Behind the headlines

What is it about wind power that has grown men at each other’s throats and furiously frothing at the mouth? Greenpeace went under cover to discover what Bibi van der Zee has been telling us for weeks ….
Greenpeace had been getting worried by rumors of a militant anti-wind faction in Whitehall that had cabinet support

We’ve witnessed yet another week of the sort of politics that makes ‘furriners’ click their tongues when they look at the UK.  On large swathes of the continent wind farms are built with very little fuss. Up they go, clumped together like penguins, happily generating more than 15% of the country’s power in Spain, or 18% in Denmark.

Jobs? Yes thanks; at least 96,000 in Germany where more than 50% of wind farms are owned by local communities, plus Greenpeace thinks that wind energy could provide more than two million jobs worldwide by 2020.
But here? Here, in the actual birthplace of wind power, just the mention of the phrase causes frothing at the mouth. You may not be aware that the world’s first ever wind turbine powered generator was built in Scotland in 1887, by professor James Blyth (when he offered the surplus power to his neighbours; they refused, calling electricity ‘the devil’s work’. Plus ca change etc. etc.). But even though British engineers and innovators have been at the forefront of wind from the very beginning, even though we should bloomin’ be used to it by now, it is still one of the single most divisive issues in modern politics.
Last week a Greenpeace undercover filming operation revealed that all our most paranoid conspiracy fantasies were spot on. Tory grandees like Lord Howell and Peter Lilley were filmed telling people they thought to be anti-wind farm campaigners that, yes, Osborne hated wind, yes, John Hayes the energy minister had been put into office in order to help the anti-wind movement along, and yes, there is a big chunk of the party plotting how to water down the Climate Change act.
The sting was set up because Greenpeace were getting more and more worried by the messages they were hearing out of Whitehall about a militant anti-wind faction that had cabinet support. Being Greenpeace – a bunch of slightly over-energetic folk who can’t just sit around and moan about this stuff like the rest of us, but instead, feel compelled to go out and actually do something about it – they decided the next logical step would be to set up a undercover filming sting.
The resulting story – a Tory backing an independent anti-wind candidate in order to get the issue higher up the agenda – was splashed across the front of the Guardian last Tuesday evening. The story rumbled back and forth over Twitter at the same time as Paul Staines, the right wing blogger behind the Guido Fawkes blog, floated another conspiracy theory that the BBC had held a meeting in 2006 about climate change (it’s quite hard to work out what the actual conspiracy was but he seemed very, very excited about it).
Okay. So our worst fears are confirmed and we now know for sure that a big chunk of the Tory party, right up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is so rabidly opposed to onshore wind that they want to make legislative changes to slow its expansion.
I find myself at a loss to understand this. Wind farms are not beautiful, but neither are coal and gas-fired power stations. There are about 130 operational power stations around the country and 357 operational wind farms. What, exactly, is the difference? Yes, wind dips and rises, but gas, as Lord Howell admitted, needs to be bought from sometimes dangerous sources. Noone in the anti-wind group disputes that we need to build new power stations. If wind farms dominated the landscape from one end of the country to the other, that would be one thing, but 357 wind farms is not enough to dominate anything. There are certainly enough stretches of not particularly overlooked farmland on which a few more turbines can easily be slotted. So what’s the real reason for this visceral, frothing hatred?
I don’t know. But if I were a wind company looking for somewhere to invest and I happened to catch sight of these snarling, drooling goons, I know I’d have the good sense to steer well clear.

Bibi van der Zee is The Ecologist’s political correspondent

More from this author