Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Which way is the wind blowing? Blowed if I know.

I love the idea of having a wind turbine at the end of my garden. Like a sort of cross between TV’s Teletubbies and The Good Life. But I can dream on because we’d never get it past the planners.

Actually, the amount I understand about harnessing natural resources, such as wind power, and using them in a life-enhancing, planet-saving way can be written on a postage stamp. Which, I suspect, is probably roughly the same as quite a lot of people.

I glaze when I read or hear reports on wind power. I feel bamboozled and wish someone would tell me exactly what to believe. In my heart, I’d rather have a pile of wind turbines than a proliferation of nuclear power stations. But my head asks, ‘Which is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly?’ And I don’t know the answer. As with so many things, I suspect that the answer changes depending on the structure of the equation. When I hear someone who is pro wind energy explaining the benefits, I am won over. When I hear someone who is anti I am equally convinced.

Wind farms do divide communities. I have heard tell of meetings where people have been so heated, they’ve squared up nose-to-nose as if in a boxing ring. Which is akin to the meetings The Husband used to attend in North London about Controlled Parking Zones.  And that’s not good.

In Northumberland and the Borders, you’d have to be fairly unobservant to miss the abundance of wind turbines – large-scale windfarms such as Drone Hill with its 22 turbines; individual farm-scale turbines predominantly for microgeneration; plus, increasingly, other much larger scale turbines in ones or twos, often on farm land, which feed the national grid and provide a revenue stream for farms and organisations that install them, such as Berwickshire Housing Association.

Like them or loathe them, turbines are part of our landscape and, if what I’ve heard about pending applications for both windfarms and individual turbines in Northumberland is true, they are likely to be more so.

What is it we have against them? We try to preserve what’s left of historic windmills, which must once have flourished across the country. I wonder if people felt that those windmills compromised the landscape; worried that the erection of such structures consumed more energy and effort than they saved; put people in jobs or robbed people of jobs. Did they see the windmill as an exciting development in a constantly evolving and changing world? Did they believe they would be everlasting or for a season – one step on the path of progress?

Are turbines just a step on the road of power progress?

Nowadays, we are laden with data – particularly on the environment and the effects our actions have on it. We are a generation that is accused and found guilty of colossal energy waste and of raping the natural world. Energy is more elusive, yet we demand more of it with our array of technologies and our 24-7 lifestyles. We are also, perhaps, less prepared to believe all we hear about the solutions  – because time has taught us that something  considered ‘a good thing’ can all too frequently turn out not to be.

So, what to do?

It is very difficult to be part of a debate where we simply can’t know all the facts – because no one, not even the ‘experts’ seem to ( in fact, as we go to press, it seems the ministers responsible for power and David Cameron are as baffled as I am!). It is therefore tempting to leave the decision-making to those who have vested interests. But we do that at our peril.

David Cameron’s windmill…but does he know anymore than the rest of us?

I guess we have to battle through the fog and try to be as informed and engaged as possible. And educate generations to come as thoroughly as we can on the benefits of using energy wisely – then, in time, a bit like the Teletubbies, we might become adept at using power only when the wind blows.

A version of this article was published in The Berwick Advertiser on 1st November 2012

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