Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Apparently, more or less everybody accepts the need for renewables. But in many cases, they do so on their own terms.

Or, as they put it, renewable energy projects (read: "windfarms") must be in "appropriate" places. Which, in the case of every nimby group everywhere, is essentially "not here".

Now, the word "appropriate" can be rather slippery, especially where the windfarm debate is concerned. Answering the assorted Colonel Blimps of the backbenches last Thursday, the Minister of State for Renewable Energy, Charles Hendry, commented:

Energy plants need to be sited in appropriate locations, and common sense tells us that that is the right way forward.

Yep - who could argue with that? Except that no one seems prepared to explain what these "appropriate locations" are, or where they are, or why they are so "appropriate".

From the perspective of energy generation, an appropriate site for a windfarm is one where there is a fair amount of wind. And where the grid - national or local - can be easily accessed. And where it is possible to install and maintain turbines. And where there aren't any migrating birds, scheduled ancient monuments, seismic anomalies, broadcast transmitters, RAF flight paths, flood risks or tall buildings.

So windfarm developers have certain places which are worth considering as windfarm sites. One of these, as Worcestershire County Council acknowledged in 2008, is Church Lench.

Oh, but no - Church Lench is apparently "inappropriate". Why? Because the nimbies say so.

What makes Church Lench inappropriate is hard to define, other than the fact that a handful of self-important residents don't want to see a windfarm nearby and have been prepared to put the fear of God into their neighbours in order to manufacture a completely doolally anti-windfarm consensus. Which means that a site which is absolutely appropriate, according to all objective definitions, is inappropriate, according to a few narrow-minded home-owners.

And this is where the coalition government is going to find itself in a whole heap of trouble. Because they want windfarms to be sited where the community is happy with the idea. And as we've seen, it only takes a small cluster of liars and bullies to turn a community against such a development, regardless of the demonstrable benefits it would bring.

The fantastically illogical Localism Bill currently being driven through parliament exemplifies the government's woolly thinking. Basically, it provides for a "neighbourhood forum" to decide whether or not their locale is appropriate for a windfarm.

A "neighbourhood forum" could consist of just three people. None of whom actually need to live in the area (it helps if they feel that they might want to live there at some point).

This is insane, by anybody's standards. It means that while the wind power industry is extremely capable of identifying the optimum sites for windfarms, based on the criteria given above, a tiny community of local or not-so-local fanatics can veto all this on the grounds that, in their opinion, their own neighbourhood is inappropriate.

That makes a nonsense of the UK's renewables targets. Rather than relying on science and expertise to determine where the best sites for wind energy projects might be, we allow tinpot village dictators to rule their own petty fiefdoms out of the equation. We let mindless hoodlums like VVASP decide where "appropriate" might be.

Or, rather, where "appropriate" isn't. Because nimby nutters like the VVASP brigade never suggest alternative locations (apart from out at sea, or just a very long way away). It turns out, then, that sites which are evidently appropriate by all sensible standards magically become inappropriate because a fanatical nimby says that's what it is. No reasonable alternatives are put forward. The only argument is "anywhere but here".

So much for the national interest.

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