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Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Say Yes To Wind NOW!

[EDIT: !IMPORTANT! Links for further research can be found at the bottom of this page, as well as in my Wind Power Links Pages. If you're interested in the Batsworthy Cross Wind Farm proposal, please check the News Page for updates.]

I love wind power. Not when it comes from Jon's backside, of course, but, to be serious, wind power is a fantastic resource which is becoming more and more vital in our modern society.

So why are so many people dead set against it? That is what I have been trying to find out, without much success.

Greenpeace were the people who sparked my interest in wind power, and I decided to research the subject thoroughly to find out the pros and cons. While those for wind power make their research easily accessible, I have found little real information on why wind farms are a bad idea.

Let's use a case study. A wind farm is proposed for land at Batsworthy Cross, just south of the North Devon link road between South Molton and Tiverton. Apparently this is the highest point between Dartmoor and Exmoor. The company behind this proposal is npower renewables, and from what I have read, both online and in the local papers, they are being as informative and sensitive to the locals as they can.

So far they have sent newsletters to 4,700 residents living within a 10km radius of the site. This included postcards for people to send back with their views and opinions on the proposal. They will be shortly sending out a further newsletter to address comments they have thus far received. On top of all this, they are holding a two-day public exhibition in Bishops Nympton Village Hall on 26-27th November. Their spokesman is keen to make it clear that they are taking on board all the comments that they receive, but also add that so far 60 per cent of those who have responded are in favour of the project, compared to about a third against.

Simon Holt, of npower renewables, says, "Batsworthy Cross is a fantastic site and could supply 12% of Devon's adopted target of achieving 151megawatts of installed renewable energy generation by 2010 - this is a major step especially when we consider that only 23megawatts have been installed so far."

But, of course, not everyone is happy. Especially Sarah Child, chairman of Rackenford and Creacombe Parish Council, who has complained that they were not consulted first. This has led to some locals forming a committee and starting the Two Moors Campaign to protest against the project. Caroline Harvey appears to be the most vocal of the group, and is also the campaign secretary.

"Nominally they are consulting people, but they are not taking our views on board - it's them telling us what they're going to do." She said initially.

Well, my dear, how to you propose to make up your mind whether you are for or against the scheme if you do not let them tell you what they propose to do first of all? First, people need information, and then they can give their view. Oh, wait - isn't that what npower renewables have done with their newsletters and postcards? Why yes, yes it is!

Ms Child added, "This will affect people across three parishes, but you will also be able to see it clearly from Exmoor and Dartmoor, and the Two Moors Way, because it's at one of the highest points between the two. Even npower are talking to people within a 10km radius, which I think shows how widely people will be affected."

My response to her words: (1) Whether this affects people across three parishes remains to be seen, but global warming is already affecting people worldwide. (2) So what if the farm will be viewable from Exmoor and Dartmoor? I personally like the look of the sleek wind turbines, and I know of several others who feel the same. I do not see how their presence will disturb people's enjoyment of the countryside at all. (3) If npower did not send information to a suitably wide radius they would be in for much criticism from anti-wind groups. I think their attitude and behaviour has been very sensible.

The Two Moors Campaign held a meeting on 11th November in Knowstone Village Hall, where 150 people turned up. That is just 3% of the total that npower renewables have contacted. Speakers from wellknown anti-wind farm associations were present, but none from npower renewables or anyone to speak on behalf of wind power, it seems.

Ms Harvey got another soundbite in the local paper by saying, "I am not sure which comments and suggestions Simon Holt [of npower renewables] is taking on board, and despite what npower claim, the alleged benefit to mankind from this development will not outweigh the detriment to the local community."

What detriment does she speak of? I have been researching long and hard to find out what the main arguments against wind power are, but I have found it very difficult to find any real complaints amongst all the propaganda, myths and vagueness.

First of all, I am sorry, but "wind turbines are unattractive" is not a good argument. It is highly subjective, and as I have said, many people like the look of them. I personally love seeing them, and apparently "in Swaffham, Norfolk, over 50,000 tourists have climbed the wind turbine tower to see the spectacular views from the top of its the 65m high viewing platform." (excerpt from www.yes2wind.com)

So, let's look at a group represented at the meeting in Knowstone, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). For those interested, their website is: http://www.cpre.org.uk/. On their site they offer a pdf file of their policy on wind farms. In that document they include the following:

"At least a thousand wind turbines are operating across the UK, almost all in open countryside, but these currently produce less than one quarter of a percent of the nation's total electricity."

However, on the Sunday Herald's website, http://www.sundayherald.com, there is an article (dated 27 April 2003) about how the Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints against 'unjustifiable' statements made by another anti-wind group, called Stop Windfarms In Moray (Swim). Part of the article reads:

"Swim claimed wind farms only produced 0.25% of the UK's electricity. But because it was unable to substantiate the figure, the ASA told it not to repeat it."

So, it appears that anti-wind campaigners are still spreading unsubstantiated claims, over two years after getting their wrists slapped.

