O the results are in: the decision on the Den Brook Valley windfarm has been made. The bad news arrived at the beginning of last week. I had all but forgotten it was imminent – tucked it away in a corner of my mind and enjoyed a few weeks of windswept walks in a landscape unspoilt. Then the phone rang: the man who is making the documentary about the process wondered whether he could come round and get my reaction. He didn’t need to say anything else. The outcome was obvious.
Thankfully, the health visitor was in the house when the producer arrived, otherwise I would have let my tongue run away with me. I sent him packing. He came back a few days later when I’d had a chance to compose my thoughts and could make an idiot of myself in a calm way instead.
The health visitor was shocked that the appeal found in favour of RES, the company who will now set about destroying this landscape. I wasn’t. There was a sad air of inevitability about the whole thing. We are a small and insignificant bunch of locals in the grand schemes of profit-making companies and a Government desperate to seem like it’s making an effort on climate change. I could barely summon the energy to be angry.
To me, the decision makes a mockery of the whole planning process, and therefore the rules and laws that govern the rest of us. The inspector – appointed by a Government which has targets to meet – argues that a private view cannot be protected. That RES didn’t give two hoots about our private view was evident from the start, since they mixed up our property with our neighbour’s in their impact report; but I don’t think we were arguing about private views anyway. This is a landscape that we love and that friends and visitors love, too. It’s a landscape that we live in, work on, drive through, walk around every day, which makes it a very public view that we were trying to protect.
The argument, I suppose, goes that projects like this should be exempt from the law, because of their environmental aims and benefits, which are in the public interest. Except, in this case, we are told that whether or not windfarms produce energy is irrelevant, that being a matter for policy review rather than something to be considered in the context of one particular windfarm. So we don’t know whether there will, after all, be any environmental benefits anyway.
It is funny how each person’s idea of a wind turbine differs: in the inspector’s report, they are of slender profile and rotate with stately speed. Apart from the fact that the word reveals the inspector’s predilection for wind turbines, this stately speed is when? When it’s blowing hard or there’s only a gentle breeze on which skylarks bob?
He’s not worried about tourism, either: apparently it’s impossible to say how that will be affected, and some people like looking at windfarms. But does anyone, in all seriousness, know of people who book holidays underneath them? Apart from the kinds of people who used to collect BT phonecards and didn’t get out much?
Indeed, the inspector hopes the windfarm may become some sort of landmark that people look for to mark a break in their journey. Much, I should imagine, in the same way as they do with a motorway service station. I’m afraid that while the windfarm – we hope – will be temporary, its effect on tourism could be permanent.
And we are worried that these structures may not be temporary. Now that the councils have been overruled, who’s to say that RES won’t be granted another 25 years when the first lot runs out? Will RES change its mind like it did about the turbine height and say it needs more time? More turbines? Will it sell on the site immediately, as so many people claim?
There is already an ominous reference to the possible need for illumination at a later date, although RES initially claimed that would be unnecessary. Who will protect our night sky? Can you trust people who are out solely to make profit? Profit they will: the Renewable Obligations Certificate will ensure they get paid twice over for any energy they do make.
It is outrageous that the Government is throwing money at these companies at a time when it should be focusing on the areas that really would make a difference to global warming, like getting people out of their cars and on to public transport. So much of our energy supply is simply wasted – by lights left on, TVs on standby.
I desperately hope this windfarm does what RES claims it will and produces half of West Devon’s electricity. I fear it won’t produce even half of that. If it does, I’ll eat my column. For now, all we can do is wait and see.
19 February 2007
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