August 11, 2010
Editorials, England

Government moves with the public on wind farms 11 August 2010

In the book of daft things uttered by Labour ministers (an extremely fat tome) leadership hopeful and former Energy Secretary Ed Miliband’s contention last year that opposition to onshore wind farms was “socially unacceptable” deserves to be recorded in bold italics.

Drinking and driving is socially unacceptable; holding and expressing racist or sexist views is socially unacceptable. Opposing the growth in onshore wind farms is, arguably, a logical and sensible response to the visual damage they do to the landscape and the questionable contribution they make to the national grid.

So it is good today to be able to report a subtle but significant change of emphasis on wind farms from the coalition government’s Energy Minister Lord Marland. He told the House of Lords, in answer to a recent question about onshore wind farm growth: “It is our determination that there should be no dramatic increase in this.” He went on to say that all the emphasis in wind farm development in the future should be offshore where the visual intrusion is less drastic and the energy capacity considerable more reliable. What a breath of fresh air.

Few issues have angered and upset people in the rural Westcountry more, in recent years, that the erection of wind turbines in sensitive locations. The noise they make has been disruptive and, in some cases, even damaging to health; the effect they have had on famous and much-loved views, unchanged for generations, has been brutal and the pay-off, in terms of genuine benefit to the environment through the creation of green power has not always been sufficient justification.

For Mr Miliband, however, it was simply unacceptable to oppose wind farms. His zeal for green energy left no room for the perfectly reasonable concerns of thousands of Westcountry folk who didn’t like the huge white monsters cluttering up their landscape, detested the noise they made and questioned their efficiency as energy generators. Thankfully those people are now being listened to.

While Lord Marland could in no way be classed as a green energy sceptic – and his boss, David Cameron is a positive enthusiast for low carbon electricity generation – it seems a welcome sense of realism has descended at the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Even the Secretary of State, Chris Huhne, has shown a remarkable degree of comment sense recently over how Britain is going to meet her energy needs in the years ahead, expressing support for new nuclear power stations and explaining that his views on nuclear power in the past had been “misunderstood.”

There is, of course, a place for wind generated power which has been operating on a smaller scale in the Westcountry years. Small schemes on farms, private homes and businesses around our region can and will make a real difference. But it was foolhardy and damaging to tout onshore wind farms as the answer to our energy needs. Mr Miliband was wrong to attack its critics. This change of tack is welcome.

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