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Blowing in the wind: good news or bad news?
07 September, 2001

Hard-hit farmers are being invited to earn new income by setting up small wind farms. But there is danger lurking here, says John Sheard

ON THE face of it, proposals put forward this week to help foot and mouth farmers to set up small-scale wind farms on their land seem a promising step towards a new future in rural areas.

Wind Turbine

Farmers would benefit financially and the country would generate more non-polluting "green electricity." In other words, says the wind farming lobby, a small but fast growing industry, everyone would benefit.

But whilst I am all in favour of any means of creating power from non-fossil fuel sources, I see here a grave danger to the beauty of some of our most beautiful landscapes.

By their very nature, the great turbines which generate wind power need to be on high ground. And in an area like the Yorkshire Dales - which is awash with such terrain - there could be a temptation to litter the moors and fells with structures which, whatever way you cut it, are extremely intrusive.

Now we are not talking about dozens, even scores, of turbines on one site. National Wind Power, the Buckinghamshire-based company, is offering to help farmers set up farms of just one to three turbines - unlike their usual 60 or so on bigger, much for economical, operations.

Their offer has been given a warm welcome by some landowners. Dorothy Fairburn, Yorkshire regional director of the Country Land and Business Association, commented:

"This sort of initiative provides a genuine opportunity to assist the recovery of the rural economy and make a profitable contribution to the very necessary reduction of greenhouse gasses."

Not everyone agrees. Some ten years ago, I covered the row that erupted when large scale plans were announced for wind farms further south in the Pennines in the Keighley, Haworth, Hebden Bridge area.

There, residents close to existing wind farms complained not only of the visual impact but also of the noise - "like a great washing machine in the air," one said graphically.

Those schemes met even more doughty opposition from Sir Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher's one time press secretary, who was born and bred in Hebden Bridge and who was appalled to think of the town surrounded by giant turbines.

Never a man to mince his words, Sir Bernard told me: "Any minister who approves such schemes will go down in history as the perpetrator of the greatest environmental disaster of the 20th Century."

Sadly, that area of the Pennines was already scarred by many old industrial buildings and workings from the Industrial Revolution. One can only imagine the outcry if such developments were suggested in the Yorkshire Dales.

The planners, particularly in the national park, would be faced with a nightmare scenario: to offend farmers by refusing permission or to horrify the even more vocal conservation bodies. In other words, a no win situation, absolutely the opposite of National Wind Power's claims.

This one will run and run. But how about an idea floated sometime ago by a New York architect? He pointed out that most electricity is consumed in the cities so why not put wind farms on the top of tall buildings and, at the same time, remove the need for miles of pylons stretching across the countryside?

As far as I know, that idea was killed at birth: the chattering classes would under no circumstances allow their cities to be "desecrated" in such a way. As for we country folk … well we don't count, as has been proved time and time again by our urban masters.

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