Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Concrete shock

Harnessing the Power of the Dee - Charles Oppenheimer, 1933.

This is my letter in response to two letters in response to my original letter about wind-farms...

Dear Sir,
                 In reply to  Delya Wilkinson and Alan Keith’s letters [20 October 2011], it seems  there are two main objections to wind farms. One is essentially aesthetic and concerns the visual impact of wind farms. The other is economic and concerns the inefficiency of wind farms as generators of electricity.

Thinking about the aesthetic objection, I remember visiting the first ’Homecoming’ exhibition of  paintings by the Kirkcudbright artists in 2000.  Most of the paintings were of scenes which captured the tranquillity of the Galloway landscape. But one painting stopped me dead in my tracks. It was by Charles Oppenheimer and showed a brutal mass of stark white concrete, dominating and overpowering the rural landscape.

The painting was one of three (Art in Concrete, Harnessing the Dee and Galloway Dam, Nearing Completion)  by Oppenheimer which document in graphic detail the ‘industrial devastation of the landscape’(to use Alan Keith‘s phrase) caused by the construction of dams for the Galloway Hydro-Electric scheme in the 1930s. But outside of an art exhibition, is anyone still shocked by these brutal concrete structures?   Of course not. The dams and turbine halls have become unremarkable features of the landscape. Likewise, once the fear of the new gives way to familiarity, wind-turbines will lose their power to trouble and disturb.

Turning to the  economic argument against wind-power, the Cruachan Power Station  mentioned  favourably by Delya Wilkinson is part of a pumped storage hydro-electric system.  The same principle could be used here. When the wind blows, electricity generated by wind power could be used  to pump water into the higher dams on the Galloway hydro-electric system, storing it for later use. By combining wind and water power, the overall efficiency of the generating system would be improved.

Realistically, since converting  the existing hydro-electric scheme to a pumped storage system will require significant investment, it will need a strong local campaign to make the case for such an innovative proposal. However, while finding ways to improve the efficiency of wind-power may answer the economic critics, it will not satisfy those critics who oppose wind-power on aesthetic grounds. The problem here is how best to manage the visual impact of wind farms.

In 1999,  widespread concerns over the expansion of forestry in Galloway led to a series of detailed public consultations. Those attending were given maps and asked to indicate  where and where not to plant more trees. These maps were then used to create Dumfries and Galloway’s Indicative Forestry Strategy. A similar process of public consultation could be used to manage the location and hence visual impact of wind farms.

Alistair Livingston


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