Blown promises

First the promise, perhaps a bit overrated:

Click for the news article

The article goes on to say:

The borough already has one publicly-owned turbine — a 33ft Air Dolphin turbine at a location off Taylors Lane, Oldbury, near the civic amenities site in Shidas Lane.

Through monitoring the performance of the turbine it was hoped the council would be able to find out how practical it would be to harness wind power on a large scale in the borough

Here is what it looks like:

Zephyr Airdolphin Wind Turbine Generator

Interestingly, right below the picture on this sale page for the wind turbine, they say this:

With the average price for 1kWh of electricity in the UK at around 11 pence, this wind turbine is predicted to save its owner just £55 to £154 per year giving a pay back period of 45 to 125 years!

I kid you not, that’s actually what they say. In tips and notes, UK blogger Derek Sorensen calls our attention to this FOI request regarding the production of the very same wind turbine on Taylors Lane, Oldbury.


Roy Mccauley

Sandwell Borough Council

31 March 2011

Thank you for your enquiry about the Taylor’s Lane wind turbine in

Oldbury. The answers to your questions are as follows:

1) Could you please tell me the total cost spent on purchase and

installation of the 33ft Air Dolphin turbine at a location off Taylor’s

Lane, Oldbury?

£5,000 (plus VAT) was the total cost of the Taylor’s Lane micro wind

turbine in Oldbury, including foundations, tower and connections.

2) Could you also tell me how much has been spent on the turbine since?

Nothing has needed to be spent since it was installed.

3) How much electricity has been generated by the turbine and how much has

been spent monitoring the performance of the turbine – e.g. cost of

setting up a computer/software etc.

No money has been spent monitoring the performance of the micro wind

turbine at Taylor’s Lane.

However, the council paid £750 for 3 years of monitoring an identical

micro wind turbine at Bleakhouse Primary School in Oldbury. We chose to

monitor just one of the turbines to minimise costs. We wanted to track

performance, establish whether predicted wind speeds in Sandwell were

accurate and use the technology and readings for educational purposes in


For the 12 months between May 2009 and April 2010, the Bleakhouse Primary

School micro wind turbine generated 209 kWh of electricity.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the

right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be

submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your

request, and should be addressed to:

Freedom of Information Unit

Oldbury Council House

Freeth Street


West Midlands

B69 3DE

Email – [1][Sandwell Borough Council request email]

If you are not content with the outcome of an internal review, you have

the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a

decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane


Cheshire SK9 5AF

Please remember to quote your reference number above in any future


Roy McCauley

Sustainable & Economic Regeneration Unit


Dereke writes:

Sandwell Borough Council paid £5,000 a pop to install several wind turbines in their area, and then paid another £750 to have the output of just one of them monitored.

The monitored turbine, which was installed on a primary school, generated 209kWh of electricity in the twelve months it was being monitored. That’s about 20 quid’s worth. So each turbine will have to run for 250 years without breaking down or requiring maintainance, just to break even.

Such a deal. Since the FOI request was granted on March 31st, and the Express and Star News story was February 24th, do you think the Sandwell council may have had time to consider these massive energy production figures for their toy £5000 toy turbine?


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209 kWh per year from a 1kW turbine gives a load factor of 2.3%. That sounds about right; you would expect local government idiots to fork out £5k for something useless; but never mind, they mean well and are saving the planet. The school kids will no doubt be indoctrinated into what a good idea this wind turbine thingy is.
Just wait till they have to start paying maintenance costs. 209 kWh at £0.11/kWh is £23/year, which won’t cover the call-out costs for a maintenance technician.

Don’t these people do wind studies of the sites then intend to put turbines on to get some idea of the production they’ll see?


Yes, but when the European Union rules shut down our coal-fired power stations and the price of electricity rockets to 50 pence per unit the windmill will break even in only, oh, about fifty years. Brilliant! And it won’t matter if it’s not windy because we won’t be able to afford electricity anyway.

