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Fuss over one little word overshadows a real argument

‘Chambers Dictionary defines the word ‘rape’ as meaning violation, despoliation or abuse. I have chosen this evocative word as the title of my presentation this evening … as an accurate description of the scandal of industrial wind developments in our nation today”.

With those words Scots Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson began a speech two weeks ago at Ballantrae in my home county of Ayrshire. This speech, in its marshalling of facts and its compelling argument, is one of the most powerful statements yet made against the massive wind farm scramble in Scotland. It was a classic political speech with a delivery resonant of a bygone age: not a cheap unresearched soundbite to a camera but a well-researched and thought out attack, delivered to a constituency audience and in a manner evoking the age of Gladstonian campaigning. It is now available on Mr Stevenson’s website and I recommend anyone with an interest in this subject – pro wind farms or against them – to read it.

Yet so far the only response to this powerful assault on a key area of government policy has come from the SNP MSP Sandra White. Did she provide a commanding rebuttal of the figures? Did she deliver a fiery polemic of her own in favour of wind farms? Did she contest Stevenson’s arithmetic, or show us that wind farms across some of our most beautiful landscsapes are not intrusive really, or rush to provide electricity consumers with an alternative explanation as to why their bills are going through the roof?

None of these. White took offence at the use of the word “rape”. The entirety of the argument of the speech is ignored while White sounds off at the use of a word whose meaning in this context Stevenson had carefully described in his opening sentence with the help of a dictionary. With respect to White’s misplaced sensitivities, her objection utterly misses the point.

So, for the benefit of those bemused by the coverage of a speech they may have thought was about violence against females, here is a precis of what Stevenson actually said.

Wind turbine development, he argued, violates the principle of fairness by transferring vast amounts of money from the poor to the rich via subsidies paid to very well-off landowners. It despoils our unique landscape and environment. And the turbines abuse the health and welfare of people and animals which have to live near them.

I will concentrate on his critique of wind farm economics. Already there are 3,500 turbines operating in the UK with another 1,200 under construction, a further 2,000 have planning permission and 3,500 more are in the planning pipeline. The installed cost of the 3,500 already operating is a staggering £7 billion. Yet they can produce little more electricity than a medium-sized gas or coal-powered power station.

This, he declared, “is an escalating financial scandal which threatens to undermine the whole energy sector”.

Even once all 10,000 turbines are running, it will not be nearly enough to achieve the UK target of 15 per cent renewable energy by 2020, never mind the ludicrous 100 per cent target set by the Scottish Government. To reach these targets we will need a sixfold increase in giant turbines, or 60,000 of them across the UK, many of them in Scotland.

The Royal Academy of Engineering recently calculated that the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity produced by an offshore wind turbine is 7.2p compared to 2.2p from gas, 2.3p from nuclear and 2.5p from coal. During the 14 months from November 2009 to December 2010 the turbines in Scotland produced electricity at only 22 per cent of their capacity. Peak demand for the UK on December 20 was just over 60,000 megawatts. Yet, because there was virtually no wind, energy produced by all our installed wind turbines contributed a “pathetic” 52 megawatts. Thus, despite billions of pounds of investment and limitless subsidies, our wind turbine fleet was producing a feeble 2.43 per cent of its own capacity – and little more than 0.2 per cent of the nation’s electricity needs.

This is the madness that lies behind the recent gigantic hikes in electricity and gas bills from Scottish Power, British Gas and Scottish & Southern. Rich landowners cream off the subsidies for installing turbines while millions are forced into fuel poverty. Cry, my beloved country, White. Cry “rape” indeed.