Exploring the anti-wind movement in the UK

Ruth Chapman (l) talks with the owner of the Tafarn Dwynant in north west Wales. (Robert van Waarden)

Ruth Chapman (R) talks with the owner of the Tafarn Dwynant in north west Wales.

Pint in hand, I make my way to the corner table bathed in sunshine at the Tafarn Dwynant. Ruth Chapman joins me. Her glass contains orange juice and her baby bump shows clearly. This is the hangout for employees and students at CAT, the Center for Alternative Technology, near Machynlleth, Wales.

Ruth studied Environmental Management at university and moved to Machynlleth, or ‘Mac’, to work in the wind energy department at renewable energy company Dulas. While working at Dulas she decided to enrol in the Master’s program at CAT and the subject of her thesis has brought us together today. One day, while attending a debate on TAN 8, the Welsh proposal for renewable energy, Ruth was surprised to find the room packed to the rafters. Emotions were running high and most of the crowd was anti-wind. Ruth had discovered her thesis subject.

A wind turbine in the Welsh hills, United Kingdom. (Robert van Waarden)

A wind turbine in the Welsh hills, United Kingdom.

“I looked around the room and thought if you’re an outsider, if you were in the media, then you might think they are all NIMBYs, they are all just opposed to it because they all don’t want it in their backyard. But, some people were making really valid points,” she says. “So why is it that I’ve come to see onshore wind energy as a symbol of a greener future, but they see it as something that is quite destructive to the local environment?”

Her thesis was born. It is easy to list the reasons often cited by people against wind energy; visual, noise, flickr, and supposed health impacts. But Ruth was interested in ‘why’ people are opposed. She selected a small sample group of anti-wind people and was surprised to find that most of them were people that she could have a pint with.

“I had assumptions and stereotypes about the type of people I was going to be talking to. But I have to say that most of them really disproved those assumptions and challenged me. I really enjoyed this, it is a healthy thing to do, but it sort of conflicted me.” What Ruth documented couldn’t really be called NIMBYism. The term itself, not in my backyard, implies that a person would be willing to have a wind turbine built somewhere else. But Ruth was surprised by the attitude of zero tolerance for wind turbines anywhere in the UK consistently expressed by her sample group.

Ruth Chapman (Robert van Waarden)

Ruth Chapman (Robert van Waarden

Ruth’s conclusions are varied. Several factors such as fairness, improper consultation, market mechanisms and government policies all play a role in creating anti-wind sentiment.

One individual was upset by the ‘check box’ consultation carried out by the developers and didn’t feel that their concerns were addressed. Another objected to the map produced by the developers that didn’t accurately represent the landscape. They didn’t feel that they could they trust the developers if they didn’t make the right map. Furthermore, the gulf between a slick, city presentation from the developers and a local Welsh town often put things on the wrong foot. Ruth’s other theory is that the historical relationship between England and Wales might also play a role. She thinks that the Welsh felt like they were just providing the resources once again for the English.

Sheep in a pasture in Wales. In the background is the Ceemase wind farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Sheep in a pasture in Wales. In the background is the Ceemase wind farm.

Ruth didn’t come up with any solutions and that frustrates her. She does think it is necessary to do a better job telling the story of the future of energy and climate change in the UK. Ruth thinks that more people would get behind wind energy if this were done. Ruth wants to do more with this research but right now her first baby is taking priority. She loves her job working for Dulas and she hopes to keep working in this industry for the foreseeable future.

On the way back to England the next day I pass the Ceemase wind farm. The rolling Welsh landscape makes it difficult to see and it is probably the most well hidden wind farm I have seen. But the fact remains; navigating the waters of the anti-wind crowd will continue to be a challenge for developers in the years to come.

