Will Anderson: The Green House

It may offend our Englishness, but we could yet learn to love renewable power
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The Independent Online

Every now and then, and especially on St George's Day, the English enjoy a brief moment of introspection, reflecting on what lies at the heart of Englishness. As I have English, Scottish, Irish and German roots, this question doesn't bother me too much. But there is one simple answer I find persuasive: an enduring love of the landscape. It is therefore not surprising that a Government supposedly committed to tackling climate change vetoes a major development of wind power in the Cumbrian fells, a satanic intrusion in our green and pleasant land.

A landscape close to my own heart is the iridescent coast of Northumberland, where stark, sweeping beaches meet a turbulent sea. This coastline, like so many others in Britain, is dotted with great, decaying concrete blocks, reminders of a long-gone military threat to the English way of life. No one was consulted about these aberrations to the landscape; the threat was real and the response was thorough. Sixty years later we face a new threat, but the state response is anything but thorough. Wind farms in Cumbria may capture the headlines, but at the more humble domestic level, Government ambition is also in short supply.

The Clear Skies programme was a successful grant-funding scheme that enabled thousands of households to reduce the costs of installing solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps. It was closed last week. The success of the scheme ought to have triggered a major increase in its scope and grants, but this was not to be. The form of its replacement - the Low Carbon Buildings Programme - has not yet been announced, but it is likely that the guaranteed grants of Clear Skies will not survive and applicants will have to compete for the money. Some bids will be successful, others will not.

The worthy aim of the new programme is to encourage people to consider energy-efficiency measures alongside renewable technologies, but all this change will do is dissuade people from applying at all. Spending money on domestic renewable energy is a minority sport. If we want this to change, we should nurture every flicker of interest, not raise the bar higher.

If everyone generated some heat and power of their own (selling power to the grid when in surplus and buying it back when in need), our collective concern for how we use energy would be transformed. As any jam-maker knows, you take a much greater interest in consumption and waste when you make the stuff yourself.

It's not hard to imagine an urban landscape transformed by such a programme. Every roof would boast a solar hot-water panel and many would glitter with photovoltaic modules. Small wind turbines would pepper the higher ground. Under many tidy lawns, heat pumps would quietly extract the stored heat in the earth. This could be the inoffensive landscape not only of London, but also of Ambleside, Kendal and Windermere.

However brightly your own flicker of interest in renewables burns, don't let it be extinguished with Clear Skies. Look for announcements about the new programme at the current website ( www.clear-skies.org), the Energy Saving Trust ( www.est.org.uk, 0800 915 7722) and the DTI ( www.dti.gov.uk). If we are to save the beaches of Northumberland from rising seas and the fells of Cumbria from the collapse of the Gulf Stream, we must learn to love renewable power. I am hopeful: the Industrial Revolution's dark, Satanic mills are now a much-loved part of the Northern landscape, so it's clear that the heart of Englishness is always open to persuasion.

GREAT BUY

If you have a fair breeze above your head and want to make use of it, you could improve your local landscape with a Swift rooftop wind turbine from Renewable Devices ( www.renewabledevices.com), which is sold through Scottish and Southern Energy (01738 456665) with a £3,500 price tag.

GREAT WEBSITES

National Energy Foundation ( www.nef.org.uk) Domestic renewable technologies are described within a broader discussion of energy conservation and generation.

National Green Specification ( www.greenspec.co.uk). Innovative materials and designs for sustainable building projects.

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