The Politics of Wind Farming

By Peter Etherden

Slicing up flocks of Canadian geese as they wing their way across Romney Marsh is one way to keep bird flu at bay. But this underestimates avian intelligence. Migrating birds only fly along the English shipping lanes because the French peasants are gunning for them on the other side of the channel. Birds are quick learners which is more than can be said for the human species.

Take this silly idea of farming the wind. For those who go down to the sea in a sailboat the first lesson is how to put up your sail. Next you get taught the fine nautical art of spilling wind. Your problem is too much wind not too little. How much energy do we really need? Well the answer is: ‘Not a lot!’ Lie in the sun for half an hour and you will find out. You might not have got all the energy you need for a year, but your planet has. The sun showers the earth with all the energy our species generates in the course of one year in just half an hour. Have you ever got up early in the morning to watch the earth go down as the sun smacks night time clean out of the sky? That’s power. How puny are our human needs in comparison. But what actually are these needs? They come in three easy to understand forms: to heat up space, to rush ourselves and our stuff around and to wind things up.

We hardly ever need to be warmer than our own body temperatures so boiling a nuclear kettle to the sort of silly numbers best kept ninety three million miles away in the centre of the sun is about as loopy as it gets. Insulation is the name of the space heating game. Once you have it, don’t lose it. Most of our rushing around is unnecessary and counterproductive. Food miles are a case in point. Who needs them? Slow is beautiful and the future is still. As for winding things up. We’re doing more and more with less and less. Wind-up laptops will soon be all the rage following fast on the heels of wind-up torches and wind-up radios. Electricity use will go down not up over the next few decades. So much for the demand side of the equation. What about supply? This sceptered isle is surrounded by sea. Free energy on tap and ours for the harvesting. Tide mills and wave power should be the English way to energy selfsufficiency.

But if you insist on farming the wind then let me give you a hint. If you are old enough you may remember the cluster of cooling towers at Ferrybridge. They collapsed. There was a Commission of Inquiry. ‘It was the wind wot did it. Honest m’lud!’ But not just the wind. It was the lay-out of the cooling towers that was the root cause of the collapse. Unwittingly the designers had exceeded their brief and created a wind factory. Meanwhile the younger ones among my readers might like to reflect on why the skyscraper city of Chicago is called the windy city. Bernoulli is the correct answer. He discovered that fluids flow and that the shape of the containing vessel is what really matters. Our little local worlds can be shaped to suit the needs of our turbines. There is no need to put them hundreds of feet in the air at the end of long poles. Bring wind to your turbines instead of taking your turbines to the wind.

But what has need to do with it. Very little! Let me introduce you to a group of gentlemen with names like Roels, Fischer, Schneider, Bonekamp, Maichel and Sturany who inhabit the supervisory board of RWE, an enormous power and utilities conglomerate with an annual turnover of five billion pounds. The Little Cheyne Court Wind Farm these barbarians plan to build on Romney Marsh is not about wind power or renewable energy or even economic efficiency but about the black hole in the accounts of the RWE Aktiengesellschaft, a company which stealthily hides the de-commissioning costs of its nuclear power plants from public gaze by the sleight of hand of ‘net present value’ mis-accounting.

Mssrs. Roels & Co believe their salvation is in offloading their loss-making German landfill sites and seeking shareholder nirvana in the Garden Of England far away from the shrewd German regulatory regime for energy providers. In Germany it is impossible for scorched earth operators like RWE to do what the ignorant pillars of the British Establishment encourage. Welcome to Romney Marsh all ye carbon polluters. No need for your shares to go into freefall. Erect a forest of monstrous towers each twice as tall as Nelson’s Column. Collect your free carbon credits each time you pass GO. Indeed let us pay your construction costs out of the public purse. Our English house-owners expect to be taxed until the pips squeak. They have become used to it. Trade your way out of financial disaster. Why do it unprofitably in your own backyard when you can destroy beauty profitably far far away on the other side of the English Channel?

RWE’s Annual Report comes out on 23rd February 2006. Order your copy from or talk to RWE’s spin doctors on +49 1801 451280. But why not buy a few shares in the company? It’s a small price to pay for saving paradise. Invite yourself to the company’s annual general meeting in Essen on 13th April 2006. And while you have your broker on the line, instruct her to buy shares in Doughty Hanson, the turbine blade manufacturer. Rumour has it that Nigel Doughty is a major contributor to New Labour’s party funds. Now there’s a surprise.

About the Author Peter Etherden lives and works in Rye and is a regular contributor to Rye’s Own. His paper ‘Energy – a long wave perspective’ was presented at the annual convention of the Association of Eastern Economists in Philadelphia in 1981. The article ‘Energy Wars’ was published in Fourth World Review in 2002 under the pseudonym William Shepherd and is available at

About Romney Marsh Romney Marsh on the Kent-Sussex border is one of the most beautiful lowland areas in Britain with a magic all of its own. On the coast, it is bordered by the exquisite ancient towns of Rye and Winchelsea. Outside the towns, the roads and lanes, flanked by rich hedgerows, wind through charming villages and hamlets and fine farmland often heavy with grazing sheep. Beautiful small and even tiny churches, sited on spots now largely deserted, have inspired travel writers by their neat, simple interiors. The area is a home to many rare birds and a vital migratory route in the spring and autumn attracting bird watchers from all over the world.

About the Company RWE is an enormous power and utilities conglomerate with an annual turnover of five billion pounds. RWE has devised a series of cunning plans to exploit the gaping holes in New Labour’s regulatory regimes of the energy and water sectors and does so most efficiently for the benefit of German shareholders and to the considerable detriment of the long-suffering residents and tax-payers of the English Home Counties. Half of RWE’s operations are in Germany and a fifth in the United Kingdom where it trades under such brand names as Thames Water, Yorkshire Electricity and Npower. In an article in the Daily Mail on Friday 28th October 2005, the columnist Andrew Alexander recommended that those who feel strongly about the beauty of our waning countryside should avoid buying their water, electricity or gas through or from RWE.

From “Rye’s Own “ December 2005

All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement.