The wind knocked out of our sails

Features editor

Is Britain falling out of love with wind energy? Inasmuch as Britain was ever in love with wind — it was hardly an all-encompassing passion — it certainly looks like some of the shine may be wearing off. Earlier this month, over a hundred Conservative MPs put their names to a letter to David Cameron calling for a reduction in subsidies for wind energy schemes. As a result, according to the Guardian this week, wind energy companies are ‘reconsidering’ planned investments in the UK amount to billions of pounds.

The MPs’ concerns are easily understandable. Wind farms tend to be sited in rural areas and are often unpopular with their neighbours, many of whom moved to the countryside for peace, quiet and bucolic views. A sudden invasion of cyclopean, ever-moving rotor towers is hardly likely to be welcomed. A quick look at any political map of the UK will reveal that these areas are overwhelmingly Conservative constituency, and any MP has a duty to reflect the views of his or her constituents, especially over anything which might affect their majority.

Even Donald Trump is getting in on the action. Never known for self-effacement, the oddly-coiffeured American tycoon has pledged to oppose plans for an offshore windfarm some 3km off the coast of his Scottish estate, threatening to bring armies of lawyers into the field with imagery that brings to mind the battle of Culloden, albeit with smart suits rather than kilts.

We’ve come to expect this sort of opposition, but the wind industry’s threats are somewhat worrying. Rather than explain the energy benefits of wind turbines, put forward their plans for larger generation capacities offshore than onshore, explain the concept of capacity factors (the percentage of time any particular turbine can be expected to generate electricity) or point out that you’d need to have pretty good eyesight to even see something that’s 3km out to sea, let alone be disturbed by it, to instantly threaten to pull out if the sweeteners of subsidy are withdrawn smacks of weakness of will rather than the confident swashbuckling spirit we’ve been told to expect of business.

Germany and Denmark already generate a larger proportion of their electricity from wind farms than the UK. That’s not fairy dust or fictional electricity: that’s real electrons flowing along real cables and illuminating real light bulbs. They’re obviously serious about it; Britain has a better wind resource than either.

Onshore turbines are always going to be controversial. Whether or not they’re ugly is a matter of opinion and the wishes of the people who have to live near them obviously has to be given more prominence than those of metropolitan types (like myself) who drive past them once or twice a year. But there does seem to be some skewing of attitudes towards the countryside. It’s not just some pretty backdrop to a tranquil lifestyle. We live off the land. It’s a resource. Moreover, the way the air moves over the landscape is just as much a resource as the crops you can grow on it or the animals you can graze on it.

We absolutely need a mix of energy generation resources. We cannot rely on any single one. A wholesale shift to nuclear isn’t practical and it’s folly to think that we can generate all our energy from renewables; equally, we know, from the point of view of dwindling resources if nothing else, that we can’t keep making most of our electricity from fossil fuels, and we don’t have enough land to grow renewable wood for combustion. We have to have wind power, *along with everything else*. The sooner this fact is recognised, the sooner we can get on with minimising the impact of installations and building the damn things.