A typical anti-turbine farm in mid Wales. Translation: No Pylons.No Wind farms in Montgomeryshire (Robert van Waarden)

A typical anti-turbine farm in mid Wales. Translation: No Pylons.No Wind farms in Montgomeryshire

Giving Back – Wind Energy in Delabole, United Kingdom

The slate quarry in Delabole, UK. (Robert van Waarden)

The slate quarry in Delabole, UK.

Delabole is famous for its hole in the ground. Well, to be more accurate, it is famous for its slate mine. The hole is visible from the backyard of Peter and Jacqueline Harman’s slate house. For 23 years that hole has had a backdrop, contrasting new and old, of the first commercial wind farm in the UK.

The wind turbines turn lazily in the Atlantic breeze. They don’t bother Peter. “I think that if people could see that they can benefit from it, it might change their opinion,” says Peter.

Peter and Jacqueline are retired pensioners that have just moved to Delabole, a little village in the south west of the United Kingdom. Their home is still in a state of renovation; boxes piled high, furniture covered with sheets and projects visibly underway. Everything in this house runs on electricity, including the heating; and when your walls are 21 inches of slate it can take a while to warm up. Although “once warm, it stays warm” insists Peter.

The Harman’s electricity bill is significant so Peter spent some time researching the best rates. He noticed an article in the local paper, The Slate, with details about the new Delabole Local Tariff from Good Energy.

The sunrises on the little village of Delabole in the United Kingdom. (Robert van Waarden)

The sunrises on the little village of Delabole in the United Kingdom.

The concept is simple. Good Energy owns the aforementioned wind farm and their customers living within two kilometres of the site are eligible for a local tariff. The idea is that those that have it in their backyard should benefit from it. This is something that the developers of Delabole wanted to do at the very beginning but only recently a change in regulations allow for it to happen.

Phydeau, the Harman's dog at their home in Delabole, the UK. (Robert van Waarden)

Phydeau, the Harman’s dog at their home in Delabole, the UK.

The tariff gives a 20% discount on standard energy prices and includes an additional ‘windfall’ bonus. If the turbines exceed their expected yearly performance each household gets 50 pounds. It is the first scheme of its kind in the UK and puts the community at the centre of renewable energy generation.

After speaking to Good Energy, Peter didn’t even look at other rates. He immediately signed up and as of April they have been receiving their discounted wind energy. He believes that he will save around 70 pounds per year, no small amount for a retired couple.

Peter emphasizes that it wasn’t only the financial reward that affected their decision. He says that Jacqueline is a strong believer in the need for action on global warming, and even if he hasn’t quite made up his mind on the science, he really likes renewable energy and what it represents.

An old two bladed wind turbine framed by trees turns in the wind near Delabole, Cornwall in the United Kingdom. (Robert van Waarden)

An old two bladed wind turbine framed by trees turns in the wind near Delabole, Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

Peter has spread the word and now several of his neighbours have also shown an interest in signing up. He thinks that this idea should be replicated across the UK.

“Wind farms are a good idea, as long as they don’t put hundreds of them everywhere and spoil everything, but if they have a wind farm in a local area, why shouldn’t local people benefit from having it there?”

Peter Harman and his dog Chalkie at their home in Delabole, UK. (Robert van Waarden)

Peter Harman and his dog Chalkie at their home in Delabole, UK.

Crowd Sourcing Wind Energy

Sue and Andrew Clarke enjoy a cup of tea at their home near St. Briavels. (Robert van Waarden)

Sue and Andrew Clarke enjoy a cup of tea at their home near St. Briavels. 

Once you get them started it can be hard to get them to stop. Talking about wind energy, Sue and Andrew Clarke bounce of each other, echoing or filling in the gaps when required. They love what they do and like everyone with a strong passion, they have sacrificed a lot to get where they are today.

Sue and Andrew live near St. Briavels in the Forest of Dean in western England. For 20 years they worked in large multinationals developing energy projects. When Sue started to work with the Transition Towns movement in her spare time they found their personal and professional lives diverging. During the week they could be found working on large energy projects and then on the weekend maybe marching in London for action on climate change.

