Global environmental challenges
Giant offshore wind turbines invade UK beaches! Will local residents resist?
By Kwok W. Wan
This time, it was a total surprise. In a taxi on the road towards the beach, Gunfleet Sands appeared out of no-where and without warning. Huge offshore wind turbines lined the English horizon.
My last encounter had been a far more distant affair, requiring a helicopter to see Robin Rigg in Cumbria, but Dong’s offshore wind farm was visible on the shore, visible from a car inland actually, and the giant machines pop up and startle you.
As we drove over the Frinton-on-Sea rail track earlier, the taxi driver pointed to the automatic electric barriers and said they replaced the hand-operated gates only last year, after the rail company overcame a three-year battle by residents who resisted the change.
Due to the conservative nature of the town, the driver said there was a myth that the town didn’t have a pub or fish and chip shop. But it wasn’t true. It got its first pub and fish and chip shop about ten years ago, he said.
“This town’s full of myths, but most of them aren’t true,” he said. Pause. “Yeah, so they’re myths,” he added, helpfully.
So how would this old south-east English town respond to a wind farm invasion? The planting of 129 metre tall turbines on its beaches? What would locals – who didn’t like electric rail crossing gates, pints of beer, or fried fish – think of the giant rotating blades slicing through the sea air?
Upon the walls of Frinton Golf Club hang black and yellowing photos of starched gentlemen in heavy clothing and hats. In the men’s changing rooms, locker doors are still made of solid wood and from the Victorian fairways, you can see where the Danish energy company has put 48 spinning turbines.
“No-one really minds them at all,” the taxi driver said, as he dropped me off at the club house. “There’ve been no protests or anything. No, nothing at all.”
Seven kilometres from land and with familiar white blades and towers with yellow bases, the wind farm is actually hardly noticeable, as you peer towards the putting green. It feels like it has already blended in with coastline, like imported sand in Hawaii, like faded red beach huts, or a crumbling wooden pier.
“They said it’s big enough for this whole area, so hopefully we’ll get some cheap electricity,” the taxi driver said, and laughed. I laughed, because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. And then I stopped laughing because I knew it wasn’t going to happen, and got out of the car.
At the Gunfleet Sand inauguration at Frinton Golf Club, Dong chief executive Anders Eldrup said the 172 megawatt wind farm cost Dong 4 billion Danish krone ($660 million). The same amount of money can pay for Scottish and Southern Energy’s UK Marchwood gas-fired power station, which at 840 megawatts is about five times bigger in terms of generation capacity, but is not renewable, carbon free, nor does it take into account the cost of buying gas.
A HSBC bank report published last year also estimated offshore wind was over twice as expensive as other ways of generating power, such as gas or nuclear.
I previously said I wanted the turbines to stay out of sight from the beach, but my opinions have spun and I’ve found I don’t really mind them at all. Like the people of Frinton, the old wooden gates in my mind have been removed and replaced with something new and electrified.