Monday, 21 September 2015

Tell Me Why if You Don’t Like Windfarms

We need to talk more about wind; as unconventional as it is. And yes, that includes windfarms. A number of windfarms have recently been assembled close to my local area, and were notably met with – as is consistent with many public responses when turbines appear – cries of ‘eyesore’ and a  ‘look what a state  they are‘. This level of negativity towards windfarms can only be expected if they continue to be under-discussed.  We need to talk. I think it is a negative that onshore wind farms will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than expected (especially when wind is one of the cheapest sources of sustainable energy)[1]; yet the news has caused little, if any, public questioning. The same has been the case for four windfarms proposed  for mid-wales, turned down only to congratulation[2]. And so the authorities or ‘powers that be’ will continue.

Yet the public are often not given background information on the benefit of wind power, instead just Better discussion is needed, both at local and wider levels, as improved awareness of the benefits of wind and farms. This may allow more constructive agreements to be met regarding where and how they are assembled. After all, the end of subsidies marks a move to ‘give local communities the final say over new wind farms’[3]; according to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd. This could quickly become a tension between local authorities and the people  involved– because what can people say other than they are unnerved, unless they have information?
having to face windfarms being thrown up in the foreground. How can you defend something that is presented as an attack? Hostility is to be expected when wind power only ever gets into the public eye as a threat.

We can work with wind in a more constructive way, which pleases more people. It was estimated that by 2014, 9.3% of the UK’s electricity requirement was met by wind power – a sustainable process which has much more to offer.[4]

Firstly then, why wind?   Making the most of wind energy has already been helping to sustain the demand for electricity in the UK for a number of years. Turbines are typically connected to a power collection system which converts the turning of the blades into electrical energy, therefore a renewable source. A single turbine at 2.5 MW   will typically generate enough energy to meet the annual electricity requirements for 1,400 households. Or that’s 230 million cups of tea or 2,000 years at least of average computer usage – whatever you prefer.[5]

Yet what many people would prefer not to see, are the turbines themselves. Yes, they are invasive and do change the appearance of the environment. But the typical methods we are using to generate electricity are not only changing the shape of the environment at the deepest level, but are scarring it long-term. Just because we do not see a towering image of environmental damage, does not mean it isn’t taking place. According to Energy UK Most of the UK’s electricity is still produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal.[6] The burning of these releases excess gases such as carbon dioxide.  Environmental impact of this is vast, with populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles declining by up 49% due to the poisonous levels of these releases (especially CO2) since 1970, according to the WWF[7]. Wind is a step in providing an alternative to polluting methods of fuel production – especially in reducing CO2, as provisional 2013/2014 emissions showed a 15% decrease in  CO2 released, with ‘a change in the fuel mix’ given as one of the key  reasons[8]. Part of this forward-looking fuel mix is wind. Yet because we do not SEE this right in front of our eyes, it seems convenient to ignore it.

Also, the impact of burning fossil fuels we may struggle to see – because, disturbingly, where the impact hits is below vision; it is occurring inside us, already. A new consultation document, drawn up by the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), states that over 50,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of UK air pollution[9]. The government is being urged to encourage cycling over car journeys, using sustainables over pollution-causing coal, and surely another area which will be turning – are turbines. The generation of power from wind in this way releases no gas and is renewable, yet people still see them as negative - why?

Seeing the ugly truth is hard.  

 Here we return to the outraged cry that turbines look a ‘state’. Perhaps that is precisely the point. Wind farms seem to stand as a kind of statement – a statement of our guilt. We can’t just ignore them. Their appearance serves almost as a reminder of our inability, what has been our inability to keep the world clean. After all, many people are aware that they have sustainable or at  least ‘green’ benefits, yet these factors are subsumed in favour of an ‘unspoiled view’.

Yet the view of our future as a whole will be further spoiled if we continue to ignore the efforts of sustainable energies. The current main way we are generating energy, including electricity, through fossil fuels, is unsustainable – by definition it cannot last. Wind stands as an endless source of natural energy.

But it’s easy to balk and not talk.

There appears frustratingly limited/little public discussion regarding wind power – few information boards and bulletins, no public talks or programmes.  The last time I was provided with information to read about wind power was at GCSE. There are organisations  which are working admirably to provide  resources, such as but lack of  publicity means this has not equated to awareness.

Lack of  awareness makes wind farm plans, when they are announced, seem like a sudden – and
therefore unwelcome – imposition to people in the local area.  Discussion about wind power often does not occur until the situation where farms are being proposed by local authorities. In turn, this leads to authorities proposing the windfarms to appear forceful, whilst the local people opposing the turbines to appear adamant. In turn, applications often seem forced because plans for installation are set and opposition is unwilling to compromise. In turn, opportunities to make the most of windfarms for all involved are often being side-lined.

Yet even if you are opposed to windfarms, once you know the benefits, would you be more willing to negotiate? The most likely answer is yes. I am in strong support that the public should have more of  a say regarding where windfarms are assembled – and this can be positive. If material on the benefits of wind is made more readily available – leaflets, posters, recommended reading material – this provides a balance. After all, if we are to see the whole picture, then it is to pay attention to the implications and assembly of windfarms too; the building of roads to assemble them can be time-consuming and disruptive, so will obviously have an effect on local communities. There is the visual impact to think about too of course.  The unfortunate lack of discussion seems to have had the effect of placing people into two imaginary camps, either ‘eco-nuts’ or ‘world-destroyers’. The reality is that it is okay to take a middle-way. Compromises are more likely to be reached to suit the majority if people negotiate whilst accepting both the disadvantages and benefits.

Therefore it’s time to see the whole and not just what we want to see. By point-blanc refusing windfarms, a negative view is fuelled towards green energy all together – as in light if government windfarm cuts, headlines such as ‘Bad luck Greenies, this wind farm has bitten the dust’[10] serve little constructive use. We can’t keep living in a society where green energy is seen as the destructive and damaging party. After all,  wind could be seen as the opposite of destructive in many ways, especially when offshore - harnessing massive amounts of wind as  well as encouraging the growth of a delicate ecosystem (The Marine Institute found that wind farms provide shelter to fish and  even encourage the growth of some maritime vegetation in a recent study)[11].

 Even offshore wind capacities of up to an enormous 14.3GW is either in planning or under construction, yet it is still significantly under discussed, most likely because we don’t see them directly either[12].  Is that what we want? Is it an ideal for sustainable energy generation to be taking place but with minimal visual impact? Offshore wind could be part of the answer if so, but as long as ‘green’ and sustainable energies go under-discussed and opposed, little meaningful progress can be made. The Conservative Government has recently rejected proposals to build The Navitus Bay Wind Park – a proposal for up to 194 wind turbines off the Dorset coast – which could have brought a great deal of sustainable energy. I am not saying whether this decision is right or wrong; but what I am saying that there needs to be more information provided to the public on wind farms as a whole – so they can express their attitudes to new proposals and how they want sustainable energy choices to move forward. The public deserve more information.

To get finding out for yourself,  sites such as Offer some important information. Where do you want to start? 

[4] RenewableUK. "RenewableUK – RenewableUK News – Electricity needs of more than a quarter of UK homes powered by wind in 2014". Retrieved 9 June 2015.