Sunday, May 6, 2012

Winds of Change

Travelling into Lewes these days, the journey is not complete without a fierce struggle amongst my children to be the first to spot the Glynde wind turbine. This causes great excitement and, even after the first spot, there is intense competition to rack up as many subsequent sightings as possible as the blades slip in and out of view between hedges and houses. The turbine appeared at the end of last year and, as well as being the largest energy source for Glyndebourne opera house, it has quickly become a landmark in the Sussex countryside. It was not established, of course, without controversy: local views were divided for and against the turbine.

Now, six or seven miles to the east, a renewable energy company, Galliford Try Renewables, has submitted a planning application to Wealden District Council for a five turbine wind farm at Shepham Lane in Polegate; and again, opinion is polarised. Posters depicting a turbine overlaid with images of Big Ben and the London Eye – at 415 feet the turbines will be similar in height to these London landmarks -have appeared in the area since the application was made in October last year and a protest group, Stop Shepham Wind Farm, has been formed to object on grounds of height and visual impact, effect on the environment and wildlife, and noise and light strobing. In order not to appear to be just NIMBYs, opponents of turbines routinely belittle the energy generating capacity of wind power and the campaign against the Polegate plan is no exception. This is a shame as dismissing new energy sources seems to be a lazy excuse to do nothing until the oil runs out.

However, support for the proposal has been growing: Friends of the Earth have backed the scheme and a local group – Yes to Polegate Wind Farm – has been active in the community. From stalls in Hailsham and Polegate town centres, the group have been spreading the message that wind is a key part of renewable energy sources for the future and the Shepham wind farm will generate electricity for 6,000 homes. The turbines will be connected to the national grid but this would be more than sufficient to power all the homes in Polegate. Wealden are due to announce their decision soon and I hope it is one that recognises their obligation to tackle climate change and allows the presence of these structures of delicate, towering magnificence to add to the beauty of the countryside.

Whether it is wind turbines, landfill sites, incinerators or poly tunnels there will always be a ready army of naysayers who are good at objecting but poor at proposing alternatives. All the while there is demand for cheap food out of season, not enough waste is recycled and the consumption of energy increases, proposals to deal with these shortcomings will be opposed from behind the high hedges by those who feel a threat to their lives in aspic. As ever, the answer lies in the way we live now; but expecting Orwell’s “deep, deep sleep of England” to wake up to change and start consuming less and growing more seems unlikely at a time when even reading a book seems to be increasingly incomplete without the aid of energy- consuming electronic equipment.

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