They decided it was time to move on when a host of factors collided in 2008: economic downturn, support for renewables from the federal government, and Andrew’s professional life leading towards nuclear energy.

After many years of senior management in big business, they staked their pensions on wind energy and community owned development and founded Resilient Energy. They haven’t looked back.

“The best step that we have ever taken” says Andrew.

Sue and Andrew Clarke walking up the lane away from the St. Briavels wind turbine. (Robert van Waarden)

Sue and Andrew Clarke walking up the lane away from the St. Briavels wind turbine.

They devised a model for wind energy that will help meet, but not exceed, the energy needs of a community. This includes 50/50 joint venture ownership with the landowner with up to 70% of the revenue going back into the community. A key component of their model is crowd funding.

“With a feed in tariff you can get community projects off the ground, there is a guaranteed revenue stream from the government. There aren’t many businesses that you can get paid for 20 years for everything you generate. You can’t make pots and guarantee that someone is going to buy it,” says Andrew.

They worked with the crowd funding company Abundance and within four months had oversubscribed their St. Briavels turbine, raising a total of 1.6 million pounds. Over 450 people bought debentures with approximately 50% of them coming from the community. The youngest investor was 18 and the oldest was 82.

In a country that is known for it’s anti-wind lobbies, Sue and Andrew had a great experience the first time around. There were over 50 letters of support submitted from the community and only one against. However, their next couple of projects are stuck in planning. A well-organized anti-wind lobby is one reason, but ambiguity from the federal government is also a clear factor.

“We need a strong clear message from the government,” says Sue.

Dealing with the anti-wind lobby, Sue and Andrew have been forced to grow a thick skin. However, usually when they are really feeling low, the phone will ring from a stranger gushing enthusiastically about the St. Briavels turbine.

“Wind energy is a bit like marmite. No one goes around saying I love marmite, it is the best thing ever,” says Sue.

Sue and Andrew are particularly proud of the trickle down affect their work has had on their three sons. There were times when the money wasn’t readily available in the last few years because of their decision, but their sons have developed a greater understanding for this work and the issues. Their middle son is following in his parent’s footsteps and studying environmental science at university this year.

The Forest of Dean has a long history, it helped spark the industrial revolution and there is still coal to be found. There is a lot of energy in these hills and it seems that wind is the next logical step.

“Hopefully longer term it will get the communities thinking about what they actually need to be more resilient, thinking about the bigger picture,” says Sue.

The shadow of the St. Briavels wind turbine on the green pastures of St. Briavels. (Robert van Waarden)

The shadow of the St. Briavels wind turbine on the green pastures of St. Briavels. 

Romanian Monks Turn to Wind Energy

Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery and the man responsible for the wind turbine and renewable energy at Casian. (Robert van Waarden)

Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery and the man responsible for the wind turbine and renewable energy at Casian.

You could call Father Iustin a pioneer. He installed a wind turbine long before the hundreds that you can now see from this hill appeared. He was the first monk in Constanta region to power his monastery with renewable technology and now he gladly advises other monasteries to do the same.

“I like being a monk,” says Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery in Romania. “It is free, no stress.”

It is quiet up here. Birds float on the wind over a landscape that would be at home in the Mediterranean. A small child’s toy spins on a post and even the cats and dogs that inhabit every Romanian scene are friendlier.

Letting one’s eyes drift across the landscape, it is impossible to miss the forest of wind turbines that surround Casian. The largest wind farm in Europe, Fantanele–Cogealac, is everywhere. The hundreds of wind turbines might put some people off, especially at night when the aviation warning lights flicker, synchronized, like a ghost city. But Father Iustin likes them.

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania as seen from the Casian Monastery. (Robert van Waarden)

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania as seen from the Casian Monastery.

