Windpower thoughts from our book

“In some ways it is difficult to think of renewable energy causing moral concerns for Christians.  But even with a non-polluting energy source there are still issues we need to consider.  No energy system can be made without causing some pollution.  As we have seen above, many renewables pay back the energy used to make them pretty quickly and give reasonable (in some cases good) energy returns, increasingly comparable with our current sources of energy which are falling.  However, even with efficient technologies there can be disadvantages:  One example of a negative impact from moving to renewable energy is the proposed tidal barrage across the Severn estuary, which would damage an area of habitat important for birds and other species.
Another problem with renewables is the impact of wind turbines and other devices on the people who live nearby.  The ethical issue arises when something which is good for society and the climate is detrimental to a household or community that is directly affected – for example by noise or visual intrusion from a wind turbine.  The problem extends not only to the devices themselves, but also the other support energy infrastructure required, such as power lines and large sub-stations.  In Scotland the Beaully-Denny transmission upgrade provides a classic case of the problems caused by this.  To support the increased production of electricity from wind-farms, new hydro-power in the highlands, wave and tidal power off the north coast of Scotland, and transfer the energy to where it’s needed (the central belt of Scotland and England) the power lines along this route are being upgraded.  Essentially this means building taller pylons in an area of the highlands that is both beautiful and close to a national park.  Replacing much of our conventional energy generation with renewables would inevitably require more pylons and power lines linking to where the renewable resource is greatest – in rural and coastal areas.  The question is, how much “industrialisation” of the countryside is desirable?  Wind-farm opponents stress this point (amongst others), although it can be argued that the countryside has changed radically over recent centuries, with deforestation, enclosure in England, the clearances in Scotland and the industrialisation of agriculture.  Lastly, it should be noted some parts of our energy infrastructure such as the pylons of the national grid and Scottish Hydro schemes were bitterly opposed when they were built.  Whilst pylons would never be described as pretty, we hardly notice them today.  Polls have suggested that wind-farms follow the same pattern of acceptance.

Our view is that a number of guidelines should be followed.  First, any potential renewable resource should be carefully and honestly analysed, so that resources are not wasted.  Second, developers should work closely with the communities that are directly affected.  Third, there should be strong element of community benefit rather than pure profit.  The positioning of wind turbines in particular should be carefully planned, and minimum distances to homes should be established.  Micro-generation doesn’t have such aesthetic drawbacks – it’s unlikely large numbers of people will be offended by PV panels on your roof, however, we await the first neighbourly dispute over system shading due to trees or development.”

Chapter 5 “No oil in the lamp”

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