To the Oscar Wilde generation, greenery-yallery – from the green and yellow colour schemes of the Aesthetic Movement – was shorthand for faddish nonsense. David Cameron seems to have come, a little belatedly, to the same conclusion. The LibDems sport yellow rosettes, while championing green causes such as the so-called conservatory tax and windfarms. The Prime Minister appears to have lost patience with their environmental airy-fairiness. Greg Barker, the Conservative Minister for Climate Change, has given a strong hint that that the countryside has suffered enough. No New Onshore Wind Farms. Read his lips.
But that still leaves communities across Britain with the prospect of fighting a battle against the hundreds of turbines now in the planning process. Yesterday I had a personal encounter with one proposal, at Chavenage, a manor house so idyllic that it was used as a set for BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford a few years ago. The income provided from such filming is very necessary to the family living there, who do a heroic job of preserving the house and opening it to the public.
Explaining Chavenage’s appeal to visitors, Caroline Lowsley-Williams took me onto the lawn and gestured towards the unbroken view of pastoral England – hedgerows, woods and cattle – while a symphony orchestra of birds sang overhead. Admittedly the calm may sometimes be shattered by a rally of classic cars – another money-spinning venture to meet running costs. But usually the scene is a vision of seemingly immemorial tranquillity, which visitors of all kinds love, because it is so rare to escape the ugliness of the modern world. You guessed it: this scene is now threatened by a couple of wind turbines, poking their blades above the horizon. If it is built, the makers of the next Thomas Hardy adaptation will have to point their cameras elsewhere.
If onshore wind farms are a waste of effort, as Mr Barker appears to believe, surely a halt should be called to those as yet unbuilt. Can we dare to dream the inexpressible – that those turbines that already blight the countryside could be torn down? I say yes. There is a simple mechanism by which it could be done. Wind farms aren’t financially attractive by themselves; they depend on an ingenious Gordon Brownian sleight of hand, being paid for through a trade in Renewable Obligation Certificates.
The scam works like this. Energy companies are charged with producing a certain percentage of green energy; if they fail to do so they are fined. But they can avoid the fine if they produce a ROC to say that they have bought up the quota produced by someone else. ROCs are worth far more than the energy itself. They were introduced as a quick fix, which would incentivise the producers of green energy – which meant, since it was the only technology ready for market, wind farms. The beauty of the idea, from the Brown perspective, was that it involved no cost to the Treasury. And New Labour would be out of office before the public realised that the sap who picked up the tab would be the consumer. We all pay for this folly through our electricity bills.
So scrap ROCs and the turbine menace will, among much gnashing of teeth on the part of speculators, wither and disappear. Britain will then be faced with the challenge: what serious contribution can we make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions? If the climate is changing, we could focus on technologies that really do the job – wave, tide, microgeneration. Or the money at present being spent supporting fatuous wind schemes could be used to mitigate the consequences of the inevitable.
We should be modestly glad that Mr Barker is seeing sense. One thing’s for sure: as we know from other areas of life, smoke and mirrors à la Gordon Brown may disguise a problem. They never solve it.