5 High Wind in a Small Island

Posted by TonyN on 15/01/2008 at 10:51 am The Wind Add comments
Jan 152008

An old friend, a successful sculptor who lives in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada, has commented on a post (here) that I wrote as an introduction to this blog:

I’ll keep this brief – I’m a hunt-and-pecker. I have no concerns with ‘environmentalists’ as long as they live as they would like the environment to be – many don’t realise though just how much they’re impacting the environment by just living. However, they’re trying which the majority are not.

Regarding windpower, in the 80’s & 90’s, I remember a single wind turbine visible from my parents’ place in Ilfracombe, N. Devon and I though it quite a fascinating piece of kinetic sculpture just as does Jim Lishman of ultralight and whooping crane fame. However, when some years ago I saw a mass of these in S. California, I saw them as a visual blight on the landscape not to mention the damage they were inflicting on migrating raptors. This is the problem though – too many people wanting too much power so they seem the lesser evil to me at present. We have yet to have a windfarm in BC though an off-shore one is planned for off the Queen Charlotte islands – 90% of our generating capacity (BCHydro claim) is from hydro power with the rest imported as needed.

These are all good points made by someone whose views I respect, and yet I see things quite differently, so here is what I want to say in reply:

This is not a subject that we’d be likely to be in full agreement on, but we both love the same kind of wild places and I suspect that you would be horrified if you saw what is happening in this small, crowded, very beautiful island of ours. Nearly two thousand wind turbines have been built and are operating. The impact on the landscape is already horrible. There are over five hundred more under construction, and planning permission has been granted for another thirteen hundred. Nearly Three and a half thousand more are awaiting planning permission. The vast majority of these are onshore, mainly in upland rural areas. Theses links are to the British Wind Energy Association, the body charged with promoting wind generation in the UK, not some anti-wind pressure group which may have exaggerated them.

At least on your side of the ocean the landscape is on a scale that, to some extent at least, can absorb wind farms. If their visual footprint is, say 15 miles radius and it can be much more then that is still a small area in relation to the whole. It’s a matter of scale. If you think that turbines are a visual blight in the ‘big country’ of South California, just imagine what they look like in the micro-landscapes of Devon and Cornwall. And this isn’t just a matter of something that might happen. Scores have already been built in the West Country with many more to come. We simply do not have unspoiled countryside that can be write off in this way.

I think that I am right in saying that there is no longer a single major peak in Snowdonia from which you cannot see wind turbines on a clear day. Their constant movement draws the eye as surely as a flashing neon sign, and with the same insistence. It is difficult to look at anything else. However hard you try, your attention is drawn back to them again and again. People do not walk in the hills in order to admire industrial developments. They go to wild places to find relief form that kind of thing. As a sculptor you will understand the compelling power of kinetics in art. When I head for the hills now, I no longer hope for a fine day with endless views, I pray for thick weather so that these intrusions into a once beautiful landscape will be hidden.

And it isn’t just the look of the wind turbines that troubles me; far more than the aesthetic integrity of the landscape is at stake. Now a whole generation are growing up who will never see these places as we did, and worse – far, far worse they will be conditioned to think that it is acceptable to deface rural areas of great beauty. Who will oppose the destruction of our heritage in the future? Its rather like putting slot machines in the nave of a great cathedral and opening a lap dancing club in the crypt as a way of raising funds to mend the roof. Such things may be transient and can be removed, but it is the mindset that could allow such desecration that is the real problem; that is much more difficult, or even impossible, to reverse. Vandalism is not just an act of destruction; it is a state of mind.

You say that BC has no onshore wind farms. It’s a sobering thought for any of us in the old world that you seem to have more respect for the landscape than we do for ours. With 90% of BC’s power coming from hydro a figure that sounds credible given the resources available – why is a stretch of coast now going to be screwed up by an offshore wind farm? Make no mistake, you have to put these vast structures a very, very long way out to sea before they become invisible from the land. BC must be just about the greenest place on earth already so far as electricity generation is concerned; why do it? Even according to UK government figures[1] – and these are most unlikely to be an underestimate – offshore wind costs twice as much as nuclear and nearly three times as much as the cheaper methods of conventional generation. Others in the power industry put the cost far higher.

So why build a wind farm off the Queen Charlotte islands? Is there a power shortage in BC that cannot be supplied by other means? Is this development intended to provide a cheap and reliable source of electricity? Is it meant to reduce BC’s power generation carbon footprint when it hardly has one? Or is this just another eye catching initiative from politicians who want to appease militant environmentalists and tap into the green vote at the next election?

Britain has a problem with wind farms for just one reason. Well financed, media savvy, and extremely manipulative environmental activists have selectively used scientific evidence to scare politicians and the general public into believing that building wind farms will save the planet. Environmentalism is a predominantly urban-based movement here. Large numbers of people who have little understanding of the science, and less of the natural world, really do think that humans can now control the vast, non-linear, multi-coupled chaotic system that is the earth’s climate, adjusting global temperature as though it is on a thermostat. The result is that rational debate has become almost impossible.

