Wind turbines are a poor way to harness energy – but a very good way to generate public subsidies, says Andrew Gilligan.
Published: 7:00AM BST 13 Jun 2010
From the summit of Plynlimon, in the deep country of the Cambrian Mountains, there is a 70-mile panorama of the Cader range, hill after green-blue hill stretching into the distance, from the peaks around Bala to the shores of Cardigan Bay.
It was a view that caught the breath. It still does, in a different way. The view from Plynlimon now is of more than 200 wind turbines, nearly a tenth of Britain’s onshore total, stretching across ridge-lines, dominating near and far horizons. The author George Borrow wrote a whole chapter on Plynlimon in his classic 19th-century travelogue, Wild Wales. It’s not so wild these days.
Last week’s decision by Miriam González Durántez, wife of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to join a leading wind-farm company has thrown the spotlight on one of Britain’s most controversial industries.
Mrs Durántez’s firm, Acciona, is seeking planning permission to add another 23 wind turbines to the view from Plynlimon, filling up some of the remaining skyline not yet occupied by them.
To opponents, land-based wind-turbines – there are currently 2,560 – are, in the words of the chairman of the National Trust, Simon Jenkins, “creatures from the War of the Worlds”, industrialising the countryside, invading precious landscapes.
Supporters are no less high-pitched. At the annual conference of the wind farm trade body, the BWEA, John Prescott, Mr Clegg’s predecessor, stormed: “We cannot let the squires and the gentry stop us meeting our moral obligation to pass this world on in a better state to our children. So let me tell them loud and clear: it’s not your backyard any more – it’s ours!”
The then energy and climate change secretary, now Labour leadership contender, Ed Miliband, said that it “should be socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area – like not wearing your seatbelt”.
Yet like so much else in the climate change debate, the emotions – on both sides – get in the way. Presenting wind farms as either an alien scourge or a moral crusade obscures what is surely the real question: are they effective at reducing CO2 emissions? Do the benefits they bring outweigh the costs they impose?
h/t Neil Jones