WMN opinion: Doubts that fuel opposition to green energy expansion
When the green revolution began and renewable energy offered the first glimmer of hope that there might be a cleaner and less damaging way of creating the energy we so voraciously devour, solar panels and wind turbines seemed like a low-impact, human-scale option that might actually put the important business of generation closer to the people who need it.
How things have changed. The target-driven race to cut greenhouse gas emissions fuelled – literally – on a rich diet of subsidy, means the big boys were not long in jumping on the bandwagon. Now there is nothing human-scale about the super-sized wind turbines or acres of solar panels springing up across our region. Many of the green-tinged idealists who hoped for a small-scale sustainable future must be wondering where it all went wrong.
Yes there are admirable community-led energy schemes in communities across our region. And yes, homeowners are putting solar PV panels on their roofs and farmers erecting modest sized turbines on their hilltops to generate power for themselves and their families with a bit left over that can be sold into the national grid.
We should all have realised however, that such schemes were never going to keep the lights on, the radiators hot and the wheels of industry turning. And the true scale of green energy generation in the 21st century could hardly be better illustrated than the revelation in today's Western Morning News that a total of eight square miles of Cornish countryside could soon be covered in solar PV panels while a further 220 large wind turbines are due to go up in the next 18 years across the Duchy.
It is now abundantly clear that generating green energy may be environmentally positive so far as cutting carbon dioxide emissions are concerned but it compares badly with conventional energy generation and nuclear power when you look at its impact across a wide swathe of the landscape. Put crudely, you need a great deal more countryside for wind turbines and solar PV panels that you do to build one new gas-fired power station or nuclear generation plant.
Thus far it is the impact on the landscape of renewable energy, along with perceptions of its subsidised inefficiency, that have prompted the loudest complaints. If Cornwall Council – and authorities in Devon where similar schemes are proposed – want to proceed with the backing of the people then they, and the developers, still have some work to do. Some people who accept that wind turbines and fields of shiny black PV panels are ugly point out that pylons and long strings of electricity cable are ugly too, but now we barely give them a second glance as we admire the views. That may be true but it is borne of long association with the pylons and an understanding of their importance. The trouble is not everyone believes in the turbines or the PV panels. Until they do, opposition will remain.