Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last weekend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP confirmed the government would look again at planning reforms to speed up “infrastructure projects” awaiting planning decisions. The intention was to speed up house-building in Green Belt.
Ironically it drew praise from Osborne’s normal nemesis: the renewables industry. Normally the Chancellor’s department has only won damning criticism from across the political spectrum for its support ONLY for the Nuclear, Oil and Gas industries. Hence these proposed planning reforms are likely to turn into one giant man-trap for the Chancellor. Why? Because he wishes to spur economic growth by making it easier to build – and to build anywhere. Of course he has it in mind to spur the construction of urban sprawl. But he may have overlooked that builders like to build all kinds of things. Including wind turbines.
A spokesman for energy trade association RenewableUK said the industry would welcome “anything that speeds up the planning process”, arguing that renewable energy developers and in particular wind farm developers are some of the worst victims of lengthy planning delays. RenewableUK have stats showing that onshore wind farms wait for an average of two years for planning decisions, while offshore wind farms can wait over four years. You probably couldn’t wipe the smirk of their faces. How will George Osborne wiggle out of this one? Most wind farms are stuck in the planning offices of Conservative-controlled councils. Awkward.
This all arose at a time I received a call from a local farmer who has been struggling to get a large wind turbine on his land for two years. He was pleading for help. The opposition to his scheme was loud and vocal (or so he claimed). He wanted my help. So I had a look at it for him. I could find no actual objections in writing on the Council web site so I resorted to the farmer’s own “Statement of Community Involvement”. It produces a pie chart suggesting around 62% of people were against the project. Looking again showed that this was a survey of only 45 people. A similar survey of 15 people showed 8 in favour. A slim majority FOR the project.
Given the vast array of supporting evidence for the farmer’s turbine I couldn’t help but conclude that his case was watertight. The surveys of local people involved so few local people that it told us nothing. It wasn’t for want of trying, but it seemed that most people do not care to comment. Which is the point. So who was noisy minority objecting and why? Without any strong statistical evidence we can only fall back on the last two major surveys of public attitudes that general show 70% or more of the public would support the siting of a wind farm within sight of their homes.
Then there were the three listed generic objections to THIS wind turbine (that had arisen from the farmer’s consultation with the public): 1) that it would spoil the view (fair enough). 2) that it would be noisy (this isn’t true, visit one, the sound of a wind turbine is comparable to a car travelling 30mph at a distance of approximately 100m). 3) There are better alternatives to wind energy. (Errr…. right…)
Point 3 seems odd. How is it relevant? It isn’t even true – but it raises an interesting point. You can have sympathies for points 1 and 2 but extending your argument to suggest we don’t need wind turbines is irrational. We are a modern industrialised nation and support for a range of energy sources is highly prudent. For “sustainable” read: “energy security”. All of which is beside the point, we have legal commitments and a moral duty to decarbonise our electricity generation industry. Doing so will give us the technical edge to fight our way out of this recession.
But all such appeals to reason will cut no ice with the objectors. Clean energy is nice, but “not in my back yard” (as they say). But what of the YIMBY? Seldom do we hear that other point of view: that of the “yes in my back yard” crowd.
For the YIMBY the world looks like this: it is a growing nervousness about the lack of clean energy sources in the British countryside. The YIMBY can drive go for miles & days without spotting a single wind turbine of solar panel. The palms of their hands start to sweat. They are in high-carbon-unsustainable-hell. Then they catch a glimpse of a wind turbine. It supplies immediate relief. But then they think to themselves “What?! Only ONE wind turbine!?” The YIMBY not only wants renewable energy, he or she craves it. If a YIMBY cannot see renewable, clean, energy being harvested right on their own doorstep, then it is an enormous cause for concern. It is a phobia. A fear of unsustainable energy. Call it “carbonpowerphobia”.
The YIMBY feels ill-at-ease in any scenario where clean energy is not explicitly on display. It is like a man in a desert seeking an oasis. He is thirsty. We are all thirsty. We are scared of an environment without solar power and wind turbines. The YIMBY is the next stage of human anthropological evolution. He/she has moved on from being scared of everything and operates with a certain wisdom. Choosing to embrace that which will last. There is no cure for the YIMBY other than the next fix of water at the next oasis.
For a YIMBY it is entirely inconceivable that there are people who wouldn’t want clean energy in their back yard. Certainly this is even more quizzical in an agricultural area. Exactly what do NIMBY’s think will help support our farmers if it is not the new energy mix? What the heck is farming anyway if it is not the harvesting of nature’s bounty? And in the final analysis what would YOU choose? The coal-fire power station? The nuclear power station? The gas well?
So it is time to get real and embrace the YIMBY inside of us all. By the sounds of it Prime Minister David Cameron is a big YIMBY. In the Mail on Sunday he attacked Nimby campaigners for imposing “paralysis” on the UK. He said this:
“The nations we’re competing against don’t stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we. Frankly, I am frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through to get anything done – and I come back to Parliament more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back.“
It remains to be seen whether or not this rhetoric will result in the necessary explosion across the renewable energy sector… Or just a lot of new homes. Homes without gardens where people cannot afford to either heat the home, light it or feed their families. There is more to growing the economy than just quantity. There is quality too.
But what-the-heck, we will live in poverty. But we’ll enjoy the view.