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Exporting electricity: rural damage to provide city's benefits

Rural landscape spoilt by windfarm pylons

There have been reports recently of the opposition of local people in Powys, Wales to the erection of windfarm pylons across their landscape to carry Welsh windfarm electricity into the National Grid in England. Penny Ravenhill is pithily quoted as saying: "It's all part of 's*** on the Welsh' so you can carry on your way of living". While her choice of words indicates her passion, she raises a wider point, addressed in my energy talk, about who should pay the price for the benefits of having access to energy.

Her, and other locals, specific point is that they don't see why the Welsh countryside should be spoilt to provide electricity for the English. This is, in microcosm, an ethical issue affecting the world. There are huge benefits to a population in having reliable access to energy. There are also environmental and social impacts in producing it. I have argued that those who who pay this price should be those who benefit from the energy. Ergo I am uncomfortable with, for example, the impacts on Nigeria and the Arctic regions which allow us energy benefits. Can we really argue in my part of Scotland, that our landscape is more precious than that of the Arctic? That it is preferable to reduce pack ice and (emotively) impact on the viability of polar bears than it is to see wind turbines out of your window (which I can).

Of course, Scotland exports electricity to England too. It may be fine to spoil the view out of my window for my electricity, but can I justify it being spoilt for the benefit of consumers in another country? Well, that's what the UK quite happily does: there is a wider perspective here, which local nimbyism doesn't see. Take Penny's quote and substitute 'Inuit' for 'Welsh'. Or 'Nigerians'. Or 'the Middle east'.

So let's really keep things local and accept the whole package, rather then just cherry picking the benefits: local energy production, local supply, and local impacts. Then, hopefully, we wouldn't be defecating on anyone.


This is just one of the ideas explored in my energy talk

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