Last weekend was spent gaining a direct insight into the rather polarizing and fractious debate around Wind Turbines in Swanage and Tolpuddle [at the WindFarm Meeting on Saturday 12th January 2013 at the Tolpuddle Village Hall].
It started with a question and answer session at a well attended meeting headed by the ever articulate and lucid Oliver Letwin in Tolpuddle Village Hall on Saturday; followed by a rather bracing Sunday morning on Swanage sea front. Although both events had their energies originating from the ‘anti’ side of the spectrum, both had their supporters, with Swanage in particular seeing a well organised ‘pro’ counter demonstration, challenging the challengers by their own event title.
The Tolpuddle event, organised in part by Tolpuddle Against INdustrial Turbines (TAINT) was not as hostile as one might have assumed, thanks in part to Oliver Letwins ability to hold the views of the agitated protesters in his well organised tones. Perhaps it was also due to the rather early start (9.30am) although the hall was completely packed. He did come down on the side of opposition to the application, on the principle of scale, which some might think to be a rather clever ploy as he did highlight his general support for Wind Power as part of a future energy mix, including Nuclear of which he is a supporter. My interpretation was that he left room for the proposals to be scaled down to be more acceptable to the Dorset Landscape, a view which I am a little sympathetic view since seeing a presentation by land rights campaigner Alistair McIntosh (no relation) who asked some difficult questions of the environment movement as to the impact of very large turbines on the Scottish landscape.
The meeting benefited, although the majority of attendees might disagree, with the presence of Ampair chief executive David Sharman. Ampair, based in Milborne St Andrew of all places, is the UKs oldest Wind Turbine manufacturer. David also has a local connection and no ‘declaration of interest’ apart from a rather tenuous one suggested by a member of the audience that he would benefit from the overall market benefit to his product. An interesting exchange was had between Mr Sharman and Letwin, in particular Letwin being asked to declare his overall support for Wind as part of the mix, as detailed in the recent 2020 Conservative report which is suggesting future policy approaches to a Conservative Government post 2015. Also more importantly he pulled out Letwins personal view that their should be a form of national guidance as to what are the most suitable, or rather what are the most unsuitable, sites for Wind Turbines in the UK. He stated at the moment this was his personal view, but in a few months time this might become a Cabinet view. This raises a potentially interesting dichotomy which Mr Sharman pressed him about, a central planning type approach would go against the the broad thrust of a market driven planning system and the policy of localism, mainstays of current Coalition policy. Letwin seemed convinced that the current planning system rules, at any rate, would be able to reject the application on valid grounds. I suspect he has had discussions with the local authority, as he delivered this statement with some weight.
Letwin also reiterated his faith that the increasing flexibility of the Grid to respond to intermittent sources of energy such as Wind (typically called the Smart Grid) including using electric cars as ‘storage batteries’ would mitigate concerns over efficiencies of renewables. Although some might disagree with his politics Letwin does read around enough to formulate his own views and reasoned arguments. I asked a question concerning community ownership and perhaps the community could take up the responsibility for generating as much energy as they can locally, which Letwin deftly took up using the example of community owned shops. Their was no mutterings that I could hear against this type of proposal, but neither was their rampant enthusiasm. I was left thinking that if only this kind of enthusiasm, energy and action could be harnessed to work on solutions, rather than simply a blanket ‘No’, then we might have a better future.
The demonstration in Swanage was a more heartening affair for me, with the reassuring prescence of well prepared counter-protesters from the local Greenpeace and Transition Town groups and other enthusiastic activists. I think it as fair to say that the originators of the ‘anti’ protest were somewhat bemused to have such a vocal repost, myself and a friend had several interesting and reasoned conversations with our opposite numbers and there was some press coverage although with the authority of being the originators of the event, the ‘anti’ group tended to get the top paragraph quotes and headline, although the Guardian of course was a bit more sympathetic.
The overall musing from both events was again somewhat astonishment at the sheer voracity of some of the opposition, and how it links to, imperceptibly at times, frustrations over power and ownership of land (Crown Estate and private landowners), subsidisation arguments (despite greater subsidies elsewhere in the energy market) and despite the obvious effects of the industrialised agricultural system over the last 100 years, aesthetic concerns over the landscape. You cannot help thinking that their is a psychological component buried deep underneath all this. Which indeed puzzles me still further, as those who have gained the most in the relatively cheap fossil fuel energy, post war economy, tend to be of the generation who make up the bulk of the ‘anti’ protesters…. surely a few dots on the horizon is a small price to pay so that those since born have the same?
Links for further reading:
BBC News article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-20992001