A war is raging in the UK: the war of the wind turbines.
In the United States, the debate has focused on the disturbing number of birds, including eagles, that have flown into wind turbines and been injured or killed.
In the UK the issue is shaping up to be a battle between money and beauty.
The UK already has more wind turbines than the rest of the world combined: they tower over the north east coast, parts of Scotland, the south west and Wales, even over the delicate Vale of White Horse in Berkshire.
The London Array, Britain’s biggest wind farm, with 175 turbines, employs 90 people at its base in the county of Kent. Situated 12 miles offshore, it became fully operational in April, 2013.
Prime Minister Cameron’s government is committed to offshore wind power in the UK: these turbines can currently generate more than 3GW watts of energy - enough to power two million homes.
Now there are two more giant proposals for wind farms in the works: an inquiry opened earlier this month for a wind farm covering 600 square miles of the Welsh hills. This is beautiful country that would basically become an industrial park, with associated quarries, roads and infrastructure.
240 Giant Wind Turbines In The Middle Of The Bristol Channel
Equally overwhelming is an application this month for the Atlantic Array, a development of 240 giant wind turbines to form a visual wall in the middle of the Bristol Channel, between South Wales and North Devon.
It is in this beautiful area of England that the war is currently focused.
Steve Crowther from the Slay The Array campaign says it will be “environmentally catastrophic”.
“They call this an offshore wind farm – it’s inshore. It is between this beautiful Devon coast visited by four million people every year and the Pembroke coast visited by three million people every year.
“And people don’t come here to see the landscape and the horizon covered in wind turbines. They come here for peace, tranquility, rural settings and seascapes.”
I will admit to my own bias at this point. Having just returned from walking on part of the South West Coast Path in Devon, a spectacular 630-mile trek around the “foot” of England, which conservationists and hikers have worked hard to create, I am alarmed at this proposal.
I enjoyed beautiful vistas out over the ocean as I walked along the red cliff tops of East Devon. If this proposal goes through, many of us will re-think completing the North Devon section of this walk.
Nevertheless, those in favor of wind power say that it is clean, renewable energy, and that the companies involved are providing work for hundreds of people. DONG energy operates 48 turbines off the coast of Essex, in the south east of England; they have which have been up and running for three years and supply electricity to 120,000 homes.
A U-Turn On Wind Power?
Recognizing that there are strong feelings on either side of this issue, Prime Minister Cameron recently announced that residents will be able to stop the construction of wind farms under tough new rules.
His regulations are expected to require that local people’s concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy. Communities will also receive more money for agreeing to host windfarms nearby, with householders set to get hundreds of pounds off energy bills.
Hum, residents get more say, but they also get more money? Interesting.
But on June 15, The Telegraph revealed some alarming numbers:
A new analysis of government and industry figures shows that wind turbine owners received £1.2billion in the form of a consumer subsidy, paid by a supplement on electricity bills last year. They employed 12,000 people, to produce an effective £100,000 subsidy on each job.
The disclosure is potentially embarrassing for the wind industry, which claims it is an economically dynamic sector that creates jobs. It was described by critics as proof the sector was not economically viable, with one calling it evidence of “soft jobs” that depended on the taxpayer.
These figures will undoubtedly fan the flames of the controversy even futher.
As Europe’s second most densely populated country (after the Netherlands), Britain has until recently allowed cities to expand while maintaining distinct boundaries between town and mostly unspoiled country.
As Simon Jenkins points out in The Guardian, this planning has long been popular. When polls were conducted at the time of the Olympics, almost all ranked “the English countryside” with the royal family, the armed forces, Shakespeare and the National Health Service as symbols of national pride.
Britain is also a very small country; throwing up hundreds of wind turbines means polluting the horizon for many, many citizens.
Will money or beauty win this war?
Photo Credit: thinkstock