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A missed opportunity

The paradox of the adjacent headlines on our opening news pages is painfully apparent. On the one hand a European energy minister assures concerned citizens that he will not allow the countryside to be overrun by wind farms. On the other hand a conference of equally concerned citizens calls on Europe's politicians to develop an action plan for intensifying the use of renewable energy. Essentially these two groups want the same thing -- sensible use of financial resources to secure the best future possible. What is separating them is a yawning gap of knowledge which the experts are failing to breach.

Opponents of wind power are not raving idiots. When even the highly regarded Financial Times misses the point in its leader of March 9, then something is drastically wrong with the flow of information from those in the know to those who are not. The letter below is a case in point. Essentially the opponents of wind power see the technology as a waste of financial resources, a threat to wildlife, and a despoiler of the countryside. What they forget is that conventional technologies have been proved to be all of these -- and to a far greater and more sinister extent. The power industry is now moving towards a broader mix of energy resources in recognition of the mistakes of the past and the need for energy supplies to be environmentally sustainable. Use of renewables within this mix will reduce the use of far more threatening technologies. It is not a question of either/or, but of balanced integration.

This argument does not sound convincing, not unless the receiver is reasonably knowledgeable about the increasingly complex business of energy supply and demand. Detailed explanation is needed. The conference in southern Europe last month, which set a target for renewables backed by an action plan, would have made an excellent platform for getting some of this explanation across. However, the event was largely wasted as a public relations opportunity with most of those outside the renewables community unaware that it was being held. Not even a press release was available after the conference -- the excuse from Brussels being that things had been organised in too much of a hurry.

In the run up to the admirable Madrid conference, the Energy Commissioner for Europe, Abel Matutes, did announce that the event could serve as the basis for development of a European Renewable Energy Charter. This might mean a lot to people in the know. For people already worried about being overrun by wind farms, the information that a bunch of Eurocrats would soon be forcing renewables down their throats will only have exacerbated their fears. As news of the Madrid Declaration slowly leaks out, wind's proponents will once again find themselves fighting a defensive rearguard action. For a technology with so much to offer -- and so little to be defensive about -- this is ridiculous

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