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Archive for the ‘spin’ Category

Linked to from the Scots Renewables blog.

I like it because it makes the point I always want to make. If I shout “Duck, he’s got a gun!” you don’t say, “I’m not going to bother because it might not hit me anyway.” You duck first and then check to see if I’m right.

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I’m talking about this Herald article.

SSE’s renewables arm have applied for an offshore wind turbine testing facility near Hunterston power station. Planning was applied for as usual and was granted.

According to the article, though, the villagers are worried that although planning is granted for five years it was simply a sneaky corporate scheme to get a wind farm approved through the back door. Which is simply paranoia: SSE renewables are an enormous developer of onshore and offshore wind energy, with SSE recently announcing that they have more wind generation capability than the Hydro power which gave them one of their operating names of Scottish Hydro Electric. If they’re going to build a wind farm that’s what they’ll apply for in planning. They’re far too big a company and far too reliant on their own good name to be able to risk that in underhanded tactics. Also, if they wanted an onshore wind farm, why on Earth would they claim they wanted an offshore testing facility on land? It seems a bit paranoid to suggest this duplicity. Certainly there can be no evidence for it as the facility hasn’t been built yet: I’m sure if the turbines are erected and then duly either removed or planning permission re-applied for in five years time, SSE will get a heartfelt apology from the villagers for their accusation.

Quoted in the article:

    But Mr Telford said: “The inhabitants of the village of Fairlie will have our homes and our home environment blighted, our population made ill by noise and coal dust, our local climate altered, our property devalued.

    “We are being made unwilling guinea pigs as a part of this extremely dangerous experiment.”

Coal dust? From a wind turbine? (OK, fair enough, three wind turbines.) “Our local climate altered”? I assume the gentleman doesn’t mean that it’ll be slightly less windy as some of the energy will be producing electricity so we can all watch Corrie. Property devaluation… well, yes. I’d maybe accept that as an issue if we weren’t talking about land a bare 3 miles from a large (and incidentally incredibly ugly) nuclear power station. If you’re interested, the photomontage showing what the turbines will look like from Fairlie is available online. It’ll look like:
Photomontage of the proposed facility as seen from Fairlie.

There do remain people who fervently believe, despite no scientific evidence, that wind turbine noise can make people ill. The interaction between health and belief and the environment and the mind is a complex one, and not one I’m going to go into here. But really, the rest of his argument is a bit of a storm in a teacup. Not only that but since planning has been granted, isn’t it all a bit late as well?

The most ludicrous part, to my mind, is the opening sentence, though: “Residents on the Firth of Clyde claim their human rights are under threat from the giant structures – thought to be the second-highest of their kind in the world.”

Their human rights? To a sea view?

That’s easily the most middle class argument I’ve ever heard. The article quotes the clause in question: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right…” However it is not clear to me where exactly the public authority is interfering. No homes are being knocked down, no forced evictions; the land in question is currently sort of industrial wasteland so there’s little could be done to make it worse. No, I can’t see a single part of this clause which is actually relevant to the proposed development. It reads like that middle and upper class assumption that owning property gives you inherent rights to all developments within eyesight of said land. And where have we heard that one before?

No wonder the court of human rights gets such a bad press.

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One thing about windy weather is that it keeps wind farms in the news. It continues to amaze me how obvious newspapers can be in picking the stories that reflect the particular views they either hold themselves or expect their readers to hold.

Some recent pro-wind power headlines:

  • UK national grid glides through windy challenge (Guardian)
    A commentary on the challenge facing the national grid during the storms and the fact that power outages were due to equipment failures rather than an inability to react to unexpected wind variability on the part of the grid.
  • Weather ‘doubles’ UK wind farm output (BBC)
    Report that turbine capacity factors doubled during the storm compared to the more usually-reported 30% figure.
  • SSE wind power passes milestone (BBC)
    A report that energy company SSE has now installed more than 1GW of onshore wind power and has more onshore wind capacity than hydroelectric capacity.
  • Wind energy output up 18% in 2011 (Ecotricity)
    Ecotricity reports that its like-for-like wind generation is up 18% compared to 2010 in 2011. (Misleading, in my opinion*).

I particularly liked the first one, which struck me as a very thoughtful piece on the way that, despite the undeniable challenges it presents, our mostly-aging electricity network is actually coping with the variability of wind without blackouts. I suspect that this is mostly due to a lot of legs paddling furiously behind the scenes, and it’s nice to see their hard work getting a mention.

Some recent anti-wind power headlines:

Now, I am a firm believer in free speech, within the usually accepted limits of appropriateness and accuracy. Wind farms do not provide a “magic bullet” that will solve all our energy problems, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluded or trying to sell you one. Further, these are large, industrial machines which have to be clustered together on our hillsides — some people will not like them.

That’s all fine. What worries me is the lack of balance. We’re a nation of busy people and most of us are either time-limited or money-limited. Few of us are going to get out each morning and buy all the newspapers to get a balanced view of the pros and cons of each issue. Instead, we tend to buy the papers, watch the TV channels or visit the websites which most strongly reflect our existing views. And we visit them not to be challenged or in search of accuracy, in the main, but in search of confirmation of our existing bias. So those people who see the pre-wind propaganda will dismiss the anti-wind propaganda, and vice versa. If they even notice it at all.

If I have a point, it’s that I’d much rather live in a world where people are presented with facts, read them with an open mind and come to their own conclusion. Even if it means they disagree with me, that’s fine. Instead, we’ve set up a world in which people become further and further immersed in their own prejudices. There’s not much we can do about this, as far as I can see, but we should have our eyes open to it, at least. Especially when it’s our own prejudices we’re affirming.

* The Ecotricity article is misleading because it compares a year which will likely turn out to have been windier than average (2011) with one of the lowest wind speed years in recent history (2010). It’s basically presenting two extreme points on a graph and pretending there’s a useful message there. Sure, it’s probably true, but that doesn’t make it meaningful. (Back)

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