“In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Aeschylus Greek tragic dramatist (525 BC – 456 BC)

You don’t have to spend long looking at information about wind farm developments before the truth of the above statement becomes apparent. Whichever side of the argument people are on they make claims and counter claims that are difficult to verify. In such an atmosphere the smallest fact is repeated often enough that it attains religious status, resisting any attempt to validate it. Sadly this does nothing to further the debate.

When Ecotricity proposed building 4 120m turbines 700m from our house my interest in the subject grew. I found myself wanting to look at the facts and figures behind the attention grabbing claims and counter claims. I kept being told how energy efficient the turbines were and that they could produce a huge proportion of the electricity required. Both claims “felt” false and yet finding the hard figures to try and confirm or deny my feelings was hard.

Having finished some other projects I decided to spend some time trying to get the information in an effort to answer my questions. As I believe data should be free, I decided to write a small website that could be easily updated with the latest information on a regular basis so that my brief period of work would yield continuing results. So far so good, but where to get the data?

My first thought was to find a list of all the windfarms in Scotland. I was sure I’d easily be able to find such a list and that would give me a useful starting point. Sadly I was mistaken. While I was able to find lists of windfarms, none had enough information or was complete. I had already found the Ofgem reports of output for the stations but I failed to find a list that could be easily referenced to that data. I eventually decided to use the Ofegem data for a couple of reasons

  • it’s the official data that official statistics should be based on
  • it covers all the wind farms that are claiming subsidies
  • it’s updated on a frequent basis

After cobbling together some scripts in Python I was able to get and parse the Ofgem reports for certificates issued and station information. These I then used to populate a database model I built in Django and suddenly I had the basics of the information and website I wanted.

I also wanted to put the stations on a map, so using the address information within the Ofgem data was a good starting point, but the data has a lot of inconsistencies and errors, so wasn’t perfect. The Ofgem data also doesn’t have information on the number of turbines installed, something which I thought would be useful to know. By searching the web the information is available and so I’ve started filling it in wherever I can find it, together with location information.

There are places where I would like to make the Ofgem data I have copied more consistent, but I haven’t. The data from the Ofgem reports is simply used as is – if there is an obvious mistake in their data it will be replicated on the website. (The one caveat is the address information which I have tidied up where needed.) The data is simply parsed and stored in a database model that allows it to be displayed on the site. I have added additional information, but have documented where that data comes from. All sources are free, available to anyone and documented on the website.

While my primary interest was the output from wind farms, that output is also their income so I have started trying to find sensible figures to allow the website to display representative figures for the income each station generates. Much of this money is paid for by electricity users and so should be easily available, but sadly the various companies make finding the required information awkward. Presently I have found a source for sensible average prices for Renewable Obligation Certificates and show that information on the site. I’d also like to show how much income the sales of electricity earned but I haven’t found a sensible average wholesale electricity price. Nor have I managed to get information about the issuance of LEC for stations as it is considered confidential.

The site is still a work in progress and as I find time and information sources I’ll update it. Hopefully it’ll prove interesting to others and I’m open to suggestions for changes and improvements. It may not work in every browser and some of the styling can be improved 🙂

Above all I hope it allows the data to speak for itself.

If you’re interested in looking then visit http://www.variablepitch.co.uk/