Wind farm nimbyism says no at a time when we need to say yes

Nimbyism neglects the demands of energy security, economic growth and climate change in favour of a narrow self interest. Last week, Alexander Chancellor declared himself in favour of nimbyism. In the debate on wind farms, this acronym, derived from "not in my back yard", signifies a state of mind of those who protest against wind farms in their residential area, almost entirely on aesthetic grounds.

Which is the crux of the problem. An aesthetic objector will start with a sense that a wind farm will in some way devalue the landscape and his property. Sensing that this is not a sufficient reason to object against renewable energy, he will then drag into the debate all sorts of cod-scientific evidence on why wind turbines don’t work, often with a tilt at Brussels eurocrats and perceived environmental "political correctness".

Chancellor’s article follows the same pattern. The view from his 17th-century pavilions would be "blighted" by a wind farm three miles away. The turbine blades could spook the horses. There is a sense that people are afraid of criticising wind farms, although according to Chancellor, a Sunday Times article (it was actually the Mail on Sunday), they cause more harm than good.

Let us for a moment leave aside the question of visual impact, and look at the facts. Is there a lack of debate about windfarms in this country? In the 12-month period to May 2010 there were over 12,000 articles on wind energy and wind farms in the UK press, many of them critical. As a consequence, the latest planning statistics show that in England only 33% of onshore wind farms get approved at local authority level. Worryingly, at many planning inquiries, newspaper opinion pieces and columns are often being produced as evidence against wind power planning applications, despite a wealth of practical and theoretical evidence from around the world, on every aspect of wind farm operation and safety.

This is particularly unfortunate, as our wind resource, despite being the best in Europe, is woefully underutilised. A large wind turbine in the UK delivers on average 50% more energy than one in Germany, yet despite this we have only one turbine per 100 square kilometres of land mass, compared with six in Germany.

But even at this very limited level of deployment the wind power plants in the UK have delivered some notable results. For instance, according to statistics for the third quarter of 2010, in Scotland renewables now supply over a quarter of all electricity, with wind power supplying a half of the total and all other renewable technologies the other half. In the UK as a whole renewables are close to 9%, again with wind supplying a half and all other renewable technologies supplying the other half.

The upshot of this development has been the spectacular employment growth in the wind energy sector. In the past three years, as the amount of wind energy delivered to the grid doubled, so has the number of employees. Regions such as the north-east are abuzz with the announcements on new jobs and manufacturing facilities. Three years ago, our 4,800-plus wind sector workforce was dwarfed even by Denmark’s 20,000 employees.

Now, at 10,000 and with the opportunity to create many more, the UK is being seen as an emerging force. Should all this not be considered as a valid argument, alongside someone’s aesthetic preference? Should we also not consider that an average wind turbine installed in the UK contributes over £2m during its lifetime to the local and regional economy? Perhaps the reason Nimbyism has a reputation for social irresponsibility and shortsightedness is precisely because it neglects the pressing demands of energy security, economic growth and climate change in favour of a narrow and particular self interest.

I would also urge Chancellor to consider that the problem with nimbyism is not that it is politically incorrect. The problem is that it does not offer solutions. It says no at a time when we need yes. We need energy from renewables, and we need jobs. Wind can deliver both.

Oh, and by the way, wind farms do not spook horses – this is just another myth.

By Maria McCaffery. MBE is Chief executive of trade body RenewableUK.