Rural appetite for renewables may be less than healthy
The renewable energy industry is used to controversy. Utilising the world's natural resources, like the blowing wind and the warming sun to generate power sounds so benign. But almost as soon as the first big turbines went up and the first large solar arrays started appear, there has been anger and discord – and a good portion of it here in the West Country.
So the peace plan announced earlier this week by the industry, which is now promising to consult more widely with rural communities and listen more intently if they oppose renewable schemes, is welcome. Taken at face value, it should ensure that installations are permitted only where a majority of local people are happy to have them.
The renewable industry – heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and charged with meeting demanding Government targets – is clearly banking on the accuracy of a recent YouGov poll, which we reported in the Western Daily Press yesterday, showing general public enthusiasm for large-scale solar arrays.
It calculates that, compared with the alleged pollution of conventional power, the perceived risks of nuclear and the scare stories about earthquakes and contaminated water linked to fracking, solar and wind will score highly with local people.
We're not so sure. Ask the question of some Conservative MPs and you get a very clear answer. Owen Paterson, Defra Secretary, is currently locked in a row with Ed Davey, the Lib Dem, who runs the Department for Energy and Climate Change, over renewable energy and where it can legitimately be used.
A report detailing the damage turbines and solar arrays do to rural areas is reportedly being suppressed by Mr Davey while Mr Paterson is determined to see it published. The Defra Secretary – who enjoys significant support in the countryside – has said that in some cases renewable energy schemes are "a complete scam."
The conservation group the CPRE is equally robust in its opposition to renewable installations that spoil the countryside. It warns this week that a shortage of brownfield sites for solar farms will lead to more agricultural land being given over to acres of the unsightly black panels and attendant fencing, security cameras and other industrial paraphernalia. The promise of greater consultation by the renewables industry has got to be a good thing. Whether or not they'll get the answers they are expecting from the rural public remains to be seen.