You say you’ve got a real solution?

By Eric Watkins

LOS ANGELES, May 8 — If you believe the British government, wind power is the darling of the country, an industry beloved by people across the land. Indeed, according to Energy Secretary Ed Davey, onshore wind power is a “cost effective” and “valuable part” of the UK’s diverse energy mix.

“Not only does wind power provide secure low carbon power to homes and businesses, it supports jobs and brings significant investment up and down the country too,” said Davey, promoting a new government report in favor of wind power.

Not least, Davey said that government’s policies of increasing community involvement also will help to ensure “the right balance” between developers and community interests.

Those community interests were very much on the mind of Maria McCaffrey, chief executive of lobbyist Renewable UK, who said that the report showed why 68% of people in rural areas, where most wind turbines are installed, support the industry, 11% higher than the 57% in urban areas who back the technology.

‘REAL PEOPLE’

“Rather than feeling that wind has been imposed on them, real people across the UK are recognizing the benefits of having wind in their backyard, and with the government’s help we’ll continue to build on the 8,600 people employed across the country because of onshore wind,” McCaffrey said.

Much though one would like to believe McCaffrey and Davey, it seems that the anecdotal evidence is piling up against wind power in the UK, with much of the opposition coming from just the place that supposedly supports it: the countryside.

Last November, Clive Aslet, editor-at-large of Britain’s Country Life magazine, let fly with a torrent of criticism of wind farms then being proposed in the UK.

“The politicians who foisted them upon us should be put in the stocks,” said Aslet, adding that “Wind farms are Blairism incarnate,” – a reference to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“Wanting to look big on the international stage, he committed Britain to some preposterously over-ambitious targets for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Aslet said.

PERSISTING POLICY

But even with the departure of Blair years ago, that view of wind power prevails among member of the current government – otherwise hardly a proponent of anything endorsed by Blair or his successor Gordon Brown.

Indeed, even after countryside campaigners criticized the encroachment of turbines on the landscape and 100 Tory MPs called for subsidies for the technology to be cut, Prime Minister David Cameron said renewables are “vital” for the future of the UK and good for business, not just the environment.

And that economic argument is at the very heart of the new government report which claims that the UK’s onshore wind industry created thousands of jobs and generated millions of pounds for the economy.

‘COMMUNITIES BENEFIT’

The study of 18 wind farms across the country, jointly undertaken by the industry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed communities benefited from onshore wind turbines by as much as £84 million in 2011, with 1,100 local jobs supported by the sector.

The report, which looked at 18 different-sized wind farms and analyzed the contribution of their development, construction and operation to the economy, claims that onshore wind farms supported 8,600 jobs and were worth £548 million to the UK in 2011.

But try telling that to residents of Thornton Moor near Haworth in West Yorkshire, the landscape that inspired the Bronte sisters to write some of the most enduring works in English literature.

On moorland owned by Yorkshire Water, Banks Renewables recently applied to build four wind turbines, each 100 meters tall, and the four together would provide power for approximately 4,400 homes.

“Energy generated from onshore wind farms such as Thornton Moor will be crucial in meeting our future regional and national energy requirements,” Banks Renewables said.

BRONTE SOCIETY

And adopting a line that could have been the source of Ed Davey’s remarks this week, the firm expressed the belief that, “We will be able to design a scheme for this site that both produces renewable energy efficiently and is environmentally acceptable.”

But residents and members of the Bronte Society are not buying that line, saying that the moorland should remain untouched, that the development will be an eyesore, and that it will undermine tourism – a main source of income for the region.

And contrary to McCaffrey’s view that country folk welcome wind turbines in their backyards, Anthea Orchard, chair of the Thornton Moor Wind Farm Action group, told Sky News she was not being a “nimby”.

“We’re used to wind farms here,” Orchard said. “But these will be twice the size and much nearer the houses. It will also affect tourism, putting them on either side of the Bronte Way walk.”

GREEN REVOLUTION

But that is of no concern to Cameron, who has not only backed plans for 70 turbines off the North East coast but also gave his support to the Banks Renewables project in Bronte country.

“Renewables are now the fastest growing energy source on the planet,” Cameron told the recent Clean Energy Ministerial in London, adding that he is “proud that Britain has played a leading role at the forefront of this green energy revolution.”

You say you want a revolution? Well, we’d all love to see the plan.

© Glamma Productions Inc. 2012

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About Eric Watkins

Eric Watkins is a consultant specializing in oil diplomacy. A former journalist, Mr. Watkins's work has appeared in numerous leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, and specialist media such as Oil & Gas Journal, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), and Lloyd's List.
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