Andy G55

Its mechanical, and probably made in China.. I give it 5 years before its kaput !!!
And that’s being generous 🙂

“on a blustery day”?
How much more efficient, if they were to mount it inside the counsel’s meeting room[!]
Maybe they should mount it in a chimney, exiting the ceiling above them… surely they would achieve virtual perpetual motion[!!]
Oh oh oh! Mount one to each of their cars and they can each drive around, collecting all the FREE wind energy they want[!]


Just wait till they have to start paying maintenance costs. 209 kWh at £0.11/kWh is £23/year, which won’t cover the call-out costs for a maintenance technician.

That amount of money won’t even pay to keep it painted…

Laurence M. Sheehan, PE

45-125 year payback for a device that most likely won’t survive 10 years. Government folly at its peak.

Adam Gallon

More Mickey Mouse economics from a Council. You can tell it’s not their money they’re spending!
Looking at the Airdolphin specs, a measely 1Kw in a 26mph wind, enough to boil a kettle.
The support tower also needs replacing every 25 years, so that’ll further increase the payback period.


Do these Sustainable & Economic Regenration people ever actually look at the results and projections in support of these monstrosities..?
A payback time of 250 years for instance..?
A 200 foot eyesore which, ‘in blustery conditions, COULD power 20000 homes’..?
And the other 90% of the time..?
When will this madness stop..?

John Marshall

I cannot understand why it would be profitable for this turbine at 11p/kwh. Even at the price I pay today, 28p/kwh, it woulds not cover all costs. Typical socialist council wasters.

Alan the Brit

If the data comes from guvment, national or local, don’t trust it, especially when it promises big, much savings, lower costs, better efficiency, etc!

Don R

A slight amendment. The cost of each turbine was £5000 plus VAT, (for non-UK folk, this is Value Added Tax which is collected by the British Government and which at that time would be seventeen and a half percent.)
That puts the payback time to around 300 years.
That’s what you get when you establish a Sustainable and Economic Regeneration Unit.
Perhaps Dereke would now like to find out the annual cost of the Unit to the ratepayers of Sandwell Borough Council.


I think the information should be checked before jumping to any conclusions. 209kWh is not enough to keep a standard 3kW electric fire going for 3 days. The figures must have been misquoted.

It is gesture politics with the tax-payer footing the bill. They are demonstrating their green credentials at our expense. Never mind the quality feel the width!

Darkinbad the Brightdayler

Wind and hot air.
Councils are good at that.
How many Kw do you think one installed over the council chamber would generate?
Our countryside is dotted with these white elephants which will never last long enough to cover their installation and payback costs.
My only hope is that they will leave them up as a monument to PC thinking and South-Sea Bubble mentality for our grandchildren to reflect upon.


Our local energy company has been forced by an idiotic government to hit a “renewables” target in the near future. Fortunately, it is a publicly traded company, so they are also required to disclose lots of financial information. The depreciation rate for wind turbines is 5% straight line, which means they have a 20 year useful life, and have an estimated maintenace cost of 3% of capital cost, per year. It is good these things are white, it makes them easier to imagine as elephants.


The “pay back period of 45 to 125 years!” has been estimated given the present electricity price of 11 pence/kWh.
After the nuclear plantss will be dismantled, the electricity price will be around 1 pound per kWh. This reduces the pay back time by some factor 10, i.e. to 5 to 12 years.
This will be a reasonable investment then!

Latimer Alder

Posted also at Derek’s site:
Unless my arithmetic is badly wrong, that is an average output of 24 Watts. Which is not even pathetic.
My little pump for my garden waterfall takes about 45W. The nightlight in my Mum’s hallway takes 7w. My laptop when plugged in chews a huge 65W.
The entire electricity needed to power my little 3 bed semi is about 150KWh per month. So I would need about 9 such installations to power just my house…assuming that I could make the wond blow art the right time…when I wanted to cook Sunday lunch or run the washing machine.
Windmills are a complete waste of time and money. The ydo not do what it says on the tin. This experiment shows it.
And if I were a council tax payer in Sandwell, I would be asking my local representative searching questions about why they feel the need to conduct such experiments at all. And why they employ people – presumably at salaries far in excess of £5,000 to conduct them.