He was way ahead of the game. Before this 600MW wind park changed his view, Father Iustin had already tapped into the wind resource here. Around 10 years ago, Father Iustin started looking for a solution to the monastery’s energy problem. Connecting it to the grid was not an option, as that would have cost tens of thousands of euros. The obvious solution was to build a wind turbine. With the help of an old truck alternator, Father Iustin and the monks built the first solution to their energy problems.

That first turbine has long been replaced. In its place stands a new 2kW wind turbine made in China. It spins practically all the time, casting its shadow towards the solar array that forms the base of the renewable system at Casian. Father Iustin says it is so windy here that a gust sometimes breaks the wind turbine, forcing him to replace or repair it.

Father Iustin Petre prays during service. (Robert van Waarden)

Father Iustin Petre prays during service.

Father Iustin is very happy with the whole renewable energy system at Casian. It supports the lives of the 5 monks at the monastery, powering their fridges, washing machine, stove, lights and one laptop computer. Perhaps most importantly, it powers the water pump that is responsible for pumping water 150m vertical meters from the well.

This monastery is built on the site of the birthplace of Saint John Casian, a man whose writings helped define the base and practices of Monasticism. There is a cave here that draws pilgrims. In that cave is an icon of Saint Casian, the wind turbines reflecting in the glass. Somehow it seems that Casian approves.

The new church that is being reconstructed at the Casian monastery in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

The new church that is being reconstructed at the Casian monastery in Romania.

On Sundays the faithful come to the Monastery for lunch and to worship. There are often more people than the monks can handle in their little church so they are building a bigger one. Construction relies on donations and for the moment, “she grows very well,” says Father Iustin. It certainly helps that they can use power tools and cement mixers, which are indeed powered by renewable energy.

At least 10 monasteries in the area have followed in the footsteps of Casian and have some sort of renewable energy system. To Father Iustin it is clear that the wind can provide.

A monk at the Casian Monastery in Romania looks at the two wind turbines that are installed as part of the renewable energy system. (Robert van Waarden)

A monk at the Casian Monastery in Romania looks at the two wind turbines that are installed as part of the renewable energy system.

Corsica | Hiking the Mare a Mare Nord

I was going through the photography archive the last few days picking out images to send to my image partner Aurora Photos. I came across these images from a wonderful hiking trip to Corsica from a couple of years ago.

We were eager to not fly and put more carbon than necessary into the atmosphere so we caught the train from Amsterdam to Nice, the overnight ferry to Bastia and then the amazing little train to Corte. From Corte we joined the Mare a Mare Nord. The trail was surprisingly difficult, it goes over many different mountain ranges and in November is incredibly empty. It rained, snowed, blew and shone and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Corsica immediately.

Photographs below.

Force – Stories Behind Wind Energy

 (Robert van Waarden)

The Force project was born from my belief that by providing examples of positive personal and community stories, we can help grow the renewable energy sectors and avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis. Force is a series of photographic essays that highlight that wind energy solutions are not an aspect of the future but are a lived reality right now for people and communities all over the world.

This project has proven to be an important and timely vehicle through which to communicate wind energy solutions. Force has been supported by the European Wind Energy Association and the Global Wind Energy Council.

Leading up to Global Wind Day on June 15, 2013, the EWEA will publish one or two new stories each week from the Force project and then exhibited the stories at the European Parliament in June, 2013.

There are two ways to discover the Force stories, explore the map below or visit the image gallery.

 

Climate Change – Agriculture in Europe, a multimedia piece

Climate change is drastically altering the landscapes and farming industry of the European Continent. From the mountains of Norway to the low lying lands of Italy, from the innovations in the Netherlands to the suffering crops of Romanian farmers, the Project Survival Media team in Europe has explored this issue and produced a multimedia piece. A brief look at the situation, the piece touches on several issues affecting European farmers and shows that climate change is an issue that affects us all. Farmers are on the front line of the climate crisis, and we need strong, coordinated global action on climate change to ensure survival of this industry and our food supplies.