Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wind turbines unpopular thanks to environmentalists


Environmentalists expect much from wind energy but don’t like to see the countryside dotted with turbines, writes Trouw.

Some twenty years ago the first wind turbines started to appear on Dutch farmland. Every new wind turbine was a novelty and duly reported by the local newspaper. The farmers, innovative and often slightly eccentric, had had to fight long and hard to get a license from councils who had to appease a population doubtful of the usefulness of these gigantic structures. But they could always count on the support of the local and provincial environmental organisations who loved the idea of sustainable energy and who thought the Netherlands would in time become a major producer. And if people didn’t like the look of the turbines - what true environmental activist cared about that?


Now, twenty years on, the rift between country dwellers and environmental activists is not as broad as it once was. The reason is that the environmental movement has changed its mind about what are called ‘solitary turbines’. Environmental activists now call the nineties ‘the pioneering phase’ in which every new turbine was greeted with enthusiasm. But they are also saying that this enthusiasm lead to a terrible mushrooming of turbines.

The turbine enthusiasts of yore are horrified at Flevoland where turbines sprouted arbitrarily in the landscape. The turbines have become much bigger, environmentalists concede. They have become more understanding of protests against the visual pollution of the landscape, especially if it is allowed to go on without any cohesive environmental planning.


The criticism of citizens and environmental organisations on single wind turbines and small wind farms are making life easier for the provincial authorities who are now banning land based turbines. The province of Noord Holland for example has made it part of the negotiations for a new provincial government that not a single new turbine can be built on land. All new turbines will have to go off shore. Friesland, which used to be at the forefront of turbine building is now relegating them to the edges of the province and may possibly ban them altogether, depending on the funds available to compensate the farmers who are willing to pull them down.

Are the locals happy? Yes, they are. Are the environmentalists happy? Not really. Conservation organisations and environmentalists have traditionally supported a concentration of turbines but they feel the provinces are now taking things too far. They have calculated that the country needs land based wind energy to attain sustainable energy norms. The off shore winds farms are not producing enough and environmentalists fear that the restrictive provincial policy will make production drop even further.

Dire image

So out they trot the bigger picture of wind energy once again: how we are dependent on dirty energy sources and that the environment can’t take any more CO2. Sun, wind and biomass are clean alternatives. But, they warn, if nobody wants a turbine in their back garden these will not be available on the scale we need any time soon.

That was the story twenty years ago and it still is. The difference is that the turbines have become synonymous not with clean energy but with ugliness. They have become mere blots on the landscape and for that dire image the environmentalists have themselves to blame.

This is an unofficial translation


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