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The Battle of Whinash and the hidden costs of "green" power

Friday 22 April 2005

Countryside commentator John Sheard, a long-time opponent of windfarms, reveals some of the hidden costs that will send our electricity bills soaring - and could ruin thousands of squarer miles of our best countryside

THE LAST time the Cumbrian town of Penrith was involved in a battle of national importance was in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched down the A6 on his way, he hoped, to invade London and seize the English crown.

This week, the first shots were fired in a somewhat less spectacular battle but one which, if the result goes the wrong way, could produce an even bigger disaster for the now United Kingdom. Everyone will suffer but we Northerners, blessed as we are with much of the best upland landscapes in the country, will suffer the most.

This is a battle being fought out by businessmen and bureaucrats who want to build a huge windfarm on a five-mile-long stretch of land which divides the Yorkshire Dales National Park from the Lake District National Park, undeniably two of the jewels in England's countryside crown (see News, Tuesday).

Do we need 8,000 more of this?

It would involve 27 400-foot-high wind turbines which would dominate the surrounding countryside for 40 miles or more. The plan has split the traditional conservationist lobby, with Lake District residents like TV presenter Lord Bragg and climber Sir Chris Bonington on one side and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth on the other.

The former say that, if the enquiry gives the OK, all of rural England is threatened by "industrialisation." The latter say we must have such farms to reduce greenhouse gasses caused by burn fossil fuels. Both, in a way, have a strong point.

But what we are not being told is that if Whinash goes ahead, to be followed by thousands more, our already high electricity bills will soar higher than one of those monster turbines. And it will not be the cost of the technology that will be to blame.

The core problem is that this electricity is incredibly expensive to produce, despite that fact that the energy source is free. So to attract big business into the industry, this Government is - as ever - offering huge subsidies which will triple our electricity bills.

And of that increase, two thirds will go into the pockets of the producers, which is why they are queuing up to deface thousands of square miles of our best scenery - there are, it is said, plans for between 6,000 and 8,000 more turbines in the pipeline and the rush has barely begun.

There is also another massive hidden cost which is rarely discussed, a simple matter of basic physics. This means that it is extremely expensive to "transport" electricity for a largish slice of it is used up simply by pushing it through miles of wires on equally hideous overhead pylons.

So the obvious solution would be to build such windfarms close to the big towns and cities where the power is consumed. But this would be politically unacceptable: the townies would not put up with it. So this first mega proposal is sited scores of miles from any of the major centres of population in the North West and Yorkshire.

This means that Whinash power, if it ever produced, will bring with it hundreds of miles lf overheard power lines further disfiguring this precious landscape. Anyone with any sense, looking at this situation, would ask: Why? And the answer to that, I am afraid, is almost as ugly.

For Whinash is being interpreted in some circles as the dying political wish of the countryside's worst enemy, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, old Two Jags himself, who has been the subject of this column many times for his failed policies which have caused major damage to rural life.

Prescott, of course, signed the Kyoto Agreement on global warming and boasted that the UK was leading the world to a greener future. The fact that most of the important players, like the USA and China, decided not to follow is by the way.

So although the international policy lies in ruins, we must have it rammed down our throat to rescue Prescott's threadbare reputation. That's a lot for us to swallow on behalf of a man who, the pundits predict, will be out of a Government job in three weeks time even if Labour win the general election.

To go back to the beginning, Bonnie Prince Charlie got to Derby, 126 miles from London, before turning back - but it was a close run thing. Let's hope that Whinash will equally be consigned to history along with its greatest champion - apart from anything else, one could hardly dub Prescott "Bonnie."

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