The road signposted away from global warming and towards clean
energy snakes 800ft from the Conway valley and narrows to a single
track as it reaches Moel Maelogan on the edge of the Denbigh moors
in north Wales. It is glorious, lonely sheep-farming countryside,
full of dips and rises, with views over to the Snowdonia peaks and
to the Irish sea. Last month the rain was driving almost horizontally
into the faces of Geraint Davies and his neighbouring hillfarmer
Robin Williams as they did the spring lambing.
These two young men, together with their business partner, Williamss
brother Rheinalt, have divided the local community, split the broad
British green movement and reaped indignation as well as respect.
Davies and the Williams brothers own one of Britains smallest
windfarms. Their three slender white turbines tower 150ft above
a derelict stone barn and can be seen from many of Snowdonias
Few people objected when their cooperative sought permission to
erect the machines four years ago. The community liked the idea
of local families diversifying out of loss-making sheep rearing.
But now the three say they need to build 10 more turbines to stay
viable, many former sympathisers are rattling sabres. The Snowdonia
Society, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, the Conway
valley civic society, North Wales tourism, the Ramblers, the National
Trust, the local Labour MP and Welsh Assembly member have all objected
to the proposed extension, along with up to 1,800 individuals. The
council will decide shortly.
Davies and Robin Williams dismiss their opponents as "mostly
white settlers who have bought a view, or people who are just plain
jealous". They will try to "hide" the machines in
a dip, and have reduced the number. They have also invited locals
to invest in the farm, suggesting an 8% return on capital. More
than 500 are interested. "Weve had offers of up to £30,000,"
says Davies. "Local ownership is why we did it in the first
place. People recognised the benefit of it. Weve all got to adapt.
"Our copper, our slate, our coal, our young people and our
water have all gone over the border. Well, our wind wont."
Britain is right at the start of what is being called the "wind
rush", and rural communities are being convulsed by arguments
for and against wind technology. Encouraged by the government, which
has set targets of generating 10% of all British electricity from
renewables by 2010 and is heavily backing developers with grants
and subsidies, large companies are piling in with ambitious plans
for most of Britains highlands.
In the next few years utility companies and others will invest
$17.5bn in British wind projects, attracting government subsidies
to the value of roughly $1.75bn. The 1,034 turbines already running
produce about 700MW of electricity about as much as one conventional
power station but over the next seven years more than 7,000MW
of generating power will be installed on 73 new farms.
It will be the greatest and fastest expansion of renewable energy
attempted anywhere in the world - a suitable response, says the
government, to global warming. This year 22 new farms with a capacity
of 475MW will be built. Next year there will be even more - but
instead of the 100ft high machines now dotted around Wales, the
west country and Scotland, the industry is moving to 300-, even
400-footers, each generating enough electricity for several thousands
homes. Dozens of companies are piling in with proposals.
Plans are in place to move much of the building out to sandbanks
and shallow water off the coasts from 2007 onwards. Fifteen giant
offshore farms will be built, in the Thames estuary, the Wash, and
off the northwest and Welsh coasts. Each could have up to 500 of
the biggest turbines in the world, generating potentially 4.5MW
each - more if the technology moves on as expected. Altogether 9,000MW
of new wind power is planned, enough to meet the government target
of 10%. By 2020 the government wants 20% of Britions energy to
come from renewables.
But the proposed farms are provoking fierce opposition from an
increasingly organised countryside lobby, which claims that wind
power is not green, will not contribute to the fight against global
warming and will wreck the countryside. More than 60 national and
local groups, led by some of Britains highest profile conservationists,
are now hounding the planners, whipping up antagonism, and undermining
the arguments for switching to renewables. As the propaganda war
against wind farms heats up, the green movement finds itself split.
"Wind power is sheer lunacy," argues the conservationist
David Bellamy, who opposes all British wind developments on the
grounds that they can kill birds and destroy countryside. "They
can only work for 30% of the time," he says. "How are
people going to be able to boil their kettles, or how are we to
power our hospitals the rest of the time? It means we have to keep
our other stations running in reserve, pouring out carbon dioxide
and sulphur dioxide. If they were producing a decent amount of power
I would back them. But if you lagged the roofs of 500 homes it would
have the effect of putting up one wind turbine. That is what we
should be doing."
He also argues that they are a planning fiasco. "If I wanted
to build in an area of outstanding natural beauty I wouldnt
be allowed. Yet these turbines are 22 storeys high and put on hills
where everyone can see them. They need 1,000 tonnes of concrete
and a road infrastructure. It beggars belief that some environmental
groups say they are green."
The anti-wind lobby took off in 1992 with a group called Country
Guardian, which was worried by wind powers potential to damage
landscape. It strongly denies accusations of having close links
with the nuclear industry (its chair is Sir Bernard Ingham, who
is a paid lobbyist for British Nuclear Fuels). Its arguments were
supported by many conservationists who feared the visual impact
on lovely places, but also by old Labourites who supported the unions
in Britains nuclear industry, and others who accurately foresaw
that wind power could scupper plans for new nuclear stations.
For an amateur lobby group, Country Guardian has had spectacular
successes. Its arguments are now widely used by pressure groups
such as the Ramblers, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and
its equivalents in Wales and Scotland, the RSPB and others. Almost
80% of all windfarm applications made in the past 14 years are believed
to have been turned down. "We are not funded by the nuclear
industry at all," says Angela Kelly, who runs the group full-time.
We have very few members and about $5,000 in the bank, enough to
just about cover our printing costs."
