Wind Turbines: Why We Should Learn to Love Them

Three quarters of Scots support wind energy. The other quarter should learn to love wind turbines –or at least accept them.

I don’t think they are a panacea – it’s true that they don’t generate electricity when the wind isn’t blowing – and I’m all in favour of a mix of energy technologies. But fossil fuels are a finite resource and contribute to global warming; and, especially once the externality costs of climate change are properly factored into the equation, it’s clear that our long term future energy needs will increasingly be provided for by renewables. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every planning application for a wind farm should be accepted without question. But some of the reasons put forward by objectors are frankly absurd.  

One of these is that wind farms pose a risk to the health of those who live near them. But there isn’t a scintilla of credible evidence that turbines harm people. It’s true that a few people are ill and believe that wind turbines are the cause. But that’s common with any technology, and what folk believe to be the case isn’t always so. You see that with electrosensitivity – the condition where people attribute all manner of ailments to the presence of electrical equipment. Their symptoms are real enough. However, numerous studies have shown that they still experience those symptoms in the presence of dummy electrical equipment or gadgets that have been switched off.

Next, we hear the utterly bizarre argument that wind turbines will discourage tourism. This line of argument was recently described by Stephen Leckie, Chair of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, as ‘hysterical’. As his agenda is promoting tourism, not renewables, he probably knows what he’s talking about on this. And does anyone seriously imagine a potential tourist thinking “I’d love to visit Stirling, and take in the castle, the Wallace Monument, and the Bannockburn Visitor Centre, but I couldn’t possibly do that because you can see a wind turbine from the Abbey Craig”?

It’s true that wind farms do have a visual impact. Personally, I don’t mind the look of them, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, much of we think of as our ‘unspoilt landscape’ isn’t ‘natural’ at all, but is the result of centuries of human intervention since the days we stopped being hunter-gatherers. Dry stone walls don’t occur naturally. The RSPB nature reserve at Loch Gruinart, on Islay, is beautiful, but it’s a managed landscape and looks like it does because part of it is on land reclaimed from the sea for farming, some 200 years ago. The Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Forth Rail Bridge are man-made structures that enhance the views of which they are a part. And if we don’t address climate change, and the Greenland ice-cap melts, some of our lovely coastal scenery won’t look quite so pretty when it’s completely submerged.

If you want to live in a museum of pre-industrial life, or eschew entirely the use of electricity, object away, and I’ll both respect and defend your right to do so. But if you want to keep the lights on, don’t be quite so hysterical about wind farms and get a sense of perspective. Or maybe you’d prefer to have a nuclear power station, opencast coal mine, or some hydraulic fracturing – ‘fracking’ – in your neighbourhood?

And just for the record, I don’t work in the renewables sector.

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