I have a windmill in my backyard and I am very fond of it. On calm days swallows have been known to sit on it. When the wind blows hard across the fields we know our batteries are brimming with beautiful clean energy. But oddly enough, with all this power surging freely into our house, we are now much more reluctant to waste energy than we used to be in the old days of electricity bills. Owning a windmill can change your outlook on life. This was the message I wanted to get across when BBC Scotland came to call but it seems our wires were crossed. (Thank goodness for the alternative Radio Magnetic.)
As a journalist I am more comfortable writing words than talking to the camera. On this occasion I was happy to get the chance to talk about life with the windmill – inside me there is growing a green evangelist that wants to get a waste-not-want-not message out to the wider (windmill-fearing) world. But of course the Beeb just wanted a human story to liven up a rather dull Scottish Executive announcement about (a little) extra cash for renewable energy. I didn’t spot quickly enough that the very nice reporter and cameraman had arrived with their script already prepared. My part was simply to add a few live quotes and switch on an electric appliance or two.
My little rant was obviously edited out as soon as they got in the car and headed back to Edinburgh in time to slot the item into the regional news at 6.30pm. There I am making a cup of tea and commenting on the economics of installing a windmill – but not a peep about sustainability or the curious fact that owning a windmill helps you understand the real value of energy.
I think that was a lost opportunity but the topic is not going away. The need to reduce waste was one of the stronger points of the government’s energy review. We shouldn’t let the red herring of nuclear power distract us from that crucial issue. Conserving energy will help us keep the lights on and we are only just beginning to realise how important that is. James Lovelock’s conversion to nuclear energy is largely based on his belief that civilisation will be at risk when we run out of electricity. I think he is wrong about the nuclear solution but the rest of the argument is overwhelmingly convincing. When we started restoring a derelict cottage without mains electricity we found what we had forgotten: that nothing transforms daily life more than being able to switch on the lights. (Well, ok, apart from being able to turn a tap for clean drinking water).
So I tried to tell the BBC how owning a windmill helps you rediscover the wonder of electricity. I think it is interesting that we know how much ‘phantom power’ we waste by leaving the telly or computer on standby, and that the mobile phone charger goes on consuming power unless you switch it off at the wall. And isn’t it extraordinary that an electric kettle takes a 2 kilowatt surge to start heating water – no wonder the power stations go on high alert during ad breaks at peak viewing time.
Such knowledge is power, I think, and my mission is to share it. Thank goodness then for Radio Magnetic, a small innovative alternative internet radio station, who broadcast my short recording on windpower as one of their Audio Postcards. While you are at it, be sure to listen to the others, not least the Texan Steve Warren’s polemic about George Bush. As heartwarming and bloodstirring as watching our windmill.
1 comment July 20th, 2006