A normal conversation whilst visiting my parents house in Wales goes thus:
Me: “Where are you off to Dad?”
Dad: “Just up to see Nora, I’ll be back for lunch.”
Me: “Is she alright? This is the third time you’ve been this week!”
Dad (looking slightly perturbed): “I’m not sure, she’s not been moving much lately – I just want to go and check on her.”
Enter Mum, rolling her eyes: “Are you still going on about Nora????”
Now you may be wondering whether Nora may be an ailing neighbour, or even a mystery female. However, Nora, the woman so close to my dad’s heart, is in fact a wind turbine, formally known as the Nordtank 500, which stands proud and tall on the hill opposite my family home in the heart of Wales.
Nora is one of two turbines owned by Bro Ddyfi Community Renewables, one of the first locally owned energy cooperatives in the UK. The co-op is owned by mainly local shareholders – just normal local people – who want to put their money where their mouths are and create renewable energy for the local community, as well as getting a small return from selling the electricity to the grid. The project was also funded by Ecodyfi, a local NGO dedicated to sustainable development, the project from which is used to tackle energy poverty through providing grants to households for energy efficiency measures.
For many, wind turbines are an emblem of the environmental movement, symbolising the essence of sustainability: harvesting clean, renewable and often cheap energy from the natural environment. Many people, me and my dad included, see wind turbines as things of beauty, majestically gracing the hills and mountains of some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. And all over the country normal people are walking the talk, getting involved with community owned wind projects from Scotland to Oxfordshire in a bid to do their bit in the fight against climate change and other global environmental destruction associated with the oil industry.
However, not everyone shares these views and aspirations. As anyone who lives near a planned wind farm site knows, there is often substantial and vocal opposition to wind power. Driving through small villages in mid-Wales you can see fields littered with increasingly humorous placards proclaiming ‘No to wind’.
Paradoxically, opponents of wind also see themselves as stewards of the environment, although with a slightly different mandate to wind supporters. One MP from mid-Wales called proposals to create a new wind farm ‘environmental vandalism’, citing the usual (and often unsubstantiated) criticisms concerning noise pollution, bird deaths and damage to tourist-luring vistas.
So how is it that members of the same community, who are fighting for the same cause of environmental protection, end up in such embittered conflict over wind? It seems to me to depend on depth of environmental worldview.
People who see the environment as a global and long lasting entity tend to see wind turbines as a necessary tool in fighting climate change, and perhaps are willing to overlook small scale distruption to the local environment. Others, who see the environment as limited to what they see in their gardens, are passionately fighting to limit what they see as destruction of the natural landscape and biodiversity in their locality – resulting in what is commonly known as NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) syndrome.
It would be naive to say that people accused of NIMBYism do not understand the environmental issues at stake. However, it it boils down to how this information is processed, depending on how you look at the world. Some people will put their hard-earned savings into building a wind turbine of their very own, whilst a neighbour may spend long hours planning campaigns to shut it down.
Obviously one of these viewpoints is going to have to change or be overruled, which is why the issue of wind in many communities is such a touchy subject. Perhaps as climate change comes more to the forefront of people’s minds, and the cost of fossil fuels increase as peak oil looms, then attitudes will change. Perhaps the people who support wind should become as vocal as the often minority anti-wind protesters, to show local support to counteract the resentment.
Maybe it’s up to people like my dad and his friends to change people’s attitudes and show that wind turbines are the lesser of the evils in the quest for a secure energy supply. All I know, as I follow my dad’s gaze to watch a Nora happily spinning round on her hilltop throne (and I’m sure even the most NIMBYistic of my community would agree), is that I’m glad she’s not a hulking great power station.