Winds of Change: In the Past Decade, Wind Farms Have Become Fixtures across Britain's Countryside, Providing the Nation with Renewable Energy-And Polarising Opinion, with Opponents Viewing Turbines as Eyesores and Doubting Their Green Credentials. but These Tall, Slender Sentinels Are Here to Stay, and Can Provide an Interesting Centrepiece to Your Landscape Photography

By Wilson, Keith | Geographical, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Winds of Change: In the Past Decade, Wind Farms Have Become Fixtures across Britain's Countryside, Providing the Nation with Renewable Energy-And Polarising Opinion, with Opponents Viewing Turbines as Eyesores and Doubting Their Green Credentials. but These Tall, Slender Sentinels Are Here to Stay, and Can Provide an Interesting Centrepiece to Your Landscape Photography


Wilson, Keith, Geographical


The earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March may yet prove to be the catalyst for change that spurs the world into pursuing a future powered by renewable energy. The radiation leakage from the stricken Fukishima nuclear power plant has proven of graver long-term concern to Japan and the international community than the destruction and huge loss of life inflicted on coastal towns. Suddenly Japan's nuclear power stations are perceived as vulnerable to the seismic shifts that characterise the subterranean geography of this island nation. By contrast, according to the Japan Wind Power Association, not a single wind turbine in Japan was damaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake or subsequent tsunami.

There are more than 1,700 wind turbines in Japan, generating approximately 2,300 megawatts of electricity, but this represents a tiny fraction of the country's energy needs. However, the images of explosions rising ominously over the stricken Fukishima power station have forced governments all over the world to review their plans for nuclear power expansion. Suddenly, wind power, with its forests of turbines rising starkly over land- and seascapes, is being taken more seriously by government and industry alike.

GROWTH AND CONFLICT

Few countries can match the UK's current investment in wind power. At the start of this year, there were nearly 290 operational wind farms containing a total of 3,100 turbines in Britain. Many are major feats of engineering, particularly those situated offshore, where the tallest turbines are to be found. For example, 175 turbines, each the height of the Big Ben clock tower/ are being constructed in the Thames Estuary. The UK is the world leader in constructing offshore turbines, and needs to have 7,500 in place by 2020 in order to meet the EU target of generating a fifth of energy supply through renewable needs.

In short, wind turbines are here to stay. However, despite the fact that they produce renewable, carbon-free energy, wind farms aren't immune from opposition. As a conspicuous feature of our landscape and coastline, wind farms raise the ire of many, including conservationists and photographers. 'If I wanted to build in an area of outstanding natural beauty, I wouldn't be allowed, yet these turbines are 22 storeys high and put on hills where everyone can see them,' remarked naturalist David Bellamy in 2004. 'They need 1,000 tonnes of concrete and a road infrastructure. It beggars belief that some environmental groups say they are "green"!'

Bellamy's quote is still used by anti-wind-turbine campaigners, but other environmental groups argue that humanity's harnessing of natural resources permanently altered the British landscape centuries before the erection of the first windmill. The irony is that the quintessential English landscape that many seek to preserve is largely man-made anyway, through hundreds of years of deforestation, cultivation, human settlement and the exploitation of natural resources.

LANDMARKS IN THE LANDSCAPE

The appearance of large wind turbines in the UK landscape is a recent phenomenon. Ecotricity, a leading green-energy supplier, built the UK's first megawatt wind turbine in 1999. Now the centerpiece of the Ecotech Centre in Swaffham, Norfolk, the 60-metre-high windmill supplies power to 9S2 homes and is the only wind turbine in the world with a public viewing platform (designed by Sir Norman Foster).

With thousands now in place and thousands more under construction or at the planning stage, wind turbines have become a landscape feature as omnipresent as a stone dyke, hedgerow, golf course or mobile phone mast. Increasingly landscape photographers have to consider how best to include (or exclude) these structures when planning their forays into the countryside or along the coast.

In isolation, a wind turbine may be viewed as a prominent landmark; grouped together in a wind farm, turbines become the main subject. …

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Winds of Change: In the Past Decade, Wind Farms Have Become Fixtures across Britain's Countryside, Providing the Nation with Renewable Energy-And Polarising Opinion, with Opponents Viewing Turbines as Eyesores and Doubting Their Green Credentials. but These Tall, Slender Sentinels Are Here to Stay, and Can Provide an Interesting Centrepiece to Your Landscape Photography
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