Fanning an ill wind

THEY were images of nightmare: the tall, stilt-like invaders, eerily dominating the landscape, in the film of H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Today those Martian aliens, in simulacrum, are bestriding the planet in the unlovely guise of wind turbines.

The worst ever violation of our Scottish environment is now being perpetrated at an exponential rate; but the good news is, this is being done in the name of conservation. Apparently, in order to preserve the environment, it is first necessary to destroy it. Take a long look at the progressive violation of Scottish (and British) beauty spots by these excrescences and ask yourself if this development does not remind you of a previous national experience.

It ought to do: the proliferation of wind farms is today’s equivalent to the post-War urban blight visited upon our towns and cities by trendy architects and greedy developers. While it is gratifying to see the now frequent dynamiting of the tower blocks which served as incubators for the plague of violence and crime that has killed proper urban life, the damage is irreversible.

The wind turbine is to the rural environment what the tower block was to urban civilisation during the past half-century. We have not learned. We are listening to ‘experts’ - again. British television screens are once more hosting the talking heads - patronising, confident and ultra-informed - that have so often browbeaten us into following them along the path to social catastrophe.

Our cities are already basket cases; labyrinths of contorted ugliness, the occasional surviving bloom of past artistry strangled amid the nettles of modern planning, design and urban orthodoxy. What the Luftwaffe left, the councillors with fat wads from developers in their back pockets laid waste. Now a similar fate is overtaking the countryside: in England, any acre not overrun by Prescott’s bungaloid infestation will be implanted with wind turbines and Scotland is similarly beleaguered.

How did this offensive gain such momentum? By appealing to the very instincts it is now outraging, is the answer. All the Kyotoguff about ‘renewable energy’ and ‘sustainable development’ now turns out to be a blueprint for raping the landscape. Earnest talk about wind power from Greens met a sympathetic response from far beyond the ghetto of the wholemeal-sandals, knit-your-own-yoghurt brigade. Environmental concern has become a widespread preoccupation. As a theory, wind power enjoyed much goodwill.

Now, not only do wind farms turn out to be an appalling blight on the landscape, they are also grotesquely inefficient at generating energy. The government’s declared objective is to have wind power producing 5% of Britain’s electricity by 2010. That would require the erection of up to 10,000 turbines - despoiling vast tracts of the landscape. Yet the end result, if successful, would only save 1.3% of CO2 emissions in the UK, a derisory return for devastation.

Turbines are Neanderthal in their inefficiency. They produce between 25%-30% of theoretical capacity - which raises the question why their notional output is rated so high in the first place. Clearly, those inflated claims are couched in estate agents’ language. Turbines fall short of the standards of pre-industrial technology, in that they are put out of action by strong winds as much as by calm.

Two of the largest wind farms in Britain, sited close to each other in Wales, had their output monitored: in a year, it amounted to less than four days’ production from a 2000 MW power station. Put another way, their joint output averages 20 MW. Extrapolating that data, since the UK’s electricity demand in winter peaks at 53,000 MW, that could only be met by erecting 420,000 turbines. Would the last person to leave this island please switch off the light...

You might think that the ghastly reality of environmental disaster would have caused our Green friends to recoil in horror from this project. You would think wrongly. An illuminating consequence of this debate has been the light it has thrown on the priorities of the Green lobby. Consider the remarks of Jonathan Porritt, a leading green activist: "The modern wind turbine is a mighty intrusive beast. It’s not into nestling, blending in or any of those other clichs beloved of rural romantics."

So, there you are: those of us who thought that the one sentiment we had in common with bobble-hatted tree-huggers was love of the rural landscape are disabused. If a fetish for alternative energy - as much as would power an electric toothbrush - is involved, it is quite acceptable to turn the environment into a lunar landscape and anyone who objects is a "rural romantic". Porritt would have got an ovation at the annual convention of the Where-There’s-Muck-There’s-Brass Hard-Faced Industrialists Association, circa 1885.

The landscape matters. It matters passionately. People take on the hue of their environment: grainy sepia, in the case of 19th-century workers in industrial slums; bright colours in the bucolic environment depicted by the 18th-century masters. Have we really come to the present pitch of scientific advance, only to find ourselves bereft of any vision for the preservation of civilisation, beyond sacrificing our countryside for a matchbox-full of electricity?

And what a countryside. We in Scotland have been gifted with a landscape of almost unimaginable splendour. That is not a braggart, here’s-tae-us sentiment: the whole world concurs. It is one of the most deleterious characteristics of the wind-farm phenomenon that it needs a spacious environment in which to flourish; it does best in the wilderness, hence its threat to areas of natural beauty. Where is this blight already infecting Scotland? Is it in our post-industrial badlands? Hardly: it is attacking the outer Isles, Perthshire, the Lammermuirs - and soon every glen and moor whose beauty has gladdened the hearts of Scots men and women from time immemorial.

For there is one sense in which wind farms are highly productive: they produce large profits for their operators. They pose a temptation, too, to farmers who have suffered ruination at the hands of the present government’s viciously anti-rural policies. Sometimes people cannot afford to be faithful trustees of their heritage. Those of us who oppose this soul-destroying degradation of our country - and it must be stopped - should do so in a spirit of realism.

We should explain that, despite the propaganda of vested interests, it would take an unthinkable 25,000 turbines to serve Scotland’s energy needs alone. In any case, that would be a bogus achievement, since the greatest defect of wind provision is the need for permanent backup that its unreliability imposes. Thus, in the extremely improbable event that the government attained its long-term objective of having wind power supply 20% of UK electricity, that would amount to 22 GW; but the Royal Academy of Engineering has calculated that 16-19 GW would still need to be retained, as backup, in conventional plant capacity. There is no saving there.

Wind power is irrelevant to the energy debate: it is the Philosopher’s Stone of contemporary superstition. The real solution lies in a balanced energy policy - Combined Heat and Power (CHP) - and such moderately promising renewable sources as wave power.

If we are panicked and deceived into destroying our matchless landscape we shall only repeat, in a rural context, the crass blunders of urban brutalism in the 1960s and 1970s, earning ourselves the bitter reproach of posterity: "Blow, blow, thou winter wind,/Thou art not so unkind/As man’s ingratitude"...

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