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Tuesday, Jun 08, 2004

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Generating ill wind?

R. Sundaram

"AN ill wind bloweth no man good," so said the poet. Now, it is alleged that the windmills too, do no good. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and even North Wales, are now reaping the whirlwind of opprobrium of obscurantists and self-proclaimed protectors of the countryside alike. So far, to environmentalists, renewable energy from wind and wave appeared to hold the key to averting disastrous global warming from fossil fuels and avoid radiation hazards from nuclear reactors. Protesters from Pune, who mounted a campaign recently against wind energy remind you of the time when canards were spread; that water from the Bhakra Nangal Dam was devitalised in the process of generating power and, hence, unfit for drinking or irrigation. Now, pseudo-scientists from Satara claim, with no convincing proof, that the giant blades of windmills slash rain clouds, fragmenting them and preventing rainfall!

Protest against wind energy is now global, but for different reasons. In the UK, curiously enough, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, are in the unusual position of defending multinational corporations and the government, in debunking the myths put out by the anti-windmill lobby. Other countries such as Denmark, the world wind technology leader, plans to scale down its ambitious plans because of protests. Wind farms are provoking opposition from an increasingly organised countryside lobby, which claims that wind power is not green, will not contribute to the fight against global warming and will wreck the countryside. They can kill birds, including hundreds of golden eagles, kites and other rare species and destroy the landscapeForemost among the anti-wind mill lobby is a group called Country Guardian, strongly suspected of receiving support from companies involved in nuclear power construction. The core of the antis' argument is that wind power is expensive and will achieve little.

The pros argue that wind power is about displacing fossil fuels, saving carbon and greenhouse gases and every kilowatt of wind power generated is one less of polluting power. Cost-wise, although these have come down in the last decade or so, it is estimated that they are twice as costly as nuclear power. Therefore, no single resource for power generation can answer all the concerns and it has to be a mixture of tidal power, solar, biomass and other renewables. But for now, among the renewables, only wind technology has matured to a level of mass application.

In India, you can bet ticklish questions and problems involving several stakeholders such as environmentalists, consumers, multinational or Fortune 500 Indian companies will end up as an opportunity for a Joint Parliamentary Committee which, after a few junkets abroad, will give its verdict.

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