How you react to the news today that Westcountry local authorities are close to the top of the pile when it comes to applications for wind turbines depends on your point of view. Pro-renewables organisations will point to the jobs and the wealth created for our region through development of onshore wind power. But critics will complain that the turbines spoil the view and cost every energy bill payer a substantial premium because of the subsidies payable on “green” energy.
What is not in doubt is the growing uneasiness, politically, with onshore wind farms. Conservative MPs, who know how negatively many of their rural-dwelling constituents view applications for turbines, are already putting on the pressure to have the subsidy payments reduced. So far ministers have compromised, cutting back on the payments to reflect the reduced cost of installing renewable energy – but not cutting as deeply as many sceptical MPs would like.
We can understand their concern at subsidy levels being too high. Recessionary pressures and already inflated energy prices have pushed electricity bills sky-high. No one likes to pay the extra charges to cover the subsidy. On the other hand if we are to have a renewables industry and move away from fossil fuels, financial support is necessary, at least at the start.
The problem, for many years, has been the disproportionate emphasis on land-based turbines in beautiful upland areas with windy west facing slopes. That pretty much describes Cornwall, north Devon and western Devon and explains why our region has borne the brunt, or enjoyed the lion’s share (depending on your point of view) of the rush for wind.
Our guess is that onshore wind is never going to be acceptable to the majority and that, over time, it will be displaced by offshore turbines and other, less intrusive, forms of green energy, including bio-mass generators, solar power and – perhaps most promising of all – tidal and wave power. How quickly that comes will depend on the speed at which the technology can be developed and the level of subsidy that keeps wind turbines profitable. We suspect the pressure to cut back on those payments can only increase which should at least focus minds on more efficient and less unsightly green energy projects.