As has been all too apparent in recent days at Balcombe, few issues excite greater passions than energy policy. Yet curiously, the ragtag band of eco-warriors who have descended on West Sussex in an effort to thwart the exploitation of shale gas are quite happy to see the landscape covered in wind farms. Many rural communities feel their countryside is being despoilt by these turbines; yet they never resort to “direct action”, even though the planning laws are heavily weighted against them. So, too, are the generous subsidies that encourage the expansion of wind power and pit landowners against other residents.
Opponents of the rapid expansion of wind farms maintain that the damage they inflict is out of proportion to the benefits they bring, because their energy output cannot match that of the carbon-based power stations they are supposed to replace. Proponents insist that wind must be part of a judicious mix of renewables, nuclear and carbon. They add, moreover, that the country is committed to meeting EU targets for non-carbon energy generation – and these cannot be filled by nuclear power, because of the last government’s failure to give the go-ahead to new reactors, or to any other alternative for that matter.
Against this background, the fact that there is an internal argument within the Government – unearthed by this newspaper – over whether to publish an official report on wind farms’ impact on the countryside becomes even more extraordinary. Apparently, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, run by the Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, headed by the Tory Owen Paterson, are at loggerheads over what it should say. Mr Paterson, who is sceptical about the efficacy of onshore wind power, has commissioned the report, which Mr Davey’s team apparently regard as too negative.
We have some advice for the two ministers: publish the report, and let the country be the judge. Even if it contains evidence that wind farms are harmful, it will hardly be a revelation to people who don’t like them. Equally, supporters must argue their case by acknowledging the concerns and explaining why they are either misplaced or worth overriding.
The suggestion that further negotiations are to take place to produce an “acceptable” report suggests this is another area where the Pushmi-pullyu politics of coalition government are doing the country a disservice. Given the sensitivities involved, all the information should be available so people can reach their own conclusions, rather than being left with the suspicion that facts are being supplanted by ideology.
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