Thursday, 22 July 2010
The Windmills of Your Mind
My neighbour-over-the-road in France seemed a little surprised when I expressed the hope that a plan to install several wind turbines in a nearby field would come to nothing. He, along with many other Frenchmen, appear to be of the opinion that these machines are the best thing since sliced bread (not that I think sliced bread a particularly good thing). My concern is not entirely that of a NIMBY, although if the plan does go ahead the wretched things would spoil what little view we do have. I have yet to be convinced that wind turbines are sufficiently efficient at the production of electricity to justify (a) the ecological cost of manufacture and installation and (b) the spoiling of the countryside. Wind farms are springing up all over France - the one pictured is somewhere south of Calais - but there are many occasions when the turbines are not working. Whether that is because there is too little wind or too much wind or whether they have just plain broken down I have no idea, but they do seem to stop turning an awful lot. And I have read reports that the amount of electricity they generate is minimal.
So much for the efficiency of the machines: but what about the cluttering of the countryside? These things always have to be sited in a prominent position and, as a result, are usually visible for miles around. There have been proposals to site large wind farms in several sensitive environments in this country - Romney Marsh and the Scottish Highlands are but two examples - and off-shore farms have also been proposed. On the other hand, do wind turbines really spoil the countryside? We can't live in a vacuum and while it is undoubtedly a 'good thing' to preserve some of our best scenery, we do have to bear in mind that very little (in this country if not elsewhere) is entirely natural. Most English countryside has really been man-made. Over the centuries woods have been cleared, hedges planted and chocolate-box thatched cottages built: man changing the countryside. Nowadays we delight in seeing windmills - especially in Holland - but what are they if not the forerunners of today's wind turbines? How do we know what people will think of these turbines in, say, 100 years' time? Could it be that they will be looked upon as quaint and delightful antiques? I somehow doubt that, but I suppose the chances are that very few of them will still be around in 100 years' time anyway.
I do have to wonder if there is not a better way to produce the electricity that is so essential to our modern lives. Hydro-electric generation seems to work, so could this not be adapted to harness the power of waves or tides? I would have thought that would be more efficient than the reliance on variable winds and would probably be less intrusive to the eye.
But what do I know about these things?