With the whole world now aware of the huge problem of plastic in our oceans and the resulting threat to delicate marine ecosystems and wildlife, it is shocking indeed to hear the news that production of fibreglass worldwide is set to increase dramatically in the next few years due in large part to the use of this material in the manufacture of wind turbines.
There were at the end of 2016, more than 3,500 individual turbines in the seas off Europe alone - with nearly 350,000 spinning (albeit intermittently given the nature of wind...) around the world at that time. Now the figure is likely to be substantially more and there is predicted to be a surge in planning applications both in the UK and internationally for vast numbers of new wind farms, onshore and offshore, in the coming years as energy companies take advantage of proposed subsidies, cloaking their decimation of countryside and coast in misleading 'green' marketing spin.
Fibreglass (fibre reinforced plastic) composites are used in the manufacture of wind turbine blades. It is a material that potentially poses the same problems as the other plastics that are filling our oceans and killing our marine life. According to the European Wind Energy Association, in the year 2010 alone, between 110 and 140 kilotons of composites were consumed by the wind turbine industry for manufacturing blades.*
To consider this form of energy as 'green' is to ignore the fact that by installing more and more wind turbines, we are drastically increasing the amount of plastic in the environment. This is particularly worrying in the case of offshore wind farms. Fibreglass is prone to warping, not ideal in a maritime environment, and the material itself has for some time been flagged as a potentially serious health risk.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that fibreglass is very difficult to dispose of and almost impossible to recycle on a large scale. The result - more plastic in the environment - and this time from supposedly 'green' wind turbines.
With the discovery of plastic cable castings - originating from Rampion wind farm in the UK - washed up on a south coast beach last week, this pollution of our seas in the name of green electricity is something to think about.
I'm not a scientist and I'm more than willing for someone within the wind industry to educate me about the recyclability of turbine blades - but for now I see this as just another example of contaminating our seas with plastic - only this time it is pollution flaunting itself as green, ethical and environmentally friendly.
Wind farms are none of those things and far from 'saving the planet' will ultimately only add to its destruction.
*The European Wind Energy Association. "Research note outline on recycling wind turbines blades" (PDF)
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