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United Kingdom

Parliamentary platform

A packed meeting in the Houses of Parliament in London early last month gave British parliamentarians the opportunity to hear both sides of the wind energy issue. The meeting -- held December 8 in a committee room of the House of Commons in London -- was organised by the cross party Parliamentary and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG). Billed as a debate, it pitched the British Wind Energy Association's Nick Goodall against Ann West from anti-wind farm group Country Guardian. A more neutral view was offered by Margaret Nolder from Stroud District Council.

The sympathies in the chamber rested overwhelmingly with the wind camp. Most of those present were from the renewable energy industry, while Ann West had no more than a handful of supporters. Member of Parliament Frank Cook, Vice Chair of PRASEG, paid tribute to her courage in putting her case before a largely critical audience. Nonetheless, the debate turned out to be a far politer affair than experienced by some developers when they have talked at meetings of local protesters.

West's case rested chiefly on the visual impact of wind turbines. Most of the 200 members of Country Guardian are probably in favour of the government's 10% target of electricity from renewable energy, she said. Where they part company with the wind industry is that they do not think it can be achieved with wind. "This is a solution that damages the landscape. You are trampling on some of the finest hillsides in Britain," she accused.

Interdivisibility of wind farms, a low contribution to meeting electricity consumption, adverse effect on tourism and an effect on lowering house prices and making properties difficult to sell, are a few of the accusations she levelled at the industry.

Opposition Bananas

When his turn came, Nick Goodall launched straight into an attack on Country Guardian. In a robust performance, he tore into many of its oft repeated and "misguided" claims that are "all too often so wrong that newspapers have to print retractions after publishing their propaganda," he said. "A reasoned argument is welcomed, but we are not dealing with reason here." He criticised the group's "blanket" opposition to wind energy onshore, offshore or even in industrial areas. They claim not to be NIMBYies (Not In My Back Yard), he said. But borrowing a term first coined by Energy Minister John Battle, he suggested they may instead be BANANAs -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

He emphasised the support wind energy has from many sectors of the public, reminding members of parliament that this year's May election showed there are more votes in caring for the environment long term than in pursuing an historic idyll. West and her fellow Country Guardians were urged to consider the younger generation. "It is no surprise that those with the longest futures ahead of them are those who are the biggest supporters of renewables, including wind farms," he said.

The difficult position that local authorities find themselves in was graphically illustrated by Margaret Nolder of Stroud District Council. She drew on her own authority's experience of dealing with Western Windpower's planning application for a wind turbine at the village of Nympsfield. She described how councillors supporting the project "lost their bottle" under the pressure of local protest, and voted against. The case eventually had to be decided by an "outsider" after a planning inquiry. Nolder denounced the outrageous and misleading claims that were bandied about locally at the time -- and are still to be heard in the village today.

She appealed for understanding for the opinions of local people. "Change is painful. We must give them space. We must give them a chance to express their views," she said. Sensitive siting is a must so "that we take our local communities with us."

Country Guardian has a point of view that needs to be listened to, but it does not usually present its case in the polite language that Ann West had used that evening, Fanny Calder from PRASEG pointed out. More often the group relies on "vitriolic rhetoric" particularly at the local level. Frank Cook pleaded with the group to re-examine its position and stop furthering its case through misinformation. "We must put aside these crazy exaggerations and look at the facts; look at the arguments, and have a sensible reasoned debate."

The members of parliament and peers who turned up to hear the arguments were disappointingly few in number, not exceeding 12. And some of the members most virulent in their opposition were noticeably absent.

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