Prince Philip’s Green Gaffe on ‘Useless’ Wind Farms

The queen’s husband, not known for his tact, reportedly slammed wind farms as ‘absolutely useless’ and ‘a disgrace’—yet the royal family is poised to make a handsome profit off some of them. Tom Sykes on the duke’s blow-up.

Never a man noted for steering away from controversial positions, Prince Philip has now waded into the debate on wind farms, describing them as “absolutely useless” and “a disgrace.”

His forthright comments will be seized on by anti-wind-farm campaigners around the world, who claim that the giant modern windmills, which can be up to 400 feet tall, are a costly, inefficient, and noisy way of producing electricity. In 2010 wind power accounted for 2.3 percent of the electricity generated in America, but the target is for up to 20 percent of power in the U.S. to be produced in this way by 2020.

This being Prince Philip, a man not noted for his subtlety and tact, he chose to make his remarks directly to the managing director of a leading wind-farm company, Esbjorn Wilmar, of Infinergy, according to a report in this week’s Sunday Telegraph.

Wilmar was at a reception last week in Chelsea, west London, marking the 70th anniversary of the Council of Christians and Jews at which the queen and duke were guests of honor.

“He said they were absolutely useless, completely reliant on subsidies, and an absolute disgrace,” said Wilmar. “I was surprised by his very frank views.”

Wilmar said his attempts to argue that onshore wind farms were one of the most cost-effective forms of renewable energy received a fierce response from the duke.

“He said, 'You don’t believe in fairy tales, do you?’” Wilmar told the Telegraph. “He said that they would never work, as they need backup capacity,” apparently referring to the fact that wind-generated electricity has proved difficult and costly to store for use when the wind is not blowing.

The Duke of Edinburgh told Wilmar that he would never consider allowing his land to be used for turbines, and he criticized their effect on the countryside.

Wilmar said: “I suggested to him to put them on his estate, and he said, 'You stay away from my estate, young man.’ He said he thought that they’re not nice at all for the landscape.”

Prince Philip, who once commented that if the royal family went “into the red” he would “have to give up polo,” may yet come to be convinced of the charms of wind power, however. His clan stands to earn millions of pounds from wind farms placed offshore: the Crown Estate, the £7 billion royal land and property portfolio, owns almost all of the seabed off Britain’s 7,700-mile coastline and recently approved an increase in the number of sites around the coast where offshore wind farms could be placed.

Starting in 2013, the royal family’s funding, which currently come from taxpayers, will be replaced with 15 percent of the Crown Estate’s profits.

Wilmar, however, claimed that onshore turbines are less reliant on subsidies and more cost-effective than those built in the sea.

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“If you go offshore it costs you twice as much as being onshore because you have to lay foundations in the sea,” he said. “It’s very expensive for very obvious reasons.”