The National Trust’s Patrick Begg reflects on the role of wind schemes in a green energy future

Chris Goodall’s challenge to the Trust’s ambitious renewables programme (“Why is the Trust investing in renewables while fighting a windfarm?” The Guardian, 19 April 2013) raises some important questions, not just for us but for the nation in general.  In particular, his questions prompt us, as a nation, to reflect on what we want from our land in a crowded, but still in many parts an inspirationally beautiful, country.

For the Trust, we are very clear that well-designed and sensitively located wind schemes can play a part in the UK’s future energy mix.  In principle, we stand four-square behind the need for a much more assertive shift to renewables, of all types, which will hep tackle climate change and promote a more secure, resilient, low-carbon energy future for the UK.

The North Front of Lyveden New Bield, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, in the evening light

The North Front of Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire

 Equally, we will continue to stand up for very special places like Lyveden, or wild areas of coastline where the views out are as cherished and sensitive as the views in.  And that’s the big point here: some things, we believe, are too important to be traded off.  Reducing the debates on future energy deployment and technologies to a simple £s per KwH equation is risky in the extreme.

 These are three-dimensional questions which, in the Trust’s view, must embrace a broader range of factors.  The power of natural beauty and the often transformational effects that experiences of wildness, aesthetic genius or true depth of history are forces for good in the UK and must have their champions.  Our core purpose asks us to stand up for beauty when it is under threat and an increasingly loose planning system has sharpened our appreciation of this responsibility.  Surely it’s also unsurprising that major landscape interventions near our places – owned in the first place by the Trust because of their national significance – carry the biggest risks.  We’ll continue to be unapologetic for standing up for their wider setting and intrinsic qualities.

Badly designed infrastructure of any kind is a growing risk to some of the UK’s most fundamental assets: our internationally unrivalled built and natural heritage which underpins some of the biggest sectors of our economy.  In a renewables context, I also worry that the polarisation of debates to an argument between climate fanatics and climate sceptics is unhelpful in the extreme.  One group is unbendingly committed to renewables at any cost; the other equally trenchantly anti. The latter using wind to obscure the wider range of options for switching to renewables, or even to underplay the need for changes in lifestyle that will reduce overall demand for power.

The Anafon river where the Aber community hydro will be installed

The Anafon river where the Aber community hydro will be installed

We believe that our programme can help bridge some of these divisions.  It’s not by accident that we’re focussing on micro-generation, mostly via hydro schemes and wood-fuel.  Most people would recognise that our 250,000 ha of land give us an unrivalled opportunity to generate energy.  We’ve looked hard at the technologies that will work with our places and are also looking at schemes where there is the potential to broaden out the benefit to local communities. We want to demonstrate what can be achieved when the landscape or heritage context is challenging.  Our hydros, for example, will produce real energy grunt, yet we believe they can be designed and fitted to local, wild settings in the fells and valleys of Cumbria and Wales. 

We have an amazing natural treasury of resources and renewable power is one of the dividends to be realised: but not at the cost of other, equally important dimensions.

By Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust

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