Below is a letter that Cllr Cadogan Enright sent to the Down Recorder with regards the emerging debate between Environmentalists and Conservationists on the issue of Wind Turbines on the South Down Coast.
I read with interest your 3-page article on renewable energy in the Down area, and how the local planning authorities’ are failing to react in a manner consistent with UK government policy in support of renewable energy.
We have substantial river, tidal and sea current sources of renewable energy in this District. We have smaller biofuel, solar and photo-voltaic installations. The main issue in your article was wind energy and its relation to landscape conservation and economics.
All business development proposals interplay between Economics, the Environment and Conservation. Often in the past we have seen Ministers (usually DUP) intervening myopically to make economics the only angle. Witness Minister Poot’s out-of-town shopping decision which will devastate businesses in Banbridge, or the laughable planning policy proposal PPS23 where the Minister effectively is saying Economics is the only real planning criteria – clearly contrary to UK and EU law.
What is new in this energy debate is that there is now no difference between the economic and environmental position. It is clear to all in industry that cheap fuel oil has had its day. Only the DUP seem to be dissenting from this environmental and economic consensus.
As highlighted in your article, business must reduce consumption or switch to cheaper renewables. This applies to N.I. as a whole – we cannot depend on 90% of the county’s energy being reliably and affordably being delivered by the Russians, the Arabs and the Nigerians. The supply of hydro-carbons has peaked. Demand continues to grow. There can only be one conclusion, and it’s not going to be pretty for N.I. and Co. Down.
The only remaining debate on wind turbines is with Conservationists. The key question is “What are we trying to conserve?”. Only 200 years ago all energy in East Down came from wind, water, horse power, biofuel and human labour. There were hundreds of wind mills all over East Down.
With the industrial revolution we lost much of this indigenous fuel, and we saw quays being reinforced around the District to accommodate coal. Now conservationists place almost equal emphasis on preserving these now redundant coal quays along with preserving the biodiversity and landscape in which they are based – as in Delamont or Steamboat Quay in Downpatrick. In London, iconic coal power stations are being listed for conservation – but how they were loathed when they were first built!
Conservationists and Environmentalists fight to preserve local railway tracks. The railways in this area were not killed off by the internal combustion engine, petrol and the car. They were killed off by the political decision to have railways pay for their tracks, but not have road vehicles pay for their roads. Clearly the new energy reality is going to change this equation and we may once again see the Downpatrick express pulling into Queens Quay in Belfast.
Had conservationism been strong in the 19th century we would have hundreds of wind mills dotted all over East Down and along our coast now only a few stumps remain like the old windmill at Mill Field in Killough.
Conservationists need to ask, what do we really need to conserve? We lost the tidal powered mills in Strangford to the Vikings. Our field system came from the Normans. We lost our vast forests to agricultural development and the Ulster Plantation. We lost windmills and watermills to the Industrial Revolution. Our landscape was marred in the 1930’s by electrification. Would our landscape be recognisable to our ancestors?
It seems to me that the key thing we need to conserve is the best aspects of our built and natural heritage – but focus on reviving our local bio-diversity. Meanwhile we must ensure a sustainable, cheap energy supply for our children that does not damage the environment and keeps our money at home and our people in jobs. Advanced economies like Germany, Holland, Austria and Denmark are already doing this – we need to catch up.
Cllr Cadogan Enright