Guest blog from Tara Bowers
Ok, I’ll fess up. I am a supporter of renewable energy – in fact I support all things eco, green, sustainable. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been brainwashed. For many years I have supported organic agriculture, I eat almost 100% organic food, I try not to buy anything imported from outside of Europe, I don’t buy anything made of synthetic materials and avoid plastic at all costs, I gave up my car 18 months ago, I hardly ever fly and I stopped using toiletries and household products containing chemicals about 15 years ago. Some people will say that makes me a weirdo – I prefer to view myself as eco conscious. I am concerned about the affect I have on the environment around me and ultimately I’d like to leave this planet in a better state than when I arrived on it. I know I’m not alone in this viewpoint. But for some sad reason I know also that I am in the minority.
I recently became a member of Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-operative, and when the opportunity to visit the Westmill Wind Farm recently arose, I jumped at the chance to tag along. Having only seen wind turbines from a distance until now, this visit to get ‘up close and personal’ was exciting and intriguing.
So many people object to wind farms because they are ‘noisy’ and they are ‘ugly’ or ‘spoil the view’ – I wanted to understand if these opinions could indeed be substantiated. Personally I think wind turbines are pretty elegant, in fact they are an amazing feat of technology – harnessing a free energy source and turning it into electricity to power our homes.
The ‘look’ of wind farms is subjective – what’s pretty to one person is ugly to another – after all ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is it not? Having lived in France for a number of years I have seen large numbers of wind farms constructed over there, and I always found them to be very majestic and in a way fairly calming. I definitely prefer to pass a line of wind turbines than a power station and pylons. But days before the visit I was apprehensive – would I be disappointed? Would I sway to the NIMBYs point of view?….
We approached the wind farm from Shrivenham. As we came over the top of the Ridgeway, there it was in all its glory. Five little white windmills in a patchwork of fields, hardly noticeable at all. “How can anyone object to that” I thought. We descended to Watchfield aiming to follow our nose to the wind farm – but there was one slight issue with this planned navigation. We could no longer see the wind farm! So much for spoiling the view – we couldn’t even see it! We wandered round various lanes trying to find the right road – still no sign of the turbines. Eventually we found it.
We parked at the entrance to the farm and I was instantly overwhelmed by the noise – the noise of the cars on the B road adjacent and the noise of the wind (it was a very windy day). We were a few hundred metres from the turbines at this point and we could not hear them.
We set off with our guide towards the turbines and about 100 metres from them, all I could hear was the hum of the road, the wind blowing in my ears and the beautiful song of the skylarks nesting in the surrounding fields. I don’t think I’ve ever seen and heard so many skylarks in one place. It was so calm and peaceful, how we could we possibly be standing right next to a power station? In the hour or so that we wandered round the site we saw Red Kites, Lapwings and Buzzards too. The birds were clearly not at all disturbed by the turbines.
I’d been told before the visit that the turbines make a ‘swishing’ sound – similar to a tumble dryer apparently. But I have to tell you that is not quite accurate. They are quieter than a tumble dryer. We stood under the turbines, directly underneath, and yes there was noise – but not enough to drown out the voice of our guide and not enough to drown out the beautiful singing of the Skylarks.
Just yesterday I was sat outside talking to a friend when a motorbike engine started up and sat idling for a few minutes – we could not hear ourselves above the noise of the motorbike. So can those who criticise wind farms as being noisy be believed – in my opinion NO. Wind farms are as quiet, if not quieter, than any cul de sac in Great Britain.
“What a beautiful place for an electricity generating station!” one person was heard to say, and I have to agree.
There is no way on this earth that you could justify fracking on this site, or building a coal/ gas / nuclear power station here. Its far too lovely for that.
But by harnessing nature the Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative has been able to create their own power station with five unobtrusive wind mills.
So could I ever be a NIMBY – definitely not when it comes to wind turbines – I’d happily have one of those in my back garden, especially if it was delivered with singing Skylarks!
Here’s what else I learned on the visit:
The farm where the wind farm is situated is poor quality land – it is a former airfield and the turbines are actually sited on a former runway. It is also one of the most exposed and windiest places in Oxfordshire.
The turbines are fully recyclable and therefore at the end of their life they will be removed, recycled and the site could easily be re-used for newer more advanced wind or solar technology.
Not only a haven for birds this farm was also full of all manner of wild flowers and insects.
The local gliding club originally objected to the wind farm but have since officially written to the Wind Farm Co-operative stating that the turbines are their best and most reliable wind indicator!
The site is run by a Co-operative of 2500 investors, mostly local people.
Profits from the wind farm have been used to set up WESET, which runs educational activities at the site and in the local area. They hold open days every 2 years, and regularly run school camps with workshops at the site. They also funded insulation and solar panels for Watchfield Village Hall, solar panels for Watchfield school and are in the process of funding insulation for Shrivenham Village Hall.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit this or any other wind farm, I urge you to go. Even the already converted like me can be pleasantly surprised!