Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Quite a few emails have come in about the BBC's Countryfile programme on Sunday, which had a bit of a look at windfarms.

For those who don't know, Countryfile was, for many years, a Sunday morning programme dedicated to rural issues. A lot of what it looked at in years gone by involved farming. More recently, however, Countryfile decided that it wasn't all that interested in what people who live in rural areas actually do. The programme moved to a Sunday evening slot and turned into a sort of Blue Peter for adults. It is no longer (really) about rural issues and now tends to reflect what people who live in cities like to think that the countryside is: a vast playground with bits of heritage stuck in it.

Anyway, the first thing to say about Countryfile's piece about windfarms this week is that, by and large, it did the right thing. It stated, very very clearly, that Britain will be getting more onshore wind turbines. That is a certainty. Get used to it.

The UK government is committed to a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, measured against 1990 standards, by 2020, and the Climate Change Minister has even hinted that we should be pushing for a legally-binding pan-European target of 30% reductions. Excellent. Windfarms have already proven that they can make a major contribution both to clean energy generation and reducing carbon emissions. There are roundabout 13 gigawatts of wind energy capacity either consented or going through the planning system. Assuming all of those gigawatts are installed, that should raise the contribution from wind to between 15 and 20% of our total electricity usage. Combined with greater energy efficiency measures and other low-carbon technologies, that should mean that we hit our targets for 2020.

So Countryfile was right to make the point that more turbines are coming. Successful windfarms that are already operating might well be extended. Other parts of the country, which have so far managed to see off the pretend "menace" of wind power, will get turbines. They are part of our national future. And so they should be. We have allowed crazed nimbies and Tea Party-esque right-wing ideologues to hold Britain back in this amazing new market.

In Denmark, the wind industry provides 60 billion in Danish kroner exports per year, a figure which is set to rise dramatically over the next few years as Denmark aims to get 50% of its electricity from wind power by 2020. Across Europe as a whole, the wind power industry is expected to triple its contribution to the EU's gross domestic product over the next decade. It's already proving to be a "recession-proof" industry, having increased its contribution to EU GDP by 33% between 2007 and 2010 and creating 30% more jobs during that period (at a time when almost every other industry was shrinking). Current forecasts suggest that the European wind industry will contribute 94.5 billion euros to EU GDP by 2020, up from 32 billion euros in 2010.

So much good news ... and with a detailed report recently proving that windfarms are not the bird-mincing machines the nimbies want you to think they are, the news just keeps getting better. There is now evidence aplenty that windfarms do not cause health problems, drive down the value of your property or adversely affect business and tourism. The nimbies are running out of lies to tell.

It was good that Countryfile gave out the message that more windfarms are on their way. People need to get used to the idea - and they really should stop reading idiot papers like the Sunday Times, which just showed what a travesty it has become by running a wildly inaccurate headline over the weekend. Misquoting the Climate Change Secretary, the Sunday Crimes shrieked that there would be "no more windfarms", leading the government to describe the Murdoch rag's braindead headline as "spurious".

However, even while Countryfile was explaining that there will soon be more windfarms in Britain, and indulging in a little Blue Peter golly gosh stuff by going right up into a turbine hub, in the pursuit of journalistic "balance" it tried to give the impression that wind turbines are a little bit unpopular.

There was, for example, a strange section in which the journalist tried to measure how "angry" he felt when confronted with a close-up photo of a wind turbine. Show him a picture of a landscape with nothing at all in it and he went "Ah!" Show him a picture of a wind turbine taken from a rather odd angle and he went "Agh!" No real surprises there, because Countryfile these days is skewed towards the sort of person who thinks that the countryside should have nothing in it - except maybe a few mountain bikes - and that farming only clutters up the landscape. Not so much a working landscape (as it's always been), then, as an away-day waiting to happen.

The journalist also spoke to someone who had tried to stop a windfarm happening. This person had a very nice house - most nimbies do - and burst into tears at the least provocation. The fact is that she and her nimby friends had failed to stop the windfarm, and that is what upset her. Unfortunately, the journalist tried to lead her into saying that it was the turbines themselves which "churned her up inside", when in reality it was her failure to preserve the view from her garden like a sepia-tinted photo that churned her so. The journalist was getting dangerously close to a favourite nimby manoeuvre: look at those wind turbines! - don't you feel really churned up inside when you see them? - in fact, wouldn't you go so far as to say that they make you feel ill?? - suffering from headaches, sleeplessness, nausea, migraines (delete as appropriate) yet? - don't worry, we'll keep on at you till you are.

Yes, the middle-class homeowner was upset that she had failed to prevent a healthy, beneficial, much-needed and harmless development from going ahead. But the turbines weren't making her ill. It was very irresponsible of the BBC to try and give the impression that they were (and, fair do's to the woman, she avoided falling into their trap of making out that the turbines were affecting her health in any way).

Here's the problem with mixed messages: the government, and the Countryfile reporter, have made it perfectly clear - more windfarms are coming. But then, they go and cock it up by allowing some right-wing fruitloops to claim that there are to be "no more windfarms", or once we've built the ones already planned we'll stop, or that any attempts to move the UK towards a low-carbon, clean-tech economy will be "bad for business", or that windfarms make people angry (many who are familiar with wind turbines find them peaceful, inspiring and reassuring devices). All the insane claims vomitted out by right-wing pundits are music to the ears of the nasty nimbies who don't give a fig about the economy or the environment or Britain's future or the rest of the world.

The message must be clear. There are going to be more windfarms in the UK. And that's that. If you think that's a Bad Thing, then you're a nimby idiot or a climate sceptic or both and you really do need to put down those comics you're reading and start looking at the facts.

There is nothing to fear from the renewable future. And anyway, it's coming, like it or not. So it'd be much better if you stopped telling silly stories about it and trying to get other people to feel "ill" about it and just learned to live with it.

Better still, why not like it? That would be the sensible thing to do.

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