How the hell can it possibly cost 750 UK pounds to ‘monitor’ the output of the turbine?
That seems really high.

John Bosworth

That turbine has a 1.8m rotor diameter according to the website. Much smaller than the “33ft” quoted, which I suppose is the height at which it is mounted. A similar model over here in the states might run you about $1000. And they paid 5000 british pounds each? Somethun’ aint right…

Lew Skannen

If the capital cost is factored in at say 5% interest rate I think that payback time might extend well past the lifespan of the solar system.
In Hobart, Tasmania at the moment we still have a couple of dead wind turbines on the roof of one of our gummint buildings. They operated feebly for about a month and then flaked out. They have spent the last year in a static state of semi-collapse.


Seeing as they are so concerned about c02 it would be interesting to know how much c02 it produced and how long before it ‘recovered’ that same c02?
Here are two recent reminders about the failures of wind – here and here.
It seems to me they will only abandon windpower when disaster strikes in mid-winter. From the top two references it shouldn’t be long – they just have to push full speed ahead for the next decade.

Mike Bromley the Kurd

So each turbine will have to run for 250 years without breaking down or requiring maintainance, just to break even.
I now have to wipe off my monitor because I was having a sip of tea when I read that.


I would go a carbon tax if they would just promise to get rid of these irrational alternative energy monstrosities.


Don R says:
April 27, 2011 at 2:00 am
A slight amendment. The cost of each turbine was £5000 plus VAT….

You beat me to it! Apparently VAT on wind turbines is 5% which puts the cost at £5,250. Sooner or later there has to be maintenance costs which puts the payback time even further.


A maximum power of 2.3kW and a standard of 1kW. 209kWh would mean that it ran for less than 9 days total with an average wind speed. It is just not possible that this technology is so poor!
Something more embarrassing must be behind these numbers – there is no way that in the UK there was a total of only 9 average windy days in 12 months, and there is no point criticising the laws of physics. If it was windy and the turbine was set-up and monitored properly, it would definitely produce much more the quoted value.
More digging needed – what else can be expected from British bureaucracy? Does FOI guarantee that the information is correct – not likely.

Andy G55

Not to mention the total environmentakl devastation in a China where they mine and process the rare earth for the magnets. An ever expanding toxic acid lake killing the countryside for miles around, plus massive air pollution. Coal mines can, and are, often ‘remediated’,…. but this toxic lake and the surrounding area will NEVER be.
So much for “green’ technology !

Electric energy isn’t storable at scale, so the grid operator has to match demand to supply, to the second. Give him a power plant (fossil fuel or nuke) that can be throttled up or down to follow customer demand and everyone is happy.
What the public fails to understand is how important the “when” question is to the equation.
Demand for electricity varies hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and is rather predictable. Wind is fickle and may not blow when you need it. On top of that, most wind blows at night…when demand for electricity is at its LOWEST.
The makes the economics even uglier.

Martin Brumby

Interestingly, you have to poke about on Sandwell MBC’s website to find this:-
Nothing about Council run windmills, though.
But this “Sustainable & Economic Regeneration Unit” seems to have a lot of staff.
Perhaps you’d better add their cost to the £5,000 per windmill quoted.
Payback period???
CO2 saved???
Net effect on Global Average Temperatures???
I’d be inclined to write a nice letter to the Council’s “Interim Chief Executive”, Mr. Tim Britton:-
“His salary will be £139,000 a year
“Mr Britton, who is executive director of urban regeneration, takes over the role with immediate effect.
“Cllr Cooper said: “I have full confidence in Mr Britton to carry out the role which is extremely demanding.
“”We have very good officers in Sandwell and we will carry on with a new slimmed down management structure that is planned for the future.
“”I want to maintain stability in Sandwell and ensure we have strong leadership throughout this challenging time.
“”This is going to be a period of major change across the board in local government.”
“Cllr Cooper said the move was part of a major management restructure which will see the chief exec’s salary cut from £152,174 to £139,000 and a two-year pay freeze for other top managers.”
Ask Britton (and send a copy to Cllr Cooper) asking under what powers Sandwell has decided to enter the Electricity Generation business because you are concerned that this may be Ultra Vires (as well as blatantly ineffective and poor value for money).
Point out the costs and “benefits” as set out in this posting and in comments. Say you want a list of those Councillors who approved this expenditure because you are minded to have them individually surcharged with the wasted and possibly Ultra Vires expenditure.
Make yourself a pot of tea and await a response.

