For the thousands of holidaymakers who visit Cornwall each year, there is a particular vista that lifts the spirits after the long and arduous drive. Just south of Bude on the A39, provided the weather is fair (a rarity, it is true), the twin peaks of Brown Willy and Rough Tor rise out of Bodmin Moor.
For those of us who have travelled to this corner of England since childhood, it is a view that has changed little. However, if developers get their way, in a year or so there will be 16 wind turbines, each of them 415 feet high – taller than St Paul’s Cathedral – right across this wild and wonderful landscape. They won’t be the first, either. As I saw when I visited last week, wind turbines have sprung up all along the route into Cornwall, like mushrooms on an autumn morning.
True, many of them are relatively small; and alone or in pairs they can possess a certain elegance. They are less of an eyesore than coalmines and their attendant slag-heaps. And, let’s face it, our countryside has seen worse. The arrival of the steam train was greeted with horror, as the railways snaked their way across pristine meadows, and tunnels were blasted out of the hillsides. The speed of construction left contemporaries bewildered. In Middlemarch, alarmed villagers worry that the railway will tear apart the very economic and social structure of daily life. Dickens, in Dombey and Son, likens its impact on north London to an earthquake.
Nor was it just the railways. Canals, forts, roads, mines, docks, mobile-phone masts, electricity pylons, the New Towns – all have desecrated the countryside in their own way. So why does everyone get so hot under the collar about wind farms?
At the weekend, I was speaking to campaigners against the Bodmin Moor scheme who are gearing up for the public inquiry: for them, this is an all-consuming issue. In Wales, there has been uproar over plans for 800 turbines across the Cambrian Mountains. In fact, from the Isle of Wight to northern Scotland, local people are coming together to fight the windmills.
The odds, it must be said, are stacked against them. They are made to feel like latter-day Luddites, irrationally railing against the forces of progress. Worse, they are denounced as Nimbys – usually by green lobbyists secure in the knowledge that they will never see a turbine planted in the back garden of their Islington terrace. They get no backing from the Government, since it is in favour of wind power to meet its wholly unrealistic and reckless renewable-energy targets, nor from the Opposition. Indeed, when he was climate change secretary, Ed Miliband said it should be “socially unacceptable” to oppose wind farms.
Landowners love them, because they can make a packet from subsidies and rents for erecting just a few turbines on their property. Other supporters say they are really quite beautiful additions to our countryside, and will help save the planet by allowing us to switch from fossil fuels. So what’s the big deal? Why don’t the protesters just shut up and accept the inevitable? After all, if the early textile factories had been closed or if railway construction had been prevented, we would still be living off the land.
Except that there is one fundamental difference between the great transformative projects of the 19th century and today’s wind turbines: the latter don’t work. The impression is given that since wind is free, plentiful and doesn’t produce CO₂, then it must be the answer to our renewable-energy conundrum.
If this were true, then it might be worth sacrificing a few views: but it isn’t. To produce the same amount of electricity as one coal-fired power station, you’d need a wind farm the size of Greater London. And when there is no wind – or even when there is too much – the power produced is minuscule or the turbine has to be switched off while fossil-fuel stations take up the slack. They can be useful in powering a collection of farms, or a small industrial site, but that is about it.
So to see remote tracts of countryside that, by and large, survived the industrialisation of the landscape now threatened with defilement for no good reason is scandalous. A conspiracy of vested interests is seeking to bludgeon communities into accepting what has become a money-grabbing free-for-all masquerading as an environmental panacea.
These turbines produce small amounts of electricity at great cost to the taxpayer and electricity consumer. The money being invested would be far better spent developing nuclear power – especially thorium reactors, which have none of the risks and waste associated with the uranium fission cycle. Thorium is a cheap, clean and safe alternative, and there are plentiful deposits in Cornwall and in Wales.
Instead of covering the countryside in wind turbines, which are an expensive and inefficient way of generating sustainable energy, the sensible policy would be to plough money into thorium reactors, or even shale-gas extraction. But the very green lobby that has, bizarrely, allied itself to big business to push for wind turbines is also opposed to nuclear power. And its political clout is considerable, as seen in Germany recently. It is the greens, not the opponents of wind farms, who are the true heirs of the 19th-century Luddites, standing in the way of an energy policy that would benefit us all – and protect our landscape.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding