Wind power

HE SUBJECT of wind power seems to be causing an increasing amount of feeling
and perhaps, no pun intended, hot air. While the pro-lobby is keen to point out that something must be done before climate change wipes out the planet, the antis are building up steam as they protest about what they see as the despoiling of Scotland's beauty spots.
Wind power seems like something Scotland ought to be good at: we certainly have lots of windswept hills. However, we have lost our tradition of using renewable energy and there are legitimate concerns about introducing it again, this time on an industrial scale.
Windmills and watermills were once a feature of the landscape across Britain and it was interesting when visiting the Dutch paintings at the Queen's Gallery in Edinburgh to note seventeenth-century depiction of the white cliffs of Dover dotted with windmills.

While there have been developments in technology over the past few decades, it has been only recently, with the introduction of subsidies to power companies to generate wind power, that it has started to become a hot potato.
Developers have been buying chunks of windy land in Scotland with the aim of erecting turbines on them. Yet much of Scotland’s most blustery land is also beautiful. While it may not be very good for farming and few people wish to live there, the tops of hills and coastal plains are dear to the hearts of those who love our wild places.
It may be that wind turbines should and could be sited in places which are not quite so special but even here the anti-wind lobby is creating a stir.
Take the Griffin forest near Aberfeldy. This is a forestry plantation of the old style: ranks of pine trees which seem to march across the landscape, utterly changing the natural vista.
I can still remember how much these forestry plantations were loathed when they were established and there are many problems with them: they were planted too close together, adversely affect the local habitat and create acidity in the soil.
Yet Griffin forest is now being seen as an area of natural beauty which should not be despoiled by those who would erect turbines.
A local paper, Comment, the news magazine of Highland Perthshire, carries this month an indignant rant by David Renwick Grant – ”a Torness on every hilltop! Cooling towers on the Cairngorms. I see very little difference between these ideas and the prospects of 82 towers each taller than the Forth Bridge . . . that GreenPower plan to foist on us at Griffin”.
It is interesting to note how habits inure us to things that we might once have considered ugly.
However, a colleague in the same paper, James Irvine Robertson, writes of shinnying a fence at John O’Groats a few days ago to lie beneath a 35-metre wind turbine. It was ”creepily silent”, he wrote. Putting a hand on its metal flank, he felt only a faint vibration. Lying down in front of it and looking up, ”it was stunning. Like a sword of God, the great white paper blades scythed down from a bright blue sky straight at our faces”.
Perhaps, in 20 years we will all have grown fond of the wind turbines.
It is certainly important that, as our demands for power continue to increase, we take a long and careful view of how best to meet them. Despite their visual blight, wind turbines have a
low ecological impact, producing only a tiny amount of carbon dioxide. If we refuse to explore this technology, the probability is that we may find ourselves again staring at the necessity of nuclear power stations.
But there certainly are problems with introducing this on a huge scale. As a way of allowing small-scale renewable energy creation, it would perhaps be greeted more sympathetically. Small wind turbines which could be put on people’s roofs and reduce their heating costs by hundreds of pounds a year will no doubt prove popular where feasible.
There is also the possibility of building huge wind machines out in the North Sea. Considering how ugly the oil rigs are and how much light pollution they cause, the wind machines could only be an improvement visually.
It is currently the case that wind power – especially in its newer form – may appear more expensive than other forms of power, but that is not an argument for not developing it as a part of our national strategy. The costs of not addressing the problems caused by carbon dioxide emissions will be greater.
Perhaps when we can look out of the window and actually see the huge effort that must go into harvesting the energy that we use so carelessly and with such profligacy, we will be a little more aware of the implications of the way we live in our environment.
So, opponents of wind power such as Noel Edmonds, the radio personality, and Sir Bernard Ingham, who is involved with the group Country Guardian, should face more questions about the impact that their lifestyle and that of others like them has on the countryside. Do they use four-wheel-drive cars for instance?

The Scottish Herald
July 21st 2004