There's a great deal of huffing and puffing around these parts just now, on the issue of wind turbines. I can’t pretend to be an expert in this issue by any stretch of the imagination – and anyway, the ‘expert opinion’ of every expert seems to be directly contradicted by the ‘expert opinion’ of several others. So I’m not convinced one way or the other about the technical merits, or arguments about efficiency and all that stuff. But I am able to look at pictures – like the one showing the view from my good friends’ gorgeous home, as it will be if several proposals are approved – and decide for myself whether developments like these can be deemed a step forward.
The issue has come sharply into focus for us in Northumberland, because as well as having more castles than any other English County (that’s true!) we also seem to have more Windfarm applications too (that’s just my impression).
As with all the biggest decisions, there is a balance to the argument. You may remember that we’re hoping to get a cracking good result for our ‘green business’ assessment any day now (it’s been many weeks since the assessment; the tension is mounting) so you might expect us to be much in favour of renewable energy schemes. And indeed we are in principle, of course. But here’s the thing – most of our visitors are attracted to Northumberland because of its wild, vast unspoilt landscapes. The peace and tranquillity, the big skies, the open country – these things do something in your heart and soul when you become still for a while, and make time simply to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. There are relatively few places in England where this is really possible, and Northumberland is top of the list.
So then – shall we fill up the hills and plains in north Northumberland with hundreds of wind turbines standing 125m tall, and turn it into an enormous industrial landscape? What do we think that might do for a tourist industry (that’s us) which promotes that wild, unspoilt landscape, and all it does for the human condition?
I can’t help wondering if these things are being proposed here because this is the best possible spot in which to harness the power of the wind – or because there is likely to be less opposition from a relatively small population. It does seem rather counter-intuitive to me, to propose these things 'in the middle of nowhere'. Why don't we site them in urban landscapes, on hillsides close to where millions of people already live? No-one goes there to get away from it all, so we wouldn't be spoiling anything. Is this just a daft idea?
This issue seems to be able to divide reasonable people like no other. Of course, there are a lot of people who see wind power as the best alternative in the conundrum of how we should power our future. And plenty of others who will seem somehow impatient, slightly cross even, if they suspect a nimby approach on our part. And lots of others who just love to see those graceful sweeping blades catching ‘something for nothing’.
So, the public inquiry rumbles on, in the Arts Centre not far from here. They’re hearing the appeal of the power companies who have had three applications turned down by local planning authorities. I guess if they succeed, then north Northumberland will be regarded as a ‘wind turbine landscape’ and so the rest of it will get filled up with other applications, which can hardly fail. I can’t help feeling that’s not ‘something for nothing’, but rather a very high price to pay.