An invitation taken up by one of the country’s leading authorities on renewable energy appeared to have killed off a scheduled public debate in Berwick yesterday.
Dr John Constable, director of policy and research at the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), had been invited by action group Save Our Unspoilt Landscape (SOUL) to the Border Green Festival at Mill Farm, Tweedmouth, to explain why north Northumberland is an inappropriate location for wind energy production.
Two members of local pro-wind power groups, Joe Lannon and David Saunders, failed to turn up to put the case for wind farm development at three sites nearby, but it didn’t prevent some heated debate.
Julian Lake, organiser of the festival, said: “They felt that because John Constable was from outside the region, for them to participate would not be thoroughly constructive and not within the spirit of the debate.”
Bill Short, a member of the Kirkwhelpington Renewable Energy Forum stepped in at the last minute to give his views, along with Dr Constable and Peter Worlock, a SOUL member.
Seasoned Greenpeace campaigner Richard Claxton, an area networker from its Hull and East Yorkshire branch, was present as a member of the audience, along with environmental activist Jeff MacDonald. Mr Claxton believes there is a silent majority in favour of the proposed wind farms. He explained why the expected even-sided debate didn’t materialise. “The local pro-group expected a local debate on local issues,” he said. Mr Claxton admitted to The Journal in December last year that he is working as a campaign consultant for Your Energy Ltd, the company that wants to erect a series of nine wind turbines at Moorsyde, near Berwick. This and two other sites at Barmoor, near Ford village and Toft Hill, both in Northumberland, are at the planning permission stage, with a decision on Moorsyde expected in September.
Mr MacDonald questioned why Dr Constable had been invited to address the meeting. He said: “The Renewable Energy Foundation is a sham organisation; it has nothing to do with renewable energy. It is a front for industrial lobby groups which have interests in fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“Wind is trialblazing – in 10 years’ time we’ll be looking at the same anti-groups for wave power.”
Dr Constable said: “I’m pro-wind, up to a point, and the general public shows a lot of goodwill toward wind power and renewables. But a very, very different situation is being pro-power station.
“The DTI is now restructuring its subsidy system to diversify the investment and go for higher worth projects such as offshore wind turbines, which is where the wind blows best.
“A very generous subsidy system exists, costing £1bn a year. The Government is now revising it, focusing more on biomass for heat which will get much more support. It’s about what’s right for Northumberland…
Biomass is an inexpensive and greener alternative to gas and electricity. Crops can be grown specifically for energy production, such as oil seed rape.
Bill Short said: “I’d like to see community windfarms like they have on Fair Isle where 80% of the energy produced is used locally.
“There’s no reason at all why a small community situated here can’t do the same. Twenty per cent of energy is wasted piping it down from Scotland.”
Peter Worlock was concerned about the local economy, believing local wind farm development would cause untold harm.
He said: “Income from agriculture is now only 7% for Berwick and Northumberland – 36% comes from tourism, because it’s tranquil. It’s about the coast, its countryside and its hills.
“The tourist organisation Visit Scotland looked at this in 2002 and 26% of visitors said they would be less prepared to come back if they had wind turbines there.
“The Welsh Tourist Board’s figures were 22% and the Cumbrian Tourist Board said between 15% and 19% people would avoid an area with wind farms on it. If we take a hit like that it’ll have a major impact on the local economy.”
9 July 2007
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