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The truths they don't want you to read....

Friday, December 15, 2006

The answer, my Hebridean friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer, my Hebridean friend, is blowing in the wind
Magnus Linklater
We cannot tilt against the best renewable source
The objection was heartfelt authentic, obdurate, plangent in its complaint. It came from a Hebridean islander, speaking up for his land and his heritage. His is a remote community, confronting industrial development on a massive scale, fighting for its right to peace, tranquillity and the undisturbed beauty of an ancient landscape. Finlay MacLeod was adamant that a plan to erect 180 giant turbines on the island of Lewis, making it the largest wind farm in Europe, should be stopped in the name of civilisation itself. “If this goes ahead,” he said, “in ten years, people will be saying: how did we allow this horror to happen?”

He chose a bad day to protest. Even as he spoke, environmentalists were digesting the latest doomsday prediction on global warming. The Arctic, they said, is melting so fast that within the next 30 years the North Pole will have lost its icecap; during the summer months, ships will be able to sail across the top of the world; worse, deprived of its reflecting surface, the oceans will start absorbing more sunlight, accelerating the warming process at a rate that threatens ecological disaster on a scale almost impossible to contemplate.

Faced with climate change of this speed, where do we stand on wind farms? Is it any longer tenable to wring our hands about intrusive pylons when the very survival of the countryside we care so much about is at stake? More to the point, does the man from Lewis, whose moorland view is about to be disturbed, have the right to stand in the way of an energy producer, which is one of the only currently available sources that is free of carbon emissions?

The farthest-flung wilderness areas of the country now stand in the front line of our defences against this environmental Armageddon. It is, however, no longer enough to argue the case against wind farms on aesthetic grounds. There is no point in worrying about the revolving propeller that breaks the skyline on some distant mountain, when, down in the valley, the water is closing over our heads. In the long run, as John Maynard Keynes once said, we are all dead. Except that this long run has now become quite terrifyingly short.

The well-intentioned case against wind farms has been made often enough, and frequently on these pages. It has even been eloquently put by the environmentalist James Lovelock. As a resident of West Devon, he is strangely reluctant to see his beloved hedgerows and meadows sacrificed to the political demands that every source of renewable energy must be exploited.

“Perhaps we are Nimbys,” he writes, “but we see these urban politicians as like some unthinking physicians who have forgotten their Hippocratic Oath, and are trying to keep alive a dying civilisation by useless and inappropriate chemotherapy when there is no hope of a cure, and the treatment renders the last stage of life unbearable.”

I am with the unthinking physicians on this one. It is their responsibility to find every possible means to keep us alive, rather than to make the sunset years of Professor Lovelock that little bit more agreeable. We know that wind farms are inefficient, we understand that they carve up the land, that they require pylons marching across the countryside to transport their output to the urban centres that need it, that they will never, on their own, produce enough to meet the national demand. Only last week a study by the Renewable Energy Foundation confirmed this pessimistic view, reporting that only in southern Scotland, offshore and in the islands of the north did wind-farm production exceed the Government’s target of 30 per cent capacity. In Lovelock country Cornwall and Devon the levels achieved were only about 24 per cent.

Pessimistic the predictions may be, but right now wind energy is the only renewable show in town. Personally, I prefer a 24 per cent achievement to the alternative, which is zero. Those who argue against wind farms talk knowingly about the use instead of nuclear energy, bio-mass, wind and tidal power or burying carbon emissions from coal deep in the ocean bed. They are all needed, and they all require massive investment if our planet is to be saved. But no one envisages them being available in less than 20 years. Wind energy will be a vital component in the alternative energy mix, whatever the future holds, and to oppose it on conservation grounds is frivolous.

Conserving what exactly? Natural beauty? Our rural heritage? Wildlife? Organisations such as Scottish National Heritage, and its English and Welsh equivalents, have stopped many viable wind farms on the grounds that the odd sea eagle or hen harrier may one day collide with a revolving turbine. But when the temperatures rise, the seas roll inland, the trees wither and the moorland retreats, we will not be talking about the survival of the odd sea eagle we will be lamenting the disappearance of entire species. That is the moral case our so-called conservation bodies should be facing, and that is the one they are so cravenly avoiding.

Most experts assume that the lifespan of the average wind turbine is about 30 years. At that point it can be removed. What is not removable is the steady warming of our planet, with all the dangers that poses to this and future generations. To the man from Lewis, I say this: I would rather face the so-called “horror” of an unsightly turbine in ten years time than try to explain, 30 years from now, why we stood back, did nothing and watched the earth disintegrate.


Anonymous said...

You must be getting desperate Angus, resorting to reproducing Magnus Linklater articles. What a load of mince!

For fairness, you should reproduce the 50 or so comments after the article, which give Mr. Linklater the answer he deserves. People are seeing through the whole scam of commercial windfactories now and are aware that these turbines will do nothing whatsoever about 'global warming', even in their thousands.

Instead of reproducing tripe like this article, I would suggest the council actually listens to the people here in Lewis - we've been saying NO for long enough!!

Angus said...

The comments can be seen by anyone who follows the link. As the majority of comments were ill-informed/NIMBYs, few merited serious analysis.

With 50% approval of the proposals, which majority are you talking about?

Do you support the proposed wave generator off Shader, or are you another opponent of every development?

Anonymous said...

