Have I just broken the record for the shortest and most successful election campaign in the history of politics? Well that’s one way of looking at my incredibly brief walk-on role in the Corby by-election. A month ago I announced that I was standing – as the anti-wind farm candidate. And now I’m announcing my withdrawal. Why? Because as far as I’m concerned, my battle to save the British countryside from one of the ugliest and most pointless outbreaks of vandalism in our history has now been all but won.
The good news came yesterday in the form of some very forthright words from John Hayes, the Coalition’s new minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. “We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I can’t single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land,” he stirringly declared, adding: “I’m saying enough is enough.”
Rumour has it that the minister – a robust, old-school, churchgoing Tory – had intended to go even further. At a conference in Glasgow staged by Renewable UK on Tuesday evening, Hayes had apparently intended to declare a moratorium on all future onshore wind farm projects – on the grounds that Britain has already met its wind energy targets. Unfortunately, his fervently green departmental boss, Lib Dem Ed Davey, got to see the speech beforehand and vetoed it. Yesterday, a clearly furious Davey slapped him down again by declaring that there had been absolutely no change in Coalition policy on wind.
In theory this ought to be a crushing blow for Hayes and his many sympathisers within the Conservative Party, among them the Chancellor George Osborne, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, and MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who has been co-ordinating the Tories’ anti-wind resistance. After all, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it’s surely Davey who has the final say on Britain’s energy policy.
But in reality, it’s the Coalition’s anti-wind faction who are now very much in the ascendant. Their secret weapons are two reports that Hayes has commissioned into the impact of wind power. One is a specialist study on the health effects of low frequency noise, to be produced by the Royal Institute of Acoustics; the other is a survey on the broader effects of wind on the rural economy, taking in such matters as the effects of turbines on property values and on the landscape. Both – provided they are conducted with rigour and integrity – are likely to strike a blow from which the wind industry can never recover.
To understand why this is so, you first need to appreciate how the wind industry operates. Most people still don’t – which is why, in a recent poll, the majority of those surveyed said they wanted more wind power, not less. Among the reasons they gave were that wind power gives us “energy security”, that it creates jobs and that it reduces CO2 emissions.
Not one of these alleged benefits stands up to scrutiny. But for years the lavishly subsidised wind industry has got away with these misleading claims, thanks partly to a well-funded PR operation (“educational” visits to schools, heavy-duty lobbying, faux-grassroots campaigns arranged in co-ordination with green activist charities) and partly to support from notionally independent organisations that ought to know better (everyone from the RSPB and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to the Department of Energy and Climate Change itself).
For example, both DECC’s website and that of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors disingenuously play down the effect of wind farms on rural property values. (“There is no definitive answer,” claims the RICS.) Actually, though, there’s copious evidence to suggest that at best a nearby wind farm will knock a good 10 per cent off the value of your home, and at worst render it virtually unsaleable. This has been confirmed by the Valuation Office Agency, which has moved several houses affected by wind farms into lower council tax bands on the grounds of noise and visual intrusion. In Denmark, this is acknowledged by the government, which compensates homeowners for the effects of wind blight.
Naturally, this isn’t the kind of detail that plays well with David Cameron’s natural constituency in the shires. Their country home, they not unreasonably believe, is their castle and the very last thing they would have expected of a Tory-led government is to have their peace disturbed, their views ruined and a good chunk of their nest-egg confiscated – all so that a pesky, selfish neighbour and some rapacious, foreign-owned wind developer can get inordinately richer.
I soon discovered this for myself on the campaign trail in East Northants. (I couldn’t see much point in visiting the Corby part of the constituency.) Most of those at my meetings were disgusted Tories, spitting blood at their betrayal by Cameron. But I don’t think I was seeing anything that the Tory high command hadn’t noticed already.
Osborne has never been a fan of wind – knowing as he does that it artificially inflates the price of energy while contributing nothing to the economy, for even the heavily subsidised “green jobs” it creates are a sham. But Cameron – as you might expect of a man who once promised to lead “the greenest government ever” and whose father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield Bt, rakes in £1,000 a day from the eight wind turbines on his Lincolnshire estates – has up until recently been agnostic.
The first indication of a serious shift in attitudes came in the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Owen Paterson – pro-shale gas, anti-wind – was promoted from Northern Ireland to Defra (where his responsibilities include the environment and the rural economy – both seriously affected by wind). The robust High Tory Hayes was moved to DECC in order – it seems reasonable to conclude – to neutralise his Lib Dem boss Davey. At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions it was surely significant that Cameron chose gently to support Hayes – rather than succumbing to Davey’s blandishments that he be thrown to the wolves.
There’s one way, of course, that the Tories could kill the wind energy scam: and that’s by putting an end to the vast subsidies paid to big wind developers via the hefty tariffs concealed on all our energy bills. But the last time they tried this, the renewables industry threatened to pull its business from Britain. It’s an empty threat: their business makes no real contribution to the economy – it’s not wind farming but subsidy farming. Still, it was enough to scare Cameron and co away from taking sufficiently robust action. Clearly the wind beast would have to be killed by more subtle means.
Which brings us to the dramatic announcement from Hayes. Despite his vigorous protests, Davey may find it very hard to resist the multiple-pronged assault strategy Hayes has cunningly contrived. This embraces not only Paterson at Defra but also the new planning minister Nick Boles, who is expected to direct that in future more weight should be given in planning decisions to local community feeling than to governmental renewables targets.
Where Davey and his friends in the wind lobby are going to struggle is that the facts are against them. There is lots of evidence that wind energy is a disaster in almost every conceivable respect: it massacres protected bats and rare birds – even to the point of threatening some species (like the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle) with extinction; it trashes property values; it spoils the countryside; it inflates energy prices; it drives the vulnerable into fuel poverty; it is holding back the economic recovery; it frightens off tourists; it produces low frequency noise – and this, in particular, is a major public health scandal just waiting to blow – which can make those living within a mile of a turbine seriously ill.
Oh – and it doesn’t even reduce carbon emissions or create energy security because wind power, being by nature intermittent and unreliable, requires near 100 per cent back-up from conventional, fossil-fuel power ticking away on “spinning reserve”.
Once these inconvenient truths are given a proper airing – as they will as the result of the calls-for-evidence being demanded by Hayes and Paterson – the wind industry will become unsustainable. And not before time. Though I’m a newcomer to country life, what I have seen of the misery wrought on my beloved Northamptonshire by the ruthless, rapacious and utterly mendacious wind industry has shocked me to the core.
And did my own brief involvement in the Corby by-election play its part in concentrating David Cameron’s mind and shifting government policy? Well obviously I’d like to imagine so, but I’m not going to boast. As Ronald Reagan once said: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.”
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