The holiday season is underway and people from all over the country have been heading west, which is obviously good for the region’s economy, but also good for the way we locals think about our beloved peninsula – because some visitors make observations or say things that allow us to see the wood for the trees.
Familiarity might sometimes breed contempt, but more often it blinds us to the very things we see every day – which brings us to the subject of wind turbines and solar farms.
They’ve been popping up at a steady old rate of late – so much so that I’ve heard numerous folk from up-country say things like: “Blimey! You lot have certainly gone for the golden dollar of sustainable energy – there are windmills everywhere.”
This is usually followed by: “And they’re horrible! How come your local authorities have given so many planning permission?”
Drive the length and breadth of this peninsula as I do as roving editor-at-large of this newspaper and you cannot get away from the fact that single wind turbines are sprouting like so many tall thin field mushrooms after a shower of rain on a warm summer’s day.
It seems the threat of entire wind-farms has begun to fade – only to be replaced by a peppering of single installations that stretch as far as the eye can see.
A WMN reader put it better than this is a letter he wrote to the paper: “We risk sleepwalking into a landscape covered by sporadic single wind turbines that benefit only the individual at the cost and detriment of the community.”
A colleague showed me this and added: “We do seem to be moving away from large-scale wind-farms – individual landowners are now installing one or two turbines to reap the profits. Doesn’t look like joined-up thinking on energy production to me. A Westcountry littered with individual turbines would be disastrous for landscapes and, arguably, worse than a number of big developments.”
I hasten to add solar farms to the mix – because, although they’d do not stand proud of the landscape so that they can be seen for miles, they are creating an insidious black creeping rash in our otherwise green acres.
Supporters of sustainable energy will already be wailing: “Here we go again! Fuddy-duddy flat-earthers wanting some dreamed up fantasy world of Thomas Hardy to rule over the realities of pollution and environmental destruction.”
No one could be more keen on sustainable energy than me. Often in these pages I have repeated my belief that the Westcountry’s vast tidal ranges should be shackled to provide us with free and non-polluting energy. The fact that we have not harnessed the unbelievable potential of the second biggest tidal range in the world is, I believe, a fact that should make the UK hang its head in shame.
When I go about saying this 99 out of every 100 people agree. The ones that don’t just shrug something about the technology not being quite there yet.
Well – make it happen. Where are the survey teams measuring currents in the Bristol Channel? Where is the research being done? Where are the test rigs along its mighty tidal shores?
I also believe – to a much lesser extent – that this region’s fast flowing rivers should be helping to supply local energy needs. But, apart from the ancient one feeding the National Grid at Mary Tavy, where are they?
I realise they’d never be a major player, but at present there’s just a tiny handful of small-scale hydro-electric schemes operating in the South West, compared to a burgeoning number of wind turbines.
You only have to see which of the two will provide power 24 hours a day 365 days a year to know that we are getting sustainable energy all wrong.
As far as solar farms go, they should not be erected on prime agricultural land in beautiful areas – at least, not before they have been mounted on every big supermarket and industrial unit roof in the region. Solar installations can offer an efficient way to harvest the energy of the sun – but let’s put them in locations where they are needed and where no one gives two hoots about the view.
Let me conclude with the final words of that WMN reader letter: “…that benefit only the individual at the cost and detriment of the community.”
If we forget the blot-on-the-landscape aspect of the subject and also the illogicality of building turbines that only work when the wind blows within view of the permanent movement of second-highest and most powerful tidal range in the world, then we are left with yet another outcome.
Let’s call it a Licence for Greed or a government backed charter called Pitching Neighbour Against Neighbour or the Community Wrecking Act of 2014.
I won’t be popular with some, but anyone who shakes hands with a wind-turbine or solar farm salesman saying: “Forget neighbours and community – think only of all that lovely dosh you can make for doing nothing,” is no friend of mine.
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