On 5th August I went along to the public meeting organised by County Councillor Veronica Downes to protest against the pair of Wind Turbines planned for Rodbaston College, Stafford.
I had been drawn to do this by the advance press coverage which indicated that Councillor Downes was opposed to the proposal. This interested me. Considering that the Conservative front bench appear supportive of renewable energy projects it is odd that Bill Cash MP and the new Conservative led county council seem to be leading the opposition to local renewable energy projects.
The previous Labour controlled County council regime had a strong pro –renewable energy policy. The new Conservative regime are not yet giving clear signals.
The meeting was interesting on several grounds. Firstly despite the prominent press coverage that had attracted my attention there were less than 20 people there, of which at least 7 were in favour of the project… Secondly there was no attempt to explain the value of renewable energy projects, thirdly the grounds for opposing this particular project seemed pretty tenuous.
Generally when local people oppose wind projects it is because people live close to the proposed project and fear it will impact on the value of their property. That is a fear that people will generally understand and sympathise with. It is however noticeable that in areas where people are setting up community energy projects and the energy is community owned, then opposition quickly fades away, and access to the energy at preferential rates can actually increase the value of property.
In the case of Rodbaston there does not appear to be a large number of people living nearby. The group of people who were opposed to the project, some of whom seemed to be connected to wind turbine protests elsewhere, indicated that there was no use appealing on the grounds of noise, as this would be disregarded because of the motorway noise. The group had therefore plumped for objecting on the grounds that the wind turbines would be a distraction to people on the motorway.
The feeling in the room split on this. Anyone over 60 seemed to think this could be a problem, anyone under 60 seemed to think that people would pretty soon learn to take the sight of wind turbines completely for granted.
One person raised the matter of energy security and the future cost of energy bills. If we do not find the way to meet our energy demands the price will rise steeply. It is perfectly possible that energy bills could replace mortgage payments as our main expense, placing a huge burden on both young families and elderly people on fixed incomes. If that is where we are heading then I think it is pretty important for communities to take a long hard look at making their buildings as energy efficient as possible, and at any means they have to produce energy locally. This kind of project has already been established for 10 years or more in Germany. Failure to get this right will mean the large amounts of money we will have to pay for energy will simply drain the prosperity of our communities away.
Maybe the councillors and Mr Cash have objections to this particular project. If so we need to hear them. We also need to hear their positive proposals for ensuring energy security, and the affordability of energy for the poorest sections of our communities.
In Staffordshire, as in many other communities following the upheaval of the county council elections we may now be in a position where there is limited knowledge or understanding of these issues in the country council chambers. It may be that it is high time that people in the community with an awareness of what needs to be done to make their voices heard.
What we as a community really do not need is for wind power and renewable energy to be a political battle ground. We need co-operation and long term thinking, and we need a commitment to involve the community in making informed choices. It is time to learn to work together to safeguard the future of all our children.