Wind of change can do us all some good

IN the grey murk of an autumn day, the cliffs rise craggy and impressive from the sea.

Aidan Semmens

IN the grey murk of an autumn day, the cliffs rise craggy and impressive from the sea. Their tops are greened with scrubby grass clinging tight and low against the scouring winds that blow in fiercely across the north Atlantic or, more bitterly, down from the Arctic.

It's a scene that might have been unchanged since long before the Vikings raided from this stark coast. Except for two things. The thin ribbon of road that winds up from the lower-lying land behind. And the site the road leads to.

A fine sight it is, too. In its way as striking as the ancient cliffs themselves.

Here, just outside the town of Hammerfest in the far north of Norway, stands a “farm” of about 20 turbines harvesting the wind that never stops blowing in these parts.

Some folk, I know, would consider these slim white giants as a visual blot on the landscape. Some folk visiting East Anglia in the 17th or 18th centuries said the same thing about all those horrible windmills scarring the countryside. You know, the ones whose few survivors bring the tourists to the Broads and appear everywhere on calendars, postcards and chocolate-box lids.

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Personally, I find the elegant lines of the modern wind-turbine just about the most satisfying piece of design our period has yet given us. Purely from an aesthetic point of view, I think they just top the Gherkin, easily beat Portsmouth's rather showy Spinnaker Tower and blow the iconic but dreary Angel of the North right out of the water.

But that of course is just my opinion. The hard facts about wind farms are these:

- Carbon footprint - almost zero.

- Toxic waste produced - almost zero.

- Radioactive waste produced - zero.

- Noise - much less than road traffic or aeroplanes.

- Danger to wildlife - some bird and bat kill, but much less than road traffic or aeroplanes. Other species, zero.

- Land covered - very little. There's no competition for use of the Hammerfest cliffs, but even if it was farmland, less than 0.3 per cent of the land the wind farm stands on is taken.

It's often argued - for example by people with a vested interest in the nuclear industry - that a country like Britain could never get all the power it needs from wind farms. Maybe.

Yet the number required to make a huge difference, even in a densely populated country like ours, would cover only a small proportion of the land.

And of course less than 0.3pc of the land within the farms themselves would actually be occupied by turbines. The rest could quite safely be given over to farming of the more conventional sort.

Slightly more sophisticated methods - or older, more labour-intensive ones - might be needed to harvest crops grown around the towers' feet. But sheep (or other livestock) might safely graze without any problem at all.

By such means, we could gather all our power whenever there was a reasonable amount of wind. When the wind was strong, we'd generate a huge surplus which could be sold cheaply for uses currently too power-hungry to consider.

We would still have to use coal, oil or gas on days when it was calm everywhere, or extremely windy - but it would cut our fossil fuel consumption (and our carbon dioxide emissions) dramatically.

The Norwegians don't have to use fossil fuels on even the calmest days - they can use their hydro-electricity instead. The wind farms mean they don't use so much water out of the dams - and can sell electricity to other countries, whether it's windy or not.

We don't have the same option. But we do have other promising possibilities, such as tidal power - plenty of it.

Portugal's latest massive tidal generator was designed and built by a British company. If we were prepared to invest in our own new technology as much as we do in the cataclysmic technology of the 1950s we might become sustainably - and safely - self-sufficient in power.

OK, I may be dreaming. But if we don't dream occasionally - and take collective action to make our best dreams come true - then we risk waking up to a nightmare. Horribly soon.

And there is nothing in the vision outlined above that isn't true or wouldn't work in the cold light of day, whether on the sea-cliffs of Norway or the Suffolk coast.

It looks as if all that's really stopping us from getting the wind in our sails - apart from the nuclear lobby that currently has the government's ear - is a squabble over whether turbines look nice or not.

If you're one of those who think they don't, consider this. I mean really picture it, purely in aesthetic terms, never mind questions of safety, smell or pollution.

Would you rather live next to (a) a wind farm, complete with swaying corn or grazing sheep; (b) a smog-belching coal-fired power-station; or (c) Sizewell?

It seems like a no-brainer to me. Which makes the next question: Why does Britain have no brain?

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