Government targets for renewable energy using wind turbines and solar panels have led to endless protests, neighbours in conflict, family rows and friends falling out. Just occasionally they have produced unlikely bedfellows, as with the recent support for solar panels by the National Trust and the RSPB.
The argument for and against wind turbines, whether in ones and twos or tens and hundreds is well known to most of us by now. It has been rehearsed more often than any other topic in local newspapers throughout the country for more than ten years. At times the argument has created more passion than I would have thought possible except at a Newcastle – Sunderland game or a Borders rugby clash.
For exactly the same reasons that it’s best for the neutral not to get involved – “Are you fae Hawick? No. Are you fae Gala? No. Then what’s it got to do with you?” – it’s best to stay clear of any specific wind turbine row. Which I do, while admitting that my general view has changed in the past year or so.
That is, I still don’t accept that wind turbines are an eyesore. Compare and contrast with the pylons strung across the countryside and along skylines in the 1960s and 1970s and say that wind turbines look worse. But we’re all happy to use the electricity pylons carry. The case is slightly different with wind turbines because of the subsidies involved. I now think opponents and protesters are probably right about the dodgy economies of wind-generated electricity and the difficulties of matching unreliable supply with demand.
So are solar panels a better bet, acres of them on the ground or on house roofs and the roofs of some giant sheds? The National Trust and RSPB apparently think so, offering support as the number of solar farms has quadrupled in the past two years to more than 180, each covering five acres or more with a further 250 being constructed and a further 100 at the planning stage.
A good thing? Certainly for wildlife, particularly bumblebees and butterflies and wild flowers, compared with their prospects on farmland, according to Dr Guy Parker, an ecologist, who carried out research on four existing solar panel farms. His report noted: “Because panels are raised above ground on posts more than 95 per cent of a field utilised for solar farm development is still accessible for plant growth.”
What could revolutionise the intermittent production of renewable energy sources such as panels or turbines, of course, is a method of storing the energy produced. That doesn’t seem imminent.
I have no sympathy for the farmer on whose farm Scotland’s first case of cattle scab was confirmed recently. Farmers have been warned since 2011 of the dangers of psoroptic mange reaching Britain, but the first confirmed case was found on, guess what, an imported calf. Shoot and foot come to mind.