The antis recently picked up another prominent nuclear supporter.
James Lovelock, the developer of the Gaia theory and an inspiration
to green thinkers, was recently asked to open a windfarm at Delabole,
Cornwall. "At that time nobody was talking about a gigantic
programme, getting 15% or 20% of the countrys energy from wind
turbines. I think, now that I know as much as I do, I wouldnt have
touched it with a bargepole. It has stolen up on us without any
of us being aware of it," he said.
The core of the antis argument is that wind power is expensive
and will achieve little. "Why are we building wind turbines
and paying three times the odds for their electricity when other
options are so obvious? Why are we building the biggest passenger
jet the world has ever seen? Why do we not reward people for saving
energy?" says Dr John Etherington, a retired academic regarded
as the intellectual guru of Country Guardian.
This leaves Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, with more
than 700,000 members between them, in the unusual position of defending
multinational companies and the government, and trying to debunk
what they call the myths put out by the antis. Tony Juniper, director
of Friends of the Earth, says that the opposition exaggerates shamelessly
"They are parochial, shortsighted, selfish, peddling falsehoods
and misconceptions," he says. "Climate change is no longer
a theory. It is the worlds most pressing environmental problem,
and the anti-lobby, helped by nuclear interests, is trying to undermine
Britains role as a leader in tackling it and to fatally delay action.
Wind is the most advanced of all the renewable technologies, but
it needs to be followed quickly by solar, wave, tidal, biomass and
others," he says. "No one is arguing that wind generators
should cover all the national parks. That would be mad. The landscape
can and must be protected."
The opposition is using every argument imaginable. Its websites
claim that house prices fall near farms, that turbine noise, infrasound
and the flicker of blades can drive people and animals mad, that
bats die in great numbers, job figures are inflated, tourists are
put off, and even that horses bolt near them.
One of the strongest arguments used is that every farm is liable
to kill thousands of birds, including hundreds of golden eagles,
kites and other rare species. The RSPB, which supports wind power,
says it objects only when there is "insufficient information
about the risks to birds and their habitats to conclude that there
will not be a problem". The British Wind Energy association,
the industry lobby group, is perplexed. "Even in Altamont Pass
in America, where 7,000 turbines were erected on a migratory route,
it was only 0.2 birds per turbine per year. Compare this with the
number killed by cats, cars and by flying into windows, or even
by global warming, and it is not significant at all," a spokesman
The antis "are a well-organised small minority," says
Allan Moore, chair of the British wind energy association and head
of renewables at National Wind Power. In the next 10 years he expects
to invest almost $1.7bn in wind. Moore spent 30 years building and
installing nuclear, coal, gas and other power stations before moving
to wind. "Proportion is needed. In the 17th century we had
90,000 windmills in Britain. They were a part of life. What were
looking to do is install perhaps 4,000, making 5,000 in total. Roughly
half will be onshore and half offshore. If 4,000 turbines sounds
a lot, compare Germany, where last year alone they installed more
than 2,500MW of capacity and now have 7,000 turbines."
Wind, he says, is not the only answer to producing clean electricity
or combating global warming. "What wind is about is displacing
fossil fuels, saving carbon and greenhouse gases. That is the driver.
Every kilowatt of wind power generated is one less of polluting
power. The wind industry can do a lot quickly. If in 30 years time
someone comes up with something better, well take the turbines
The future, he accepts, will be a mixture of tidal power, solar,
biomass and other enewables, "but these technologies have some
way to go and are where wind energy was 12-15 years ago. I think
ultimately well be using many sorts of power."
Moore refutes Bellamy and Country Guardian claims that the intermittency
of wind power makes it unreliable and dangerous to base a countrys
energy policy around. "Actually, it is very predictable. Clearly
theres a time when the wind does not blow. The antis rightly say
that back-up power is needed, but its not one [kW] for one. Surges
of power - the kind when everyone wants to turn a kettle on at half-time
in the Cup Final - are more of a problem [for the industry],"
he says. "Everyone is comfortable with Britain producing 10%
of its electricity from wind. Even 10,000MW of capacity would only
need one extra generating unit as a backup."
In the meantime he is a total convert to wind. "Theres something
right about wind. It is a hearts-and-minds thing. I think most peoples
instincts are with renewables."
The two battlegrounds are Wales and Scotland: where Scotland has
welcomed developments and made the planning system easy, Wales has
been ultra-wary and developers have almost despaired of getting
permissions. As a result, Scotland is about to become one of the
worlds wind farm leaders.
It has the best wind power potential in Europe and, theoretically,
could produce almost all the renewable electricity Britain needs.
While the UK has a target of 10% of electricity supply from green
sources by 2010, the Scottish Executive has set 18% as its target,
largely because it already gets around 11% of its electricity from
hydro. Likewise the UKs aspirational target is 20% for 2020, while
the executive has set a whopping 40%. It says the turbines will
bring up to 1,400 full-time jobs in depopulated areas.
The political and financial stakes are high too. The wind industry,
given the chance to deliver carbon-free energy for the first time,
has little time to prove itself. If it cannot meet the ambitious
targets set by government within four years and reduce Britains
growing carbon emissions, it is widely expected that it will have
its financial support unplugged. Powerful pro-nuclear forces fervently
hope that wind fails.
"Wind has to work. A lot is at stake," says Moore. "The
government will have to decide in a few years time whether
they put their eggs in the nuclear basket or renewables. In 2005-6
it will step back and review whether the wind industry is meeting
its targets. If it isnt, then they have got a lot of old nuclear