Another group present at the meeting were the Realistic Energy Forum. They are based in Cornwall and the South West, but they do not appear to have a website for me to find out their objections. They do have an email address, though. I considered contacting them to ask, but instead found Google a much more efficient tool.

Looking for information on these people reveals a lot of anti-wind feeling. One speaker from the group made the following arguments at the South West Green Energy Conference in Plymouth in 2004: "the only people in favour of RE are those who want to make money from it; thousands of scientists disagree with the idea of climate change; Estate Agents say property prices can go down by 40% because of wind farms; surveys showing the majority support wind power are usually biased in their wording. He was asked by a member of the audience whether it was mainly the older generation that opposed wind farms. He replied that we shouldn't pay much attention to young people because 'The younger people are, the less they know'." (Excerpt taken from the official website of the North Devon Green Party)

First, many people I know are interested in renewable energy and are NOT standing to make any profit from it. Second, ignoring climate change is not going to solve the problem. Third, this has not been proven, and in some cases, the reverse is true! Even if it were true, at least more people might be able to afford property! Fourth, most of the literature I have read supporting wind farms has been seriously less biased than the material against. Finally, the statement about young people says reams about the prejudices of this person. I hope the rest of the Realistic Energy Forum do not agree with that comment.

Coincidentally, a member of CPRE also spoke at that conference, and said that he did not believe wind farms were a "blot on the landscape" although he was unconvinced of their environmental benefits.

Looking for information on the above organisations, I came across another anti-wind group who share the initials of the Realistic Energy Forum. And guess what? The Renewable Energy Foundation is chaired by none other than Noel Edmonds! The man himself makes the following statement:

"Politicians are promoting wind turbines as a green icon, but they are misleading the public into believing the propaganda of the wind industry. The reality is that wind power is too costly and can never meet our energy needs- but it will destroy the countryside."

As I have mentioned above, it seems that it is the anti-wind lobby that are spreading propaganda, making unsubstantiated claims and creating myths about wind energy, rather than the wind industry, who have been very informative and helpful in my researching the subject. The webpage that quotes Mr Edmonds does not have any explanation for why wind power is too costly, nor how it will "destroy the countryside" - and until I hear and/or see evidence of this I will continue to ignore such claims.

In fact, in my researching, I found out the following on the BBC's news site, on http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4300723.stm.

"A spokesman for The British Wind Energy Association said: 'The extra costs of wind energy's expansion in the UK has been costed recently by the National Audit Office to amount to increases of some 0.5% per year on our electricity bills and totalling 5% by 2010.

"'For this small additional cost the wind industry will deliver savings of between 10 and 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, a significant part of our country's CO2 reduction plans, thousands of new jobs and of course improve our nation's energy security.'"

So, what other reasons do people give for not liking wind turbines? I can honestly say I have not found one decent objection, and I will explain why.

The Country Guardian is a small anti-wind organisation who published and distributed a leaflet called "The Case against Wind Farms" in April 1998. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) debunked the claims made in this leaflet, so if you want to find out what they say, follow the link to read the truth about Wind Power. They are even kind enough to credit their sources! Please go and read it, they say it so much better than I could!

Apparently some people claim that low frequency noise from turbines has caused headaches and depression in areas close to a wind farm in Cornwall. However, in twenty years of wind power, this is the first such instance of alleged arising medical conditions. Hopefully research is being done on this.

There are worries for marine life around offshore wind farms. However, those in favour point out that the tall poles actually encourage natural growth of mini reefs which attract more aquatic life, rather than destroying it.

Do wind farms hurt birds? This is an argument I have heard time and time again. Existing wind farms have been monitored and no adverse effects on bird populations have been recorded. Both the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals back wind farms, as long as they are "sensibly located". Birds are proving surprisingly quick to adapt their flight patterns when up against these structures. Let's look at some other statistics: roughly 10 million birds are killed every year by cars, high tension power lines, windows and domestic cats. Wind farms pose a vastly smaller threat than any of these, and can even help to preserve breeding and foraging grounds, also.

One of the criticisms that particularly annoys me is the objection that wind turbines are "noisy". Have the people who claim this ever been to a wind farm? A wind farm 350 metres away (they have to be at least 300 metres away from the nearest residence) is quieter that a busy office or a car doing 40 miles per hour 100 metres away. If you don't believe me, I got this info from a page on BWEA's website giving great detail about wind turbine noise. As before, read for yourself. There are lots of facts and statistics with references clearly marked.

If we are going to look after our planet, we need to get behind renewable energy sources such as wind. Yes, we want to encourage further research and the use of others, including solar, wave and tidal energy, but if people keep rejecting wind power on the basis that "it is too close to my home" or "it looks ugly" or due to misinformed opinions, nothing will change. We need to act NOW.

If there is a proposed wind farm in your area, please support it. Write to your local MP, newspapers, anyone who will listen and tell them why we must not let the NIMBYs win!

If anyone is interested in researching this further, here are some useful webpages:

FairyJo! x