"As the majority of comments were ill-informed/NIMBYs, few merited serious analysis."

Aye, there's that arrogance again, Angus. I can already see which way things are going to go when the council 'reconsiders' the latest edition of the LWP application next month(?). Will the public be invited to attend these meetings, or will it just be slipped through quietly?

50% approval?!? Are you referring to that extremely dubious MORI poll, which only used a sample of c. 600 people instead of the standard absolute minimum poll of 1,000? (The questions were a bit dodgy too). I notice you didn't mention the other numerous polls carried out in Lewis, every single one of which showed a clear majority against the Amec windfactory. Are you suggesting they're all wildly wrong/biased/dishonest?

Come off it, Angus. Despite your (regular) crowing that others are ill-informed, you're little better informed yourself. You're being fed unverifiable 'statistics' and lying graphics the same as the rest of us, by companies whose raison d'être is to make a large a profit as possible, whatever the cost to the people and the landscapes they're exploiting. LWP & BMP can't lose from these schemes, but we could lose a hell of a lot.

I don't know much about the Shader wave generator yet, but it seems a good idea on the face of it. However, if the wholesale industrialisation of Lewis onshore is a pre-condition of building anything offshore it doesn't seem quite so attractive...

What's your opinion of LWP resubmitting their application over the Christmas period, same as in 2004, Angus? Do you think this is ethical behaviour?

Anonymous said...

i started off against the wind farms - but then i thought of the alternative - nuclear power - i would prefer not to see wind mills in my back garden - but i would not want to live within 50 miles of a nuclear power station. i am suprised the government has not thought of Lewis as an ideal dump for the waste already... or maybe the windmills are keeping them off.(!)

machaseo said...

'Anonymous' ("I started off against...") - that's a strange way of thinking - that if/when these Lewis windfarm proposals are rejected, then there must be the 'alternative' of a nuclear power station waiting for us. That's complete nonsense.

The windfactory proposals should be judged on whether they are right for the island, whether the people living here want them, and whether the positives of the schemes outweigh the negatives. The people of Lewis & Harris have shown resoundingly and repeatedly that their answer to all three points is NO. Nuclear power as an 'alternative' does not come into the equation here and should not be allowed to obfuscate the issue.

Angus said...

"The people of Lewis & Harris" have shown resoundingly that they are split on the issue and that no one view has a majority. That is the tragedy of the situation.

The only people to show leadership (whether you agree with it or not) are the Comhairle. If the Executive had been prepared to take decisions (pro or anti) at an early stage, we could have avoided this prolonged pain.

I do agree that it is not wind or nuclear in Lewis; but it is renewables or nuclear in Scotland and the UK. And we don't want bad and anti-social neighbours do we?

machaseo said...

"The people of Lewis & Harris" have shown resoundingly that they are split on the issue and that no one view has a majority. That is the tragedy of the situation"

'No one view has a majority'? You cannot be serious!

No, Angus, the tragedy of the situation is that councillors, the last MP, the present MSP (for a few months anyway) and 'Sergeant Wilson' started trying to push these windfactory schemes through with next to no proper consultation with the general public (especially in the early stages). The consequences of these actions are certainly apparent now, aren't they? There is little point trying to shift the blame onto the Executive.

You could certainly say that the council has shown a sort of 'leadership', but there is good leadership and bad leadership.

AIF said...

One of the many anonymous posters said, 50% approval?!? Are you referring to that extremely dubious MORI poll, which only used a sample of c. 600 people instead of the standard absolute minimum poll of 1,000?

First, where I stand. I am generally in favour of wind power, but probably more against the Amec development than for it due to its size.

However anon, comments like this will not help your cause as they do not stand up to scrutiny. When determining the sample size for a study, one does not simply say '1,000 individuals or bust'; the optimal sample size will vary with the parameters of each study. As long as the sample is representative of the population the poll wishes to draw conclusions on then the results should be reliable. A generally accepted absolute minimum is for analysis is 30 subjects; below this threshold most forms of statistical analyses will be unreliable due to the small sample size.

All polls are subject to sampling error, and a larger sample size will decrease the size of this error. However, the difference between a sample size of 600 and 1,000 is fairly insignificant. The sampling error is determined using '1 divided by the square root of N' where N is the sample size. Taking the example at hand, using N=600 generally means the pollster can say that they are 95% confident that 50% of people are in favour, plus or minus 4%. Using N=1,000 would allow the pollsters to say that they are 95% confident that 50% of people are in favour, plus or minus 3%. Improving the sampling error further comes at a cost; you’d have to sample 10,000 people before you could get the sampling error down to 1%! This would generally send the cost of conducting a poll such as this one through the roof for very little gain. Incidentally, how many people were surveyed in the ’numerous polls’ you mention? Seriously, I’d like to know. I’d also be interested to know what sampling strategies were selected to ensure bias was avoided, and how a suitable participant was defined in the parameters of these studies?

People on the anti side of the Lewis Wind debate tend to have a bad habit of making claims without providing any substantiating evidence - just waiting for letter number 1,000 in the Gazette before I can confirm this statistically speaking ;-) This is a shame as I feel that if they stuck to verifiable facts there would not be anything approaching 50% support. People are smart enough to go out and check the facts for themselves.

Thanks for your Blog Angus; it is refreshing to see any politician being open and deviating from the party line. Any chance you could encourage your fellow members to take up Blogging? Keep it up!