How things have changed since the 1970s. Then it seemed that the nascent green movement might hold the key to preserving some areas, like the West Highlands of Scotland where we lived, from intrusive development. It seemed important that such places should survive as a reminder to those who live in the grimy, crowded, polluted conurbations that there is a cleaner and less stressful alternative; a better way of life. Not everyone would be able to live in such places, but at least they remained pristine, as a reminder – a standard if you like – by which other human habitats could be judged. It seemed possible that the quality of life in towns could become more like that in the countryside if people wanted. But what has happened is the exact opposite of this. Rural areas are being industrialised so that they become more like the conurbations. Worse still, the very people who one would expect to be defending the countryside, and trying to preserve it as a bastions against wholesale industrialisation, are the instigators of this pointless destruction of our heritage.

[1] BBC1 Ten O’clock News, 10th Jan 2008

3 Responses to “5 High Wind in a Small Island”

  1. This link:


    may answer some of your questions about why the need for wind farms such as the one I mentioned:


    which I believe will be only 3-4 km. off the shore of Rose Spit Ecological Reserve. Its an optimistic attempt by the current provincial government to advance more environmentally sound power creation as hydro power is at it’s limit yet people continue to flood into the province. It remains to be seen if they can stay the course with the upcoming natural gas frenzy in the N.E of BC and other applications such as this LNG terminal just twenty miles across the Straits from us:


    Unfortunately, even though there’s much potential here for tidal, wave and some geothermal, the price of power is about the cheapest on the continent and would have to be three times current costs to make them viable. In consequence, I think people squander power without much thought for conservation – the latter being the least obtrusive of any method methinks.
    Its not encouraging to see the figures for the wind farms in the UK and their impact on the finite landscape – especially the generations being raised to see them as normal but, I still see them as the lesser evil of ‘cheaper, conventional’ (assuming coal, gas, nuclear) power sources which do pollute – together with all the other activities that 6.5 billion humans do, of course. I’d be interested to hear what you suggest, Tony, to accommodate their power demands on this finite chunk of rock that isn’t going to degrade it’s atmosphere and the myriad species on it at present.

  2. Re: #1 Malcolm J

    For some reason WordPress marked this for moderation when comments should go up automatically after the first one. I’ll try to find out why.

    Thanks for the links and I’ll look at them later today.

  3. Re: #1 Malcolm J

    I was just about to post this comment when lightening took out our telephone.

    I’d be interested to hear what you suggest, Tony, to accommodate their power demands on this finite chunk of rock that isn’t going to degrade it’s atmosphere and the myriad species on it at present.

    I’m not a power generation wonk, nor do I have much faith in the gift of prophecy. What I am certain of is that long term economic planning should not be undertaken in an atmosphere of hysteria. At this point in time we cannot even quantify what part of the warming that took place during the 20th century was natural variation, and what, if any, was anthropogenic. That is not a rational starting point for formulating any kind of energy strategy that has anthropogenic climate change written into it.

    It certainly makes sense to research alternatives to fossil fuels, and if they are less polluting than the old technologies then that is a bonus, but they should only be brought into production when they can compete successfully, on a level playing field, with the existing technologies. To do otherwise would to be to create an artificial energy market, and all artificial markets are inherently unstable and transitory. The consequences of not being able to provide our society, which can only feed itself because of its use of technology, with plentiful and cheap energy really is something worth worrying about.

    As the most easily worked deposits of fossil fuels dwindle during this century the cost of energy will tend to rise. New technologies will become competitive and replace them in the same way that they replaced their precursors during the 18th and 19th centuries. We can no more anticipate how this will happen than someone living at the very beginning of the last century could have foreseen the energy infrastructure that would exist in 1950. Perhaps nuclear will act as a stepping-stone until fusion becomes viable, or some new technology may emerge to overtake them both. Demand for energy will ensure that research into innovative and efficient ways of providing it will continue. The demise of fossil fuels as a source of energy will inevitably reduce anthropogenic release of CO2 , which should comfort those who are concerned about climate change.

    So far as degrading the planet is concerned, all species have an impact on their habitats, and it would be rather strange if H. sapiens were to be any different. I suspect that our present perception of the effect that we can have on ‘this finite chunk of rock’ is wildly exaggerated. Just because we are the most technologically advanced species that has so far developed, we seem to think that we are in control of the natural world and not at its mercy. This is a very short step from hubris. Over the last 4.5 billion years Earth has suffered trauma far exceeding anything that we are capable of inflicting: it is a very tough old boot indeed.

    I picked up this quote from Barack Obama today:

    So my job is to tell the truth, to be straight with the American people about how I intend to end climate change…

    Perhaps the story of King Canute wasn’t taught at his school.

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