Monuments to utter folly: As the wind farm industry admits that England’s not windy enough, these abominations serve only to mock our leaders’ gullibility
West Devon last week basked in sunshine, with glorious views from the uplands behind the coast towards Dartmoor … marred by a glittering, twirling, silver turbine, visible for 20 miles in all directions.
The same scene was repeated on Sunday in Herefordshire, where again I saw a swathe of natural beauty blighted by a giant windmill.
For years, some of us have campaigned against the despoiling of our landscape by these eyesores. Suddenly, belatedly, an unexpected and authoritative voice has made it official: they are a nonsense.
Hugh McNeal, chief executive of the wind industry’s trade body RenewableUK, no less, says onshore turbines in England do not add up because there is insufficient wind to keep them turning. Pictured: Wind turbines above Ardrossan, Scotland
Hugh McNeal, chief executive of the wind industry’s trade body Renew-ableUK, no less, says onshore turbines in England do not add up because there is insufficient wind to keep them turning.
‘We are almost certainly not talking about the possibility of new plants in England,’ he says. McNeal twists his language like a turbine blade, but his punchline is plain enough: ‘The wind speeds don’t allow for it.’
His admission comes after a quarter-century of subsidy lavished on wind power. Remember David Cameron saying almost six years ago, soon after he became prime minister, that Britain could become the world leader in turbine construction?
Before that, there was Ed Miliband as Energy Secretary denouncing objectors to turbines as contemptible Nimbies: ‘The Government needs to be saying “it is socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area – like not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing”.’
For five happy years, I was president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has campaigned untiringly against wind farms.
They inflict devastating damage on the landscape, and make financial sense only for landowners who have reaped a rich harvest of taxpayers’ money by providing sites for them.
No reasonable person can oppose the ideal of conserving energy and developing non-polluting electricity sources. But sensible governments strike a balance between green policies and their cost to industry, consumers – and the landscape.
The Blair regime instead embarked on a programme to drive Britain into green energy, heedless of cost. Turbines erupted like plague spots on the landscape.
I doubt whether even the citizens of Reading would claim loveliness among their town’s virtues, but in recent years things have got worse. Every driver who passes the place shudders at the huge, satanic turbine that stands beside the M4, often motionless and always signalling that no sensitive human being should exit there.
Much worse things have been done in northern England. In Cumbria, the wind farms in the hills represent crimes against natural dignity and tranquillity.
When David Cameron became leader of the Coalition government in 2010, I suggested here that one of his rashest acts was to place the energy portfolio in the hands of the Lib Dems, so green that they would like to see us all lighting our homes with pedal-powered generators. But Cameron himself succumbed to wind power fever, putting a ridiculous little turbine on top of his own house in Notting Hill.
The Lib Dems’ tenure of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which lasted until 2015, cost every inhabitant of these islands dearly.
Billions of taxpayers’ money was poured into onshore and offshore wind farms, research on ‘carbon capture’ technology, solar energy and wave power.
What was not done, however, was to order a new generation of gas and coal-fired power stations, which are critical to keep our homes lit as old stations are shut down.
Cameron in 2010 claimed that the renewables industry was ‘a triple win. It will help conserve our energy supplies, protect our planet, and the Carbon Trust says it could create 70,000 jobs’.
In reality, between 2002 and 2009, every new renewables job cost the taxpayer £200,000, and even thereafter the tariff was £57,000. Many of the statistics published by the renewables lobby to justify wind farms – and much else – are simply untrue.
I am not a Luddite about new energy technology, and for that matter about the need for us all to get greener. But economic logic must have a role in decision-making. Such lobbyists as Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth campaign relentlessly and sometimes irresponsibly for us to adopt renewables at any cost.
The rest of us would say: yes, but we must keep the economy going and our houses heated, while credible new technologies are allowed to mature.
For one household in four, fuel bills account for almost 10 per cent of income. The supplements forced on electricity providers to fund green policies represent a real burden on many families.
Offshore wind turbines, for instance, are likely to become an important energy source in future. But it was madness to commit hundreds of millions to building offshore farms while the technology is still at an evolutionary stage.
Likewise, the fungus-growth of wind farms in England flew in the face of common sense. A quick glance at the statistics showed that many were built – and allowed to enrich their creators – in places where the accustomed gentle breezes scarcely rustle the leaves on the trees. Thousands of such follies blot scores of landscapes.
Last year, the Government saw sense and slashed subsidies for turbines, as promised in the Tory election manifesto. More-over, changes to planning law now make it necessary for local authorities to heed the views of the community before dumping wind farms in their midst.
The Scots will continue to build windmills on their own hills, and since these lands are their birthright, we cannot stop them.
And in case you had not noticed, the wind blows much harder up north than down our way. An economic case – albeit an imperfect one – can be made for turbines in Scotland which has never existed south of the border.
For too long, governments – not only in Britain but across Europe – have danced to the tune of vociferous green campaigners, pursuing policies based on a sheep-like wail of ‘Green good, carbon bad’. Yet real-life, sensible energy policies must be based on more hard-headed calculations, which take heed of the needs and interests of human beings, their families and homes.
Much of the information proclaimed by the green fanatics – for instance, that the means already exist to enable us to power our entire economy from renewable sources, if only governments embraced them – is simply untrue.
In recent years new technologies, especially solar, have made big strides. They will continue to do so. Our children and grandchildren will be able to exploit all manner of power sources that are today only gleams on the horizon.
But not ourselves, and not yet. The big mistake made by Blair and then Cameron’s Coalition government was to pile into wind because it had the green seal of approval, without asking the hard-headed questions about whether turbines made sense everywhere, for everybody.
After squandering billions of pounds they have seen the light, thank heavens. England’s great landscapes may be spared more futile despoliation at taxpayers’ expense.
But the turbines that already exist will stand to mock us for years to come, most of them generating scarcely enough electricity to power their manufacturers’ production lines.
There are 6,846 across Britain, plus another 15,000 private installations. Each one is a monument to the follies a government can commit when given a green flag to squander our cash.
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