions of tonnes every year and this just doesn’t disappear without consequence (IMHO). We can dismiss nitrate emissions because these should fertilise soils. I recently read a paper attributing increasing acidity in European lakes to changes in weathering caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere. If this study were correct, then the addition of many million tonnes of SO4 should do something.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Alan,

    Thank you for asking. I can’t say whether it went well or not until I get the test results but at least it all happened on the ground floor 🙂

    Your long-time understanding of the Adirondacks and the fishing exactly corresponds to, but no doubt exceeds, my own.

    As for speculations regarding other impacts, I’m afraid they will have to remain as such for the time being. I have nothing further I could add. However, I will say this: often it isn’t so much the science as the way the scientists conduct themselves that I find the most interesting. The acid rain affair falls into that category.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Having now read the Sovacool paper, it is also evident to me that he puts most of the 14.5 million fossil fuel deaths down to the putative effects of global warming, and so context three in my article isn’t actually distinct from context two – either way there is a lot of wild speculation going on.

    As for Sovacool’s opposition to nuclear power, I note that he works at Sussex University. I studied nuclear physics there briefly in the late seventies and that is where I was introduced to the slogan ‘No More Nukes’. It seemed to be displayed upon every available vertical surface, whether as graffiti or as a festooned banner, and I have to say it didn’t make me feel very welcome. In fact, as an ex-student of Newcastle University, where political interests extended no further than getting blotto on Newky Broon, I found the whole political scene at Sussex rather febrile. If anyone was looking to forge a career in politicized science, with an aversion to nuclear technology, Sussex was always going to be your best bet.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Having just taken a quick look online, I can’t see any sign of what Derbyshire District Council’s decision might have been. However, if you look at the satellite view available on Google maps, you may note that field’s earmarked for the farm look very different to those surrounding. It’s almost as if they have been prepared for something — as if someone has a crystal ball.

    Like

  21. Jit,

    Thanks for that. As I suspected in my article, nimbyism has ruled the day, for the time being.

    Is there any significance, I wonder, to the fact that the repurposing of a field used for growing potatoes for Walkers Crisps was rejected in a “crunch planning meeting”?

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I have now added a postscript to the article to report upon the verdict, as brought to my attention by Jit.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. John – “getting blotto on Newky Broon” – I remember a boys (15/16) school trip (1972/3) where that happened.
    have never touched a drop since – honest 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Just to put a number on the Great Crisp Scandal: there are approximately 6 billion packets of crisps sold each year in the UK alone. That makes about 16 million empty bags each day looking for a place of retirement. As for the total annual carbon footprint: 75g times 6 billion equals — just give me a minute here — quite a lot!

    You don’t have to be personally signed up to the idea of a climate emergency to know that those who are shouldn’t be supporting the crisp industry so enthusiastically.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Even though the council made the only reasonable decision re spuds or solar panels, Walkers Crisps are not yet safe. The future deliciousness of the potato slices requires copious amounts of vegetable oils. With the absence of much of the world’s supply of these oils caused by Putin’s avarice, vegetable oils must be at a premium requiring increased production from England’s fields. Consumers of Newkie Broon and other condiments must just hope that the spread of solar technology does not restrict supply of veggie oil and taters and the consequent loss of their favourite crunch.
    Then we come to pork scratchins…

    Liked by 1 person

  26. “Then we come to pork scratchins…”

    Oh God no, let it not come to that!

    Like

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