Winds of change

Posted by Guy Keating on 06/11/2004
Photo: Alastair Lee.

Windfarms are marching across upland Britain - should we be worried?

If you go out into the hills today...you could be in for a shock. Increasing numbers of windfarms are sprouting up in some of the UK’s wildest areas, and opinions are divided as to whether this is actually A Good Thing. Perhaps it's just perception?

Many of us live in towns and cities, wind turbines only enter our visual world when we venture out for a weekend away, so lets look at the facts - are they really taking over or is it just over sensitivity? The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) recently stated, “as the best of the renewable technologies currently available, wind really is at the forefront of meeting the Government's energy white paper targets, equating to some 8% of supply by 2010, requiring the installation of some 8,000 MW - which we anticipate to be divided roughly equally between developments on and offshore. That is about 2,000 additional onshore machines and about 1,500 offshore.”

After a bit of investigation, it appears that many of the proposed sites will unsurprisingly be in the windiest parts of the UK such as the uplands, and to circumvent planning restrictions, be located on the periphery of National Parks. Considering that the latest models of these hypnotically whirling white monsters are 110m tall, whilst they may not be in the Parks, they’ll almost certainly be visible from nearby crags and tops.

Understandably reactions to such developments are mixed, Alison Hill - Head of Communications at BWEA believes that we should “harness the indigenous resources which are abundant in this country. On our doorsteps we have a resource that is equivalent to several times our country’s electricity needs, and the majority agree with the need to harness it, whether they like the way wind turbines look or not.”

Councillor Margaret Munn, of Ardrossan, Scotland, seems to be on board too, “The Ardrossan wind farm has been overwhelmingly accepted by local people - instead of spoiling the landscape we believe it has been enhanced. The turbines are impressive looking, bring a calming effect to the town and contrary to the belief that they would be noisy, we have found them to be silent workhorses.”

However Bernard Newman, editor of Climber and regular campaigner against wind farms in his mag, isn’t quite so overjoyed, “the disruption they cause to the UK’s countryside and seascapes is an unacceptable price to pay for Governmental tokenism.” And he has a very good point, especially when you throw in the complexities of unscrupulous landowners and the associated tax benefits. But unfortunately, as we all choose to ignore when jumping into our cars and hopping onto flights abroad, something has to be done.

Finite fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, we have constant political turmoil in the Middle East, and atmospheric CO2 levels are now higher than at any time in geological history. Is there an easy answer? Probably not. Will we be subject to an almost Huxley-esque vision of a Brave New World with profligate wind turbine stations throughout the UK’s uplands? Maybe. And is the solution to all our energy needs just blowing in the wind?



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