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.”