Like many countries, Poland’s energy alternative is… alternative energy. How alarming, then, to read on the Polskie Radio Dla Zagranicy website the other day (Wind farm protests in tourist hotspot – 22/03/13) that Poles are prone to “Nimby”ism (“Not in my back yard”) like the rest of us. Apparently a movement in the beautiful north-eastern region of Poland, the Mazury lakes, is fighting against the introduction of further wind turbines there, and has written to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Now, I declare an interest here: my father pioneered wind energy in the 70s and 80s, working on the difficult process of harnessing the wind via turbines and transporting the resultant electricity to the grid. Whilst accepting there is always the question of the cradle to the grave cost of electricity generation through wind, he (and I) have never understood the vehemence of opposition to an energy source that is, essentially, clean and endless.
Of course, it’s always different when a vast turbine tower is due to be put up in your own back yard. As well as aesthetic, there are noise pollution and other considerations. But are any of these sufficient to outweigh the many benefits of wind – like helping to save the planet? I say, absolutely not! Indeed, myself, I think these creations are elegant and complement the landscape – though I accept that’s a matter of taste. In UK, we’re masterful at putting an individual’s rights before the greater good. That’s laudable – but only to a degree. And when the windiest country in Europe (UK, if you’re guessing) lags behind Denmark, Germany and the rest in erecting wind turbines, or, in another context, behind France, Germany, Spain and Italy in having a high speed rail network, well, seems to me we’ve got the balance wrong.
And what about Poland? It has great energy opportunity. Apparently there are – potentially, no-one’s quite sure yet – tremendous shale gas deposits in the country. As in UK and elsewhere, there are environmental concerns about releasing the gas by fracking, and Regulation needs to catch up with opportunities on (or in, or under) the ground. But the prize is an energy sector no longer so lopsidedly (90%) dependent on coal, or indeed the Russians.
I only hope that, in all this, Poland remains alert to the fact that an energy mix is the best approach, and that includes wind energy. This means allaying the concerns of the Nimby brigade, and reversing the recent selling off of wind projects by foreign investors. It’s all to play for in a country said to have the largest energy reserves in the EU. Let’s hope, in all this, Poland turns out not to be all wind, but all wind energy.