“The whole reasoning behind wind energy doesn’t stack up… it’s driven by short term political needs”

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Photo: KPLG
Photo: KPLG
Photo: KPLG

Graham Lang is a man with a purpose. Raised amongst the rolling tranquillity of rural Scotland, and educated as a professional in its industrial heart, he values the geographical division of work and rest – a prospect he believes is jeopardised by the University’s efforts to erect six 100m high turbines on its nearby farm at Kenly, around a mile from St Andrews. He does not remotely resemble the typical NIMBY, however: dressed in traditional tweed, he civilly greets me along with his advisor, Linda Holt, in the lobby of the library on a biting January day. We proceed to the hushed silence of a library work room, and the interview commences amicably.

What is immediately striking is how they view this project as a reflection of deep, strenuous tensions between town and gown, stretched to breaking point by this explosive issue. Mr Lang is experienced and successful in lobbying against previous wind farm developments, such as at Auchtermuchty; this particular case, however, seems to have transcended what he and his assistant Linda call simple ‘NIMBY-ism’, to become a personal vendetta between outraged local residents and a “self-serving monolith” of a University.

Ms Holt interjects: “It’s the hypocrisy which really sticks in people’s throats…Here is a University celebrating its 600th anniversary by promoting ‘good practice’, and yet they have ground down all opposition, and refused to set up a dialogue between the developers and community.” She believes that “town and gown relations are at the lowest ebb in living memory” and that this incident is the “cherry on the cake” in the University “pursuing its own narrow self-interest regardless of the needs of the local community”.

Conversation progresses, and the two campaigners increasingly assert that this is more than a matter for local dispute. This particular project has received comments from both Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown, with the latter quoted by the University as supporting “another leap forward” in Fife’s quest to become carbon-neutral in its energy generation. Kenly Landscape Protection Group (KLPG), fanning the flames of local angst over the transformation of the immutable Scottish landscape, has organised the largest anti-wind demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament, numbering 300 lobbyists.

The Facebook page of their sister group, Stop St Andrews University Wind Farm, numbers nearly 200 members, with a not insignificant proportion of apparent Scottish UKIP supporters – perhaps of the view that wind farms are just another trashy, intrusive European initiative designed to pander to Brussels’ favour.

There are 372 objections to Kenly, although the University said Fife Council’s website showed that 84% of those are from one KLPG template, as opposed to 200 letters in support of the project, of which none are templates.

Ms Holt triumphantly added that they will be “absolutely” taking their campaign to America, targeting an area particularly sensitive to the University’s recruitment interests – its transatlantic reputation for American students. She dismisses the project’s endorsements from the upper echelons of power: “the whole reasoning behind wind energy doesn’t stack up…it’s potty… driven by short-term political needs.”

Mr Lang and Ms Holt claimed that the University “wanted to close down debate” between residents and developers, which the University said is simply untrue. Indeed, by way of reply, the University lists 11 meetings of the ‘Kenly Project Board’ between 15 January 2009 and 31 January 2011 on its website which sought to enter into dialogue between local residents and developers, whilst a blog from Transition St Andrews, the University’s environmental society, claims to be “talking to neighbours, local residents and landowners about our ideas for a community wind farm.” The University also informed The Saint that personal visits have been made to 90 properties in the area.

In the interview, we move from the case-specific dynamite of the University dispute, and I ask Mr Lang whether he feels wind energy is viable: his response is emphatic – “I think there is a reason why wind has been abandoned as a whole.” Ms Holt jumps on this statement: “Wind is for mills and sailing ships”. Such a sweeping statement would perhaps be justified if, as he claims, “everything we say is based on fact”; there have, however, been many instances where wind energy has been a major success story – South Australia, for instance, now generates over a quarter of all its energy from extensive wind farm operations.

Both Mr Lang and Ms Holt are not, at least, completely opposed to progressing from toxic fossil fuels: they are advocates instead of cleaner nuclear energy, such as “thorium reactors”, an as-yet undeveloped technology that nevertheless contains huge potential to alleviate dispute over the “deceitful” wind industry.

The majority of the University’s official publications on the project focus, of course, on the extensive environmental advantages of adopting wind energy: their leaflet, ‘Kenly Wind Farm Update’ states for instance that the project will save 19,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

The majority of KLPG’s publications, on the other hand, devote extensive attention to pointing out the damage to the localised landscape and business. “Can our wonderful, beautiful relatively flat landscape cope with six, 100 metre industrial structures?” the website’s Q&A section implores.

