CLP Group

kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am


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Getting energy from the wind is a great idea. What a pity that in the Hong Kong context it is totally unrealistic. To make any significant contribution to our ever-increasing hunger for electricity we would virtually need whirling blades atop every building in the city. It's never going to work.

The concept is appealing. Stick up a few windmills and, hey presto!, all your energy needs are solved. It's a notion that has hard-core environmentalists trembling with excitement, until they take a harder look at the cold facts and hard figures. Then they discover it is totally unviable.

Proposals by both power companies to build wind farms out to sea is a public relations sham. These would create a visual ecological nightmare that would also be a crippling financial disaster, all in return for a phoney cuddle-me payoff to blind idealism. Examine the facts. CLP Power envisages sticking a bunch of wind towers off the Ninepin Islands. Blades would whirl prettily over the waves and undersea cables would carry ashore electricity for about 75,000 small households.

Nonsense. First of all, they have to build the towers. This would mean an armada of barges and floating cranes moored there for months so massive underwater excavations could be dug into the living seabed.

From huge concrete platforms, towers would rise at least 25 metres to reach the surface. Then they have to soar another 80 metres higher to give the blades room to spin above stormy waves.

The structures would be incredibly expensive. The tiny amount of power generated would not pay for them in a half century. So who is going to foot the bill? Two guesses, and you are right first time. It is Mr Average Hongkonger, who will dig deep to pay for this feel-good frippery.

Under the sweetheart deal government extends to CLP Power, they build something and then they charge customers higher power rates to pay for it. So why not invest in a wind farm? It's not going to cost them anything.

Cynics, and there are many of them, point out the crazed inconsistencies of the proposals. Government, naturally, sits back with its collective mind in neutral and seems to totally accept the grossly inaccurate claims of the two power combines.

More facts; wind and solar power, while fine in theory, simply are not sufficiently effective to provide power to a major city. The CLP Power proposal is for 60 towers spread over about 15 sq km off the Ninepins.

According to the power company, each turbine would provide power sufficient for 1,660 homes of four people, a claim which engineers describe as 'laughably optimistic'.

The towers would rise from the seabed and tower the height of a 20-storey building above the waves. Each would have three blades measuring 45 metres.

Environmentalists claim the CLP Power plans are cynical tokenism and a vain bid to be seen as green.

Paul Etherington, who runs the eco-tourism firm of Kayak and Hike in Sai Kung, dreads the thought of what futuristic windmills could do to the horizons. He is seeking views from nature lovers on the project; almost all feedback he has received has been scathing.

'I am very passionate about this area,' says the man who has organised adventure tours for more than a decade. 'This wind-farm project is a big, expensive mistake under the cloak of renewable energy.'

He believes scientific studies which say Hong Kong would need 2,000 massive windmills to generate a mere 5 per cent of the city's electricity needs.

'These would cover 5,000 hectares,' Mr Etherington says. 'That's roughly four times the area of Lamma Island! Whether on land or sea, wind towers would be a scab on the landscape.'

Building a wind-farm on any Hong Kong location would be as costly as it is senseless. It would make only the most minor dent in the battle against air pollution, much of which is caused by coal-powered electricity generators.

The size of any turbine farm planned for Hong Kong would make a derisory contribution to our overall power demand. It is mere window dressing, has no economic viability whatsoever and totally lacks common sense.

I believe the only permanent solution is for Hong Kong to deal directly with the Guangdong government and private investors, be they CLP Power or others prepared to put in the money, and construct a chain of four or five more nuclear power stations over the border.

That's a genuine solution, not a cute smokescreen designed to blind us with unworkable feel-good technology.