Leading article: A wind of change

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The Independent Online

Eaglesham Moor is staking its claim to posterity. In three years, this stretch of land south of Glasgow will be home to the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. With 140 turbines, the Whitelee project will be three times the size of the UK's present biggest wind farm, in Blacklaw, South Lanarkshire.

For a wind farm, Whitelee has been something of a rarity in that it has met relatively little public opposition. Eaglesham Community Council registered its objections. But the relevant planning authorities - South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire - did not. No one is expecting future wind farms, which are virtually all proposed for much more contentious sites, to get such a smooth ride through the planning process.

Nor should they. It is right that such large-scale building projects should be subject to scrutiny. The environmental and aesthetic impact of wind farms should be considered. But as the first generation of turbines beds in, it is becoming apparent that some of the warnings about the danger they pose to bird life were too alarmist. Likewise, the predictions about their energy efficiency have been shown to be pessimistic. We finally seem to be waking up to the fact that Britain's position, on the windswept edge of the Atlantic, gives us a more reliable supply of wind than most of our European neighbours. A growing concern over the impact of climate change has also diminished the arguments of the knee-jerk nimbys somewhat. A public mood in favour of sensitively placed wind farms seems to be growing.

We must also focus on the great potential of this technology. By generating 322 megawatts a year, Whitelee will provide enough energy to power 200,000 homes. It will also reduce the UK's CO2 emissions by some 250,000 tonnes a year. Nor should we forget that Whitelee will create jobs. Wind farms will play a significant part in proving that "green" economic growth is possible.

Yet we might ask why the switch to renewable energy technologies - and here we are talking about not just wind, but wave, tidal and solar energy - is taking so long? The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling, who launched the Whitelee project yesterday, also took the opportunity to announce a nationwide consultation on renewable energy. We are told the Government will "seek views" on how it can reach its target of generating 20 per cent of the UK's electricity from renewable sources by the end of the next decade. The fact that government policy still seems to be stuck in the consultation stage does not inspire confidence. Waiting on planning applications is one thing; waiting for ministers to inject the process with an appropriate sense of urgency is quite another.