Neither side appears willing to concede the positives of the other’s arguments, and the issue is far from resolved. In acknowledgment of this, the University commented: “The simple, inarguable fact is that there is support for and against Kenly, which is entirely to be expected, and reflects a community which has engaged with consultation and formed its own views. In over three years of consultation, that is all we could have hoped to achieve.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. As I write this, the whole of the UK wind fleet is producing less than 0.7 GigaWatts, which is under 11% of installed capacity. How on earth can this be a sensible contribution to our energy needs during such a cold night? The best that wind has done in recent weeks has been only 70% of capacity and was almost a record. This wondrous production of extremely expensive power has been at the expense of some of the best countryside in our country and is terribly detrimental to our tourist industry. Vast swathes of wonderful scenery are blighted by the horrors of turbines dotted randomly across the landscape, together with the huge system of pylons needed to carry the power. One has only to look at the desecration of the Beuly/Denny power line to see what destruction is being made to our landscape. And all for a measly amount of unreliable power that, in any case, has to be backed up constantly by conventional power plants. The huge costs of all this is forcing many people into fuel poverty and this will onlt get worse as time goes on.

    Mention is made of people belonging to UKIP. So what. If UKIP is the only party that has a solid policy of stopping the remorseless march of these dreaded monsters across our country then I for one, will vote UKIP. This is not a matter of political parties. It is a battle to save our country from destruction by mindless, greedy beurocrats and their wind allies.

    In all my long life I have never felt driven to protest against anything, but now, with this wind idiocy, this worm has finally turned.

  2. Mr Pilkington, you might have benefited from doing a little more leg-work before you dashed off this glaringly-biased article. You’ve obviously been happy to allow the university to brief you about what to write.

    The Facebook group Stop St Andrews University Wind Farm has been renamed Scotland Against Spin. Members don’t think that wind farms are just another trashy, intrusive European initiative. They know that wind factories are being built because of European initiatives and political agreements with Europe, and know that voting UKIP may well be our last chance of escaping from these destructive agreements.

  3. The Scotland Against Spin facebook group, which evolved from the Stop St Andrews University Wind Farm page, has nearly 200 members, an estimated nine of whom are clearly UKIP supporters. I can see no relevance of, or need for, the statement… ‘with a not insignificant proportion of apparent Scottish UKIP supporters’ in this rather peculiar piece of writing.

    Scotland Against Spin is completely independent of any political party, lobbying organisation, landowner or developer. It neither knows nor cares about the political persuasion of its supporters.

  4. As a Fife resident I am concerned about not only the destruction of the Fife countryside because of a flawed ideology but the destruction of Scotland’s world famous scenery, landscapes and the destructive health effects to local residents. As one of the “apparent UKIP supporters” I am on a number of anti turbine Facebook sites not just Scotland Against Spin. Just for the record UKIP have been highlighting this issue at each election since the 2009 EU elections. It is not only the destruction of our countryside which is concerning but also the insanity of the subsidy system which is enriching overseas companies to the detriment of our electricity users. This drives up the costs to our industries and our household cost of living as well as driving families into fuel poverty, all because of flawed and manipulated scientific data combined with cynical political ideology.

  5. The university and the students/staff prompted to write supporting letters, say that noise isn’t a problem and they look “beautiful.” So why is the university not using a site nearer the sub-station at St Andrews? This would save a considerable amount of money on cables/pylons and reduce the loss of electricity transmission over the 8km to Kenly.

  6. I find it odd that a political persuasion comes into the argument over wind turbines, simply how would you know this, many Facebook users have friends from a variety of different parties and do not always identify their own political allegiance. It is well known that you can get a computer programme that churns out letters that appear individual… the rub is that many local groups can not afford such a luxury and time is always against the people that must rally support to defend what they prize most, their health and well being and protecting the environment. Were it not for the lavish subsidies hardly any wind turbines would be erected. I fail to see why Scotland is not protecting its best asset namely the landscape, this is why people flock to the Highlands, will they be so keen when the beauty has been marred by these monumental machines? the students at the University are only transient visitors, the views of the people who live there long term should carry far more weight. Given that Mr Salmond appears to be pursing wind power with all vigour, how can an unbiased view be taken when this goes to appeal? Years from now we will all suffer from the folly of what is taking place, these machines only work when the wind blows, which is not all the time, they need conventional backup for when there is no wind or too much wind and the costs are crippling. I feel really saddened by what is happening in Scotland.

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