Beth Cooper

WIND POWER ! Provides 10% of capacity for only 50% of the time AND only takes 300 years to recoup your investment outlay.
‘Wowee! Gotta get me some of that green energy”

Sandwell Council isn’t known for its critical thinkers or common sense. This is the council that tried to fine an elderly a four figure sum for dropping cigarette ash while waiting for a bus. Only a loud public outcry made them back down. They also don’t like advertising the sale of your car by placing a small notice in same car for passers-by to read and take note of and threaten you with a fine for doing so. They are a bunch of ridiculous, dictatorial freaks so it’s no wonder the dimwits think that wind turbines are a good idea so they are buying another one whether long suffering council tax payers want it or not.

Latimer Alder

More digging needed – what else can be expected from British bureaucracy? Does FOI guarantee that the information is correct – not likely.
I think we can be reasonably certain that Mr McAuley who works for the Sustainable bakhdebaldeblah unit, will have been strongly motivated to put the best possible spin on this pathetic piece of kit’s output, not the worst. So if there is an error, it will have been in overestimating the ‘success’.
Nobody, but nobody, who works in a Sustainable unit would ever work again if they failed to show due obesiance to the great god Aeolus……But even the best he can manage is an average over the year of 0.024 KW.

Unfortunately it is a little more complicated (and more beneficial) than the figures suggest.
The 209kWh generated by the 33kW turbine will save the owner the 11p/kWh suggested but they will also get an income under the Feed-in-Tariff system of 9p/kWh (for an existing microgenerator transferred from RoCs). This income is guaranteed until 2027
The planned turbine is rather lucrative actually. Depending on size these are the rates paid to producers under the new Feed-in-Tarif system. The figures below consitute the “Generation Tariff”:
Turbine Size – rate
1.5-15kW – 26.7p/kWh
>15-100kW – 24.1p/kWh
>100-500kW – 18.8p/kWh
>500-1.5MW – 9.4p/kWh
>1.5MW-5MW – 4.5p/kWh
These rates are guaranteed for 20 years. On top of that there is an “Export Tariff” of 3p/kWh for any electricity not used by the producer that is exported to the grid. And of course add these to the “Avoided Cost” of 11p/kWh. (Source: )
For the planned one, 200ft height suggests a 500kW turbine. Say 25%* load so 125kW produced. That would generate an income of £238,710 per year assuming all of the electicity is exported to the grid. Payback 6-7 years, in profit for the remaining 13-14 years of the FiT. (*but of course it may not even acheive that)
And that 🙁 is the state of the incentive system and where the money is going in the UK.


@Latimer Alder
It doesn’t make sense that Roy Mccauley and Sandwell Borough Council would bother to provide misleading information which is so bad. If they were going to lie, they would do it properly. Imagine if the true output had been zero kWh (could it be any worse?) then why exaggerate it to a mere 209kWh.
My guess is that they don’t know what they are doing, and they quoted the wrong data from the wrong records. This is better for them than admitting that they charged someone for monitoring and then don’t know where the monitoring data is. Perhaps a symptom of CRU proportions.


On the plus side, the FOI response was done well and actually provided the information requested. And when there was no monitoring on the wind turbine mentioned in the original request, the government response included data from an identical turbine that was monitored instead. They not only met the letter of the FOI law with their response, but they also followed the spirit of FOIA by doing their best to provide all the information requested. This FOI response was actually helpful to the requester, rather than an exercise in government non-response doublespeak that is all too often provided after a FOIA request.
That FOI response should be an example for the Climategate scientists, provide relevant data in a FOI response even if it risks making you look foolish.

Chris R.

