The Angry Corrie 33: Sep-Oct 97

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More tilting at windfarms

Ronald Turnbull

"How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills / Far marked with the courses of clear winding rills!" Well, R Burns did have a problem here - though anyone who could describe the Carsphairns as "lofty" is well-equipped with poetic fancy, and should have managed a better rhyme than that Anglicistic "rills". (No, not "thrills", though for contour-counters there's a definite frisson in Dugland, at 608m the lowest 2000ft hill in the world.) Sometimes it's hard work remembering that Burns is Best, but Forrest Estate have done their bit to help. Two hundred years after the event, a Danish shipping magnate has supplied Scotland's poet with the rhyme he needed, in the shape of " ... the blades of thy turbulent mills!"

Verse is all very well. Squat in an informal drinking den at the bottom of the Afton Glen well round the corner from the grassy and largely rill-free Donalds of Blacklorg, Blackcraig, Alwhat and Alhang. Roll your poetic eye in a fine frenzy towards various low bits of the Southern Uplands. But the pursuit of that flat-topped and abundantly false-summitted two-thousand-footer "Truth" takes one to strangely cold and cruel spots on the earth's surface, in this case the former Kirkpatrick's sausage factory at Thornhill. Here were raised for our edification Differing Points of View. Once up, they disagreed with one another's figures: this is called "balance". "Wind turbines are silent, and have been shown to benefit tourism", said the young man in collar-and-tie with Barbour jacket over the top. And he should know, because his wages are paid out of the windfarm rents. But isn't that combination of tie-and-Barbour unbearably creepy? "One 55m-high turbine produces enough power for two toasters going full blast, and induces epileptic fits", said the man with the heather-mixture beard and the woolly jumper. And he should know, because he's got the things at the bottom of his garden. But really, that isn't a truly convincing beard ...

Self-deception is a fine and necessary thing, and we hillwalkers may have muscles in our legs, but the ones we really need to train by strict and disciplined regime are the muscles of the mind: the muscles to bend rough reality into the shapes of the imagination. Tertullian believed it because it was impossible. But hillwalking is a softer sport than theology, and the things we have to persuade ourselves of are really terrifically easy to believe. "The challenge of Rannoch Moor" (eight miles of peat in the rain is fun). At the Moor's end there's "the cosy bothy". "The remoteness of the mountain-tops" (the remotest Munro, A' Mhaighdean, is ten big kilometres from the road; the other remotest Munro, Carn Ealar, is an even bigger eighteen. Such case-hardened brains can surely manage "the handsome clean-limbed splendour of the wind turbine".

This isn't, though, a mere matter of faith, as reason backs it up. Nuclear power is dodgy because of the half-life of caesium and stuff. Therefore, wind turbines are fine handsome structures. Come on, you can do it, you're just not trying. And you'd better try, as the (late) Government's target for the things was 3000MW by the year 2001 (based on 500kW per turbine, ie the maximum output; to get average output of 3000MW you need four times as many). That's 150 hilltops and forty upthrusting, magnificently phallic, flashing, aerodynamic ... well, they won't be in Surrey mostly, so if you want to enjoy hilltops, you'd better start enjoying windfarms. Suppose it an exotic product of Nature, a mighty giant of the peat bog, I mean if it was a tree it would be a Californian Redwood and we'd form the Sierra Club to preserve it. You can practise on the Lowther domes, which are nothing but curiously long-loved puffballs, and you should just see them at spawning time, when scraps of aluminium drift down the hillside and flash in the late sunlight across the Enterkin Pass. You can practise on low-flying jets, which are a sort extra-spectacular eagle lending excitement to any walk, plus eagles are so quiet you can miss them, also a boring brown colour. Practise on concrete dams and textured reservoir edges: the true loveliness of Lochs Quoich, Cluanie, Glascarnoch, Ericht, Lyon, Affric, Monar, Mullardoch, Loyne, Garry and Treig being the way they produce quite a bit of Britain's energy requirement at absolutely no cost to the environment whatever.

Redwoods don't grow at 2000ft in Dumfriesshire, and the cold wind of fact can shrivel the tender flowers of the imagination. So I won't mention that one 220ft turbine, rated at 500kW, produces an average 125kW, while my house last November consumed 375W, so that the Windy Standard forty turbines could power 333 households or a town nearly as huge as Thornhill provided we sit up o' windy nights making toast and go torpid on still days. To store the windpower for when you actually want it, all it takes is a very big battery. One the size of Ben Cruachan does the trick. (Very roughly, if a windfarm is to be anything more than a big thrusting pain in the arse for the controller of the National Grid, a large part of its maximum production must go straight into storage. Say half, and with Cruachan sucking up or sploshing down 400MW, that's a new Cruachan for every forty windfarms.) And all this electricity, produced by the wind, is absolutely free, costing no more than one and a half times what we're already paying. But where's the fun in facts? Think positive. Think phallic. Think big beautiful sticky-up windfarms.

Ed. - Sorry to bring the Teletubbies into such theological stuff, but has anyone else noticed that on the horizon behind Dipsy, Laa Laa, Po and the mercurial Tinky Winky stands what appears to be, for all the world, some form of wind turbine? Forget drugs and subliminal imagery, this is the real hidden agenda behind Teletubbies. But oh what can it mean? To inculcate in children that "wind is cool"? A secret sponsorship deal between the Scandinavian wind farm manufacturers and Ragdoll Productions? Or an anti-farm attempt to link wind power with puerile prancing-about and sub-Clangers dialogue?

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