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Blown away on Lewis

23 Jul 2006 / in general stuff, going off on one

A storm is brewing on the Isle of Lewis. About windfarms.

As a visitor to Lewis last week, I can confirm it’s mighty windy and perfect for a windfarm.

The electricity generating companies know it. The Government knows it. Despite the fact that erecting only 500 turbines on Lewis could generate 25% of the UK’s electricity and the economic growth it would bring to Lewis the island’s residents are divided as to whether it’s a good idea or not. Western Isles councillors want it, but there is much local opposition.

Lewisians are conservative, restrained people who cherish their traditional ways: crofting, raising sheep, cutting peat. While the rest of the UK goes shopping on Sundays, Lewisians go to church. There are no shops open. No Sunday papers. It’s a different world. The prosperity a windfarm may bring has limited appeal to those people who cherish their dramatic, unforgiving landscape, their peat bogs and moors, their lochs, their wildlife and some of the finest beaches on the planet. Building a windfarm would mean building more roads (they hardly have any anyway), laying cables, digging into the ancient peat and disturbing wildlife to say nothing of the visual impact on their unspoilt island.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for our Lewisians friends as they really do have a wonderful, unique and awesome land. But sometimes, things have to change. And the impact of it will probably be a lot less bad than they think, once the cables are laid and the peat starts to grow back. That may be easy for me to say sitting in the turbine-free landscape of West Oxfordshire. But I’ll lay my cards on the table. I love ‘em. I love the graceful look of those turbines in the landscape, gloriously harnessing natural resources and converting it safely and carbon-free to yummy electricity which we all love and need. If they knocked down Didcot power station and started building turbines round here I would applaud it.

We need to generate our own electricity, the cleaner the better or their will be no world left for us to live in. Coal is dirty, expensive and running out. Oil is dirty, expensive and running out. Nuclear produces waste which no one has adequately been able to deal with. Wind is cheap, clean and endless.

When Moth and I went to Denmark in April, we were thrilled to find wind turbines dotted all over the landscape and though it was a shock at first within hours we grew to enjoy seeing their clean white blades swooping round, quietly generating carbon-free electricity.

Quite often windfarm opponants moan that turbines destroy the visual beauty of a landscape. This vacuous, middle-class, NIMBY argument makes me gag. Don’t they want clean, cheap electricity? Turbines’ visual impact is no worse that pylons and roads, and far less bad than the grotesque rash of out-of-town shopping plazas, Ikeas, Tescos and Little Chefs. Turbines can easily be removed, their footprint is tiny.

My only fear about windfarms on Lewis is the impact on bird life. It’s well known that badly sited windfarms can devastate whole populations of birds which use certain routes for migration, breeding and feeding. Lewis has a rich and varied bird population and if windfarms are to be built then they should be carefully sited to minimise any damage. If that means painting turbines luminous yellow then do so. Bugger those people who say the turbines will look even worse. We need our feathered friends.

I’m really sorry for our comrades on Lewis but we live in this world together and we need electricity. Peat grows back quickly and bogs will return. Animals and birds will return if we encourage them. Wind power. Love it or hate it, what choice to we really have?

There’s was an article in The Grauniad about this on Thursday. But beware: thay didn’t eeven speel Stornaway corecctlie. (It is of course, Stornoway.)

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