The place I love more than anywhere on earth is the Edw Valley in mid-Wales. We’ve been going there every summer for more than a decade now and the kids think of it as their second home. When I die — as I nearly did once, you’ll remember, when I was carried off down the River Edw in full spate only to be rescued by an overhanging branch — you’ll find engraved in my heart the name of the hamlet where we stay. Cregrina. It’s our garden of Eden.
In the evenings, long after the valley has descended into shadow, the moors on the humpbacked hills are still bathed in golden light and every time I look at them I think of the Churchillian sunlit uplands whose prospect gave us hope in our darkest hour. Often as not, I’ll have been up there myself earlier in the day, among the heather and bilberries and occasional grouse, looking across towards the bleakness of Hay Bluff and the Brecon Beacons on one side and on the other down towards the white blob of ‘our’ house amid lush, knobbly, sheep-dotted country redolent of The Shire.
But every time I’ve looked at those views for the last few years, my joy has been tinged with melancholy. ‘How long will it be?’ I’ve wondered to myself. ‘How long?’
And now I have my answer. It has happened.
By ‘it’, of course, I mean the arrival of the first wind turbine. They’ve put it up in Rhulen, whose simple whitewashed 13th-century church is one of the oldest and prettiest in Radnorshire. Not, clearly, that that made any difference to the planners who pushed it through. Any more, apparently, than the special quality of the landscape did. Local objection, I gather, was fierce, but due to a procedural technicality which barred the chairman of Aberedw parish council from speaking, the planning council never got to hear of this. ‘Well, we have turned down a number of these single turbine applications, I suppose we had better let this one pass,’ one of the planning officials was heard to say. And with that the Edw Valley’s death warrant was sealed.
The auguries were there last summer. I remember driving up towards Aberedw for our favourite walk — past the cave where Llewellyn hid before he was finally captured, hung, drawn and quartered at Builth Wells — and being struck by how many ‘For Sale’ signs there were. At the time I put this down to the pressure of the recession — straitened families selling their second homes. But it wasn’t that at all, I now realise. They’d twigged which way the wind was blowing — and were now trying to get out while they still could.
As any rural estate agent will privately tell you, nothing devastates property values quite like a wind farm. Though the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors still spews its nonsense that the issue is moot, the hard evidence suggests that a nearby turbine will render your home almost impossible to sell — except at the most enormous, fire-sale discount.
But it’s not just homeowners whose nest-egg the wind industry destroys without recompense (unlike in Denmark, where compensation must be paid), it’s all those ordinary people struggling to make a living in the rural economy. The holiday rentals; the bed and breakfasts; the pony-trekking stables; the cottage industries; those farmers who still actually want to farm rather than just milk subsidies. One old lady in the valley, who runs a B&B catering for long-distance riders, has been hospitalised with stress over fears of the effects this turbine will have on her business. Her fears are all too well-founded.
The man on whose land the turbine has been built, I gather, is a popular local figure. Not when the effects of his actions are properly understood, he won’t be. Sure, one or two of his farmer neighbours will thank him for turning this once idyllic, utterly unspoilt valley into a semi-industrial zone: now, they too will be able to get their snouts in the subsidy-farming trough by applying for wind turbines of their own. But for the region as a whole, the effects will be devastating.
Some people say: ‘Well, you can hardly blame such and such for putting up that wind turbine. With those fat subsidies, it makes so much sense.’ But I disagree. Yes — we’d all like the idea of being paid £30,000 or more, (per turbine, per year, index linked for 25 years) in return for doing absolutely sod all. Some of us, though, have a moral core.
No more would I trade in blood diamonds or child pornography than I would accept money in any shape or form from Big Wind. The time is long since past when anyone complicit in this vile, corrupt, mendacious industry — not the lawyers, not the engineers, not the land agents, not the investors — could be unaware of the damage it does: to the landscape, to rural communities, to wildlife, to people’s health, to the economy generally.
I wish each and every one of those scuzz-balls the very unmerriest of Christmases. And I pray and hope that in the New Year, the real Conservatives in our coalition will take a moral stand and finally put paid to the menace that is destroying our beautiful country. Time is running out. We need to act now.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 15 December 2012