To: Verity Jones
Thanks for throwing in more data. Your data on the “Feed-In-Tariff” makes it plain that wind power CANNOT compete without mammoth government intervention.
And just who pays for the government subsidies? Why, the good citizens of the UK.


Some ambitious person will come up with a retrofit kit which will, using bevel helical worm gear things, allow the windmill to be turned by folks walking in circles around a drive shaft on the ground. This would give the council members something to do with their time, help keep them warm in winter and provide tons of photo ops for the eco-tourists who will most certainly flock to the site. Oh, and the first upgrade to the basic kit would be a donkey with a hat and a carrot on the end of a stick. The council could import them from the third world along with the feed to keep their green generator plodding along. Would at least power the hazard light(s) at the top.


Local guberments here in blighty are much more incompetent than the UK guberment, its where people that can’t make it in the private sector go to work, trust me I’ve worked contracts for local guberments, the NHS and the arm services, the worst by far was the NHS 2pm everyone disappeared for meetings, they even had signs up around all the offices saying “Bored at work have a meeting”. At local guberment levels there simply was no money as they spent it on chief exec wages and pensions.
I think if you really want to read into this story some non jobs where created and then to make themselves feel like they are important they’ve started to throw the little money they have around to make it look like they know what they are doing, it appears they don’t.

Here is SemplíceEnergy’s offer for the Bleakhouse School Micro-Wind Turbine project.
As you can see it was £5,500.00, which comes out as £5,000.00 indeed with a £500.00 discount. However, you have to add VAT (5% for wind turbines), so it is £5,250.00 so far.
Annual cost of the optional monitoring system is £250.00 (plus VAT I guess), but what Roy Mccauley of Sandwell Borough Council failed to mention in his reply to the FOI request is the fact there’s also an initial installation cost of £2,000.00 (+VAT). Therefore this toy turbine cost £8,137.50 in the first three years (assuming VAT rate for the wind turbine monitoring system is the same as for wind turbines themselves).
With a 40 year life time (which is way too high) and with no maintenance cost whatsoever, cost of electricity comes out as £2.14/kWh (including VAT).
In the document SemplíceEnergy says the Micro-Wind Turbine would potentially reduce CO₂ by 500 kg/annum. If in fact 209 kWh of electricity was generated in a year, it would work by substituting a power source that used 2.4 kg carbon to generate 1 kWh of electricity. As heat of combustion for carbon is 9.5 kWh/kg, 2.4 kg carbon would generate 22.8 kWh thermal energy if burned.
I didn’t know average thermal efficiency of coal fired power plants in Britain is 4.3%. Amazing.
/sarc off

Kum Dollison

Doesn’t Iowa get 20% of its electricity from Wind?
Maybe the good folks at Sandwell should contact Ames.

Sorry, I have miscalculated. The 500 kg/annum is for CO₂ reduction, not carbon reduction. As molar weight of CO₂ is 3.67 times more than that of carbon, they assume a 16% thermal efficiency at the coal fired power plants to be substituted by this windmill, not 4.3%. However, it is still only about half the actual number (33%).
Which means the Bleakhouse School Micro-Wind Turbine would only reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 250 kg, which is less then CO₂ emission of a single human (by breathing).

Jason Calley

Things which seem absurd are often seen that way because our underlying assumptions are wrong. In this case we laugh because we assume that the Council was investing in a machine to produce electricity. They were not. They were investing in a machine to produce votes — and paying for the votes with taxpayer money!
Once you get past the idea that political decisions are taken for ethical or pragmatic reasons, governmental actions make very good sense. Rethink your assumptions.


Sandwell Council – rated one of the worst in Britain.
This is the same council that’s attempting to fine a grandmother thousands of pounds for letting her cigarette ash fall on the pavement while she waited for a bus. Sheila Martin, 70, was smoking at a bus stop when a warden pounced and handed her the £75 fixed penalty for littering. The cash-strapped gran refused to pay – and has now been warned it could rise to £2,500.
Oh! The joys of living in Sandwell!

