Did you ever read Ozymandias? I know, I know, last week T.S. Eliot, this week Shelley; if I promise not to make a habit of chucking dead poets at you, will you bear with me?
Ozymandias, if you’ve never encountered it, is a sonnet and just one of the great poems. Don’t take my word for it, Google and read it. Anyway, if you don’t have time for that, it’s about this mad king who commissioned a vast statue of himself in the desert to preside over his particularly warped idea of civilisation but now only the “trunkless legs” are standing and the “shattered visage” lies nearby on the sand and, as Shelley points out, these words appear on the pedestal: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
And, of course, there is nothing at all to look on but desert and the moral is that nature has a way of reducing vast empirical and industrial endeavour to sand and making the designers of such endeavours look ridiculous.
What brought all this on? Well, it was a full-page ad in a London-based national newspaper detailing a planning application by RWE npower renewables for the Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm in the Bristol Channel. The contents of the advertisement were so extraordinary (including 17 elements of the construction process, 32 libraries where documents, plans and maps can be seen and the locations of 13 different public exhibitions) that when I stopped reading I thought to myself: “Good grief, Ozymandias is back and he’s gone into the renewables business.”
But it’s the Bristol Channel and not likely to spoil your view or mine, so why worry? Because the Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm is the kind of thing that the renewables industry has in mind: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. That’s why worry. Because the renewables empire builders and their industrial ambition only get bigger and bigger and as long as there are subsidies to match and governments to indulge them, and as long as windfarms are the only game in town, what we can expect is more and more applications to expand existing windfarms and more and more applications for new developments on at least the scale of the Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm. And what scale is that, I hear you ask? Good question – 91 square miles.You would like more details, would you not? Ok, here goes.
The construction of up to 278 offshore wind turbines, with a tip height of up to 220 metres above the level of low tide.
The construction of up to five offshore monitoring masts (these measure wind speed and direction) with a tip height of 135 metres.
The construction of up to four offshore platforms for electricity substations and up to three offshore accommodation platforms.
Construction of up to eight “subsea export cables” linking the offshore substations to onshore underground jointing pits.
Construction of the said jointing pits located at the landfall “south-west of Westward Ho!” (it goes more surreal by the minute) where onshore and offshore cables are connected.
Construction of a new 400KV onsite substation near Bideford in north Devon, comprising up to three compounds occupying an area of 13.4 hectares including “ancillary works and access roads”.
There you are, that wasn’t too bad, was it? And that was just some of it.
Yet this is what it takes to put one of these things in the sea, 22 miles from the south Wales coast and eight miles from the north Devon coast. Build such a thing on land and Armageddon is really just around the corner.
And this is a project dedicated to producing green energy, and green is the colour of our brave new renewable world. Yet what is described above is a massive undertaking involving the heaviest of heavy industry imaginable. The carbon deficit of this brute will be almost incalculable before a blade has turned. And when all is said and done, it’s still just a windfarm and that is the least reliable of all forms of power generation.
How long do you think it will be before, say, the mouth of the Tay estuary is identified as a suitable site for one of these, or one twice the size, or 10 times the size. It could compulsorily purchase Arbroath to accommodate the landfall. Has anyone in government or in the renewable energy industry got the slightest idea of where this ends? Or is there literally no end in sight? Is there no land-and-seascape the industry is unwilling to despoil?
And is there no limit that governments in Edinburgh and London will insist upon as our hills and glens and dales and downs and all our coastal waters succumb, one by one, to the perceived need for one more power station (for a windfarm is just that)? And still, there is no nationally-agreed energy conservation strategy, still no government programme to reduce the amount of energy we use, because big energy companies do not like the idea of thoughtful energy conservation and the ties between big energy and big government are way too close.
And 50 years from now, who heals the broken seabed, who picks up the bill for restoring the land once wrecked by windfarms, who dismantles thousands of square miles of concrete that were once open hillsides, before we took leave of our senses and thought that the windfarm was king?
Read Ozymandias, before it’s too late.
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