This week, I am seriously bothered by the wind and it has reached such painful proportions that something is going to blow. I would be fine if it was the kind of problem that one could keep to oneself and deal with discreetly, but this wind problem is obvious to everyone. And it is really offensive.
Jeannie Munro shares my problem. You probably don’t know her. As far as I am aware, she hasn’t scored a goal in a cup final, won the Nobel Peace Prize, climbed Everest, been photographed leaving David Beckham’s hotel room at 3am, or sailed single-handed around the world in a bathtub.
She is an ordinary person, living an ordinary, decent life at her home in the Highlands. But what is happening to her could happen to any one of us, at any time. That is what’s offensive.
Jeannie lives at Dava Moor, a magnificent stretch of wild country, just north of Grantown. It is a special place, with the likes of Lochindorb attracting visitors by the busload. Flick through any Scottish calendar and there is a fair chance it will be pictured.
In my half-century of living, working, studying and relaxing in Scotland’s unrivalled countryside, it is the only place I have seen a wildcat in its natural habitat. It crossed the road beside me, stopped to give me a disdainful look, then loped off into the heather as casually as a model on a catwalk. Wow. No wonder Jeannie loves it.
UNTIL now, that is. Enter Renewable Energy Systems (RES), a firm based at Kings Langley, just north of Watford. It has its beady eyes on Cairn Duhie, close to where the Dava road forks towards either Nairn or Forres, and close to Jeannie’s home. It plans to erect a small forest of wind turbines there, each of them 328ft.
For the record, Aberdeen’s Northern Light tower is just 147ft. Nelson’s Column, in London, is just 185ft – plus a 17ft one-eyed admiral perched on top. Bell Rock lighthouse, designed to be visible from Fife to the Mearns, is just 116ft – the Dava turbines are nearly three times that size.
Where residents and visitors alike now have a splendid view across the landscape towards the Cairngorms, they will see only whirling dervishes instead. It’s a familiar story throughout the north and north-east.
RES has tried to allay local fears in a glossy newsletter. There is nothing secretive or underhand going on, as the firm is just exploiting an opportunity. In my opinion, however, and that of Jeannie, her neighbours and countless others who see Scotland’s scenery as our selling proposition, it is plain wrong.
The firm says care needs to be taken “to ensure that the windfarm is not visually dominant”. Sorry, guys, wrong again. All windfarms are, by definition, visually dominant.
It adds that the scheme hinges on connection to the controversial new Beauly-Denny pylon route. This means wind energy from Dava will be routed to the National Grid, to light the homes and businesses of those far away who care little for Scotland or its natural assets. That is wrong, too.
But there is little sympathy for people trying to save their local landscape when bigger issues are at stake.
It is next to impossible for small groups, such as the one protesting the Cairn Duhie plans, to compete with developers and landowners slavering at the thought of healthy profits and driven by a Scottish Executive whose energy policy is as laughable as a circus clown looking down the end of a hose to see if it is switched on.
DOGMA has overtaken democracy. People have been bypassed by profit. To many folk, green now equals greed. It is said that if all Scotland’s energy came from renewables, it would cut global carbon dioxide by less than 0.001%. But the price would be the scenic slaughter of our country.
Still don’t care? Well, what if the giant windmill show came to a field beside you? And you are not immune, even if you are an urban dweller. Look at Dundee, where the fine vista of the Tay Bridge and scenic Law Hill is now dominated by two giant turbines towering over the north of the city. You could be next. The way things are going, you probably will be.
There are alternatives, if only we have the vision and guts to develop them. For example, why does planning permission for every new house not include a requirement for it to be built with solar panels and low-energy heating and lighting systems? Why is public transport still so poor? Why are we rushing headlong into massive wind-power schemes on land when offshore wind power, wave energy and solar-power solutions are much more desirable?
RES says onshore wind is one of the few renewables to have become “economically competitive” and to be “commercially ready”. In other words, they can make a buck or three while decision-makers dither about more-efficient, more-reliable and longer-term alternatives.
When Jeannie’s father asked to instal electricity to their Dava home some years ago, he was refused. The poles might affect the grouse, it was said. Those same landowners are now welcoming turbines that can carve a grouse faster than a world-champion poultry butcher. Times may change, but not opportunist profiteering.
FINALLY, to my heroes of the week, and tribute is due to the soldiers I met at Barry Buddon Army camp, near Carnoustie, as they prepared for a deployment to Iraq. They aren’t full-time soldiers, but members of the Territorial Army. They have lives and loves, jobs and homes throughout north Scotland, but have volunteered to leave them behind for the next six months to serve their country instead.
They are fun to be with – bright, committed, happy and determined. Those who criticise Territorials as weekend warriors interested only in playing at soldiers should look deep into the eyes of these willing volunteers. I did. I was impressed.
Do you fancy six months in Iraq? No, neither do I, but those who do deserve our gratitude, support and our prayers for a safe return next spring.
The perils they will face were created by politicians who went to war, against the will of the people, largely to secure our insatiable demand for oil. If we become largely energy self-sufficient, then we would have little reason to be there at all.
But if we want renewable energy, then we need long-term, well-conceived and well-funded solutions.
Blighting the lives of those such as Jeannie Munro and despoiling our landscape for profit is wrong. The answer is not blowing in the wind.
23 October 2006
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