Pamela Gray

I see a new job for Al. He needs to schedule a continuous round of public announcements located upwind of each and every wind power plant/tower. With this public service, he could keep these wind turbines turning till he keels over. And if any more towers are built, I think Al should subsidize them.
By the way, did that FOI include subsidies? It may have helped their bottom line but it still came from the pockets of tax payers. The real issue is then not what it costs THEM, but what it cost YOU.

Paul Birch

The knee-jerk scorn persistently displayed by many commenters here over anything even vaguely greenish is disturbing, disgraceful and plain foolish; why sink to the level of the AGW types?
Read the article. Why was the small turbine installed? “Through monitoring the performance of the turbine it was hoped the council would be able to find out how practical it would be to harness wind power on a large scale in the borough”. This was a very sensible course of action; for the trivial cost of £5000 (+£750 for monitoring, and noting that local authorities do not pay VAT, which is refunded) they obtain valuable data enabling them to make a more informed decision on a far larger multi-million pound project. They would have expected to have to pay much more for a feasibility study, which they would otherwise have been obliged to carry out as part of the tender and decision-making process. I doubt that anyone was relying on the micro-turbine to make a net profit for the council (though with the full feed-in tariff of 34.5p/kWh and a 25% capacity factor it could have produced revenue in excess of £1000/yr, or 20% per annum return on investment). A full-size wind turbine would be expected to have a much lower cost per unit output (though a lower feed-in-tariff price), but a similar pattern of variability. If the 209kWh is correct (and not a typo for 2090kWh), then the average capacity factor is an order of magnitude lower than one would have hoped, which would suggest that a full-scale installation would not be profitable. However, if, as I suspect, the true figure is closer to 2090kWh, then the full-scale installation would then probably be highly profitable. Bear in mind that the council is under a statutory obligation to obtain value for money for its electorate, under the commercial conditions that actually obtain (it has no control over whether or not renewables are subsidised through the feed-in-tariff, or otherwise, so whether you or they approve of these subsidies is beside the point – they cannot take that into consideration).

This is far worse than the initial commenter suggested.
Assuming a 1KW generator:
209/86400 = 0.24% load factor.


I am fine with putting small systems on schools for education reasons. It is stupid to expect ANY payback in real money for these systems. If they wanted to verify winds, they should have installed an anemometer for a couple hundred BEFORE committing to an install.

Ulrich Elkmann

A schoolook example of ignorance, incompetence and petty-bureaucracy blustering and bungling. Where is that turbine located? The Bleakhouse Primary School… If someone were to write a novel about such tomfooleries, “Bleakhouse” would make a nice title, wouldn’t it?


Here’s the one that dumbfounds me:
Say you have one of these windmills that cost about USD$9,000 – How much of that price went toward paying the energy bills at the steel mill, the aluminum recycling plant, the factory where they weave and pot the carbon fiber cloth, etc.? I’d have to guess at least 15% of the final cost of the finished product is directly traceable to the energy required to produce it. That means that (at a SWAG cost of ten cents per kWh) it took at least 13,500 kWh to build that windmill that might be expected to produce 5,000 kWh of electrical energy in its lifetime.
Here’s my idea – take the portion of my income tax that goes to funding the EPA, Department of Energy, and any other government entities that are wearing green blinders; deduct that portion from my federal income tax, and I’ll promise to flush one third of it down the toilet. The net effect will be the same, I’ll get to keep a little money, and the world will be better off.

Alexander K

I currently live in suburban outer London. It’s very pleasant here, lots of parks and other open green spaces where kids can fly kites, but they rarely do as London doesn’t ‘do’ wind. There was a huge row in a London Olympic Games committee a couple of weeks ago when a Green member of the committee became upset when the chairman flatly refused to allocate funds for the proposed wind turbine at the main venue. The Green member was terribly upset about ‘giving the world a terrible message’ etc but the chairman was adamant; studies had said the site was not windy enough for it ever to have the blades turning. Aforementioned Green member did not see that as a reason not to have one erected and she insisted it is most important that the visitors to the London Olympics in 2012 ‘see how Green the city is’.
I think it’s a pity the wind turbine won’t be erected in the Olympic Park; having one there, permanently immobile, would remove any lingering doubt any visitor might have about how insanely impractical these things are.