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Newsletter, October 2008 (Issue 173)

Wind Turbines In Ipswich

A reader has asked why so much of the Newsletter has been devoted recently to climate change, which surely belongs properly with Friends of the Earth and similar enthusiasts rather than The Ipswich Society. But the climate isn't changing just for Friends of the Earth: for good or ill it is influenced by all of us in the way we live our lives. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, urgent action on low-carbon energy is needed over the next few years at all levels from international to individual. There is no need to panic, but there is every need for concerted action. But what?

In the July Newsletter we saw that while we can all take steps to reduce carbon emissions by using energy less wastefully and more efficiently, which will be crucial over the next decade or so, much deeper cuts in emissions must be made beyond 2020, calling for massive investment in new sources of energy. Much has been made of the possibilities for individual households to generate their own energy, but a recent 'Guardian' review showed that the case for a mass market in such domestic micro-generation solutions is far from proven for both technical and economic reasons. Hence the replacement for the mass consumption of fossil fuels must be motivated from a higher organisational level, calling for political leadership both nationally and locally. It takes time and money to plan and build new infrastructure, and we need to start now. But who wants to pay for that, on top of rapidly rising energy bills? Then again, who wants the lights to go out?

It is most unusual for any elected government to risk taking action ahead of public opinion, and I expected my next sentence to be to urge you to lobby your local councillors and MPs to provide the political will needed to bring those changes about. Happily, things are already moving at both levels, but they still need our critical encouragement and active support.

Locally - and this is where climate change brings tangible matters for Ipswich Society members to consider - Ipswich Borough Council has unveiled proposals for up to four wind turbines to be erected around the outskirts of Ipswich, three of which will stand 125 metres tall. If correspondence in the 'Evening Star' is any barometer of local opinion, the proposal appears to have been given a cautious welcome.

Taking the negative view first, we should not be blind to the potential for adverse environmental impact from such tall moving structures. The Suffolk Preservation Society has in the past voiced concerns about off-shore windfarms if they are visible above the horizon. Can we not simply maintain the status quo? Well, if we want to maintain our living standards, we have to change to secure energy supplies for our future. If we stick with burning fossil fuels, supplies are already becoming more expensive and less secure, and they will ultimately undermine the conditions which support our survival. So which status quo do we want? Many people find wind turbines to be graceful and elegant structures, but even if you disagree, might you prefer to tolerate the sight of them by day if, in return, they provide heat and illumination through the hours of darkness?

Of more tangible concern is the matter of noise and vibration, which may be much lower than traffic or aircraft noise but which, if perceptible, could be a persistent and even relentless source of nuisance in the dead of night for anyone living within earshot. However, the Council's site selection strategy minimises the risk of this outcome, and the portfolio holder, Councillor Louise Gooch, offers the following reassurance:

'We have been careful with our preliminary site selection to identify those places which appear to have least environmental impact - all are close to dual carriageways, one is near to overhead pylons and another is close to a sewage treatment works. However, all would need to have an environmental impact assessment undertaken, and we would ask the partner we work with to undertake the consultation with residents, so that no one could reasonably suggest that IBC is imposing this on unwilling residents. As it is, there are guidelines about how close turbines can be erected relative to domestic dwellings, and so far all sites are within those parameters.'

Taking the positive view, we have to look to the future both for the climate and our own pockets. Wind turbines may not yet produce energy as cheaply as fossil fuels have, but how will they compare in a few years time? On-shore is also cheaper than off-shore wind energy, and both are plentiful sources of renewable energy available locally, unlike oil and gas nowadays. The Borough's initiative has earned the recognition of John Gummer MP, a champion of making Suffolk the greenest county. And may well provide an example for other local authorities to follow.

But wind power alone will not fill the energy gap. In a speech on 26 June heralding a Low Carbon Britain, Gordon Brown highlighted the need to facilitate oil supplies in the short term while reducing our dependence on it for the longer term. In addition to new energy efficiency measures and incentives, he proposed a major shift to renewables of all kinds and to nuclear, and eventually to carbon capture and storage (CCS) when commercially proven, so that virtually all our energy will be from low-carbon-emitting sources by 2050. This will require £100 billion of private sector investment over twelve years, and the Government is seeking to provide the policy framework and to remove the obstacles to this enterprise.

So both local and national government are indicating the political will to move to cleaner forms of energy. Our support for these actions should be properly and objectively sceptical. Why does the specification for a new coal-fired power station contain no reference to CCS? And is nuclear waste so bad when it is rendered safe after a few thousand years, whereas carbon has to be locked up for ever? But our support should equally derive from anticipation of fuel shortages, insecure supplies and rising prices - power cuts and fuel poverty - rather than nostalgia for the cheap and plentiful domestic supplies we have enjoyed from the North Sea for the past decades, whose impact on the climate will persist for decades to come.

Mike Brain

    Front cover of issue 173 Cover, issue 173

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