Wind Power

Wind turbine

Wind farms and bicycles – two technologies appropriate to a sane, sustainable future. But more than that, they’re symbolic of that future; there are surely no objects better symbolising the age towards which we’re moving, too slowly, but surely. For me the aesthetics of technology is ethical. I love wind turbines like I love bicycles because they’re good, pointing in the right direction.

Bicycle and wind turbine

Of course I know both bicycles and wind farms are hugely, strangely controversial. They’re sometimes ridiculed, but it feels like both are gradually becoming accepted as necessary. And though not nearly enough, both are proliferating – wind turbines off our coasts and over our hills, and bicycles … well, where exactly? A Parliamentary Inquiry is currently investigating how to get Britain cycling. Pay attention to our London-centric media and you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re on the brink of ‘a cycling revolution’. Use of the bicycle is probably rising across some towns and cities, yet so slowly it’s barely a trickle.

My own hunch is that bicycles are proliferating most in people’s imaginations and aspirations. For many Brits their status has upped a notch, and the idea of cycling is less outlandish than it was a year or so ago. And cycling has moved a tiny bit further towards the centre of our collective cultural ideals of good lives and good cities. There’s a zeitgeist to convert, and we’re waiting for politicians to convert it, because the main changes necessary to get Britain cycling must be made at national level with huge reallocation of resources away from the car and towards the bicycle.

Lancaster Cathedral and Town Hall

It’s because I love cycling that I’m involved in debates about cycling’s future, but it’s because I love riding that I’ve some immunity from the emotional roller coaster that involvement in those debates can bring. Sure, I’d like everyone to have cycling in their lives, but at least in the meantime I can enjoy having it in mine.

But I’ve still no road bike. It’s still cold and icy. My world has shrunk. I’m feeling hemmed in. Parts of north Lancashire and Cumbria close to the coast are clear of snow, but the world a short way inland remains white. Unable to go farther afield, today I jumped on my mountain bike to explore little known places close to home. I’ve lived and cycled here 15 years, but there remain roads and tracks within ten miles I’ve rarely been.

I rode east across the city, up past the Town Hall and Cathedral, up past Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, up over the M6 and onto the Forest of Bowland’s north-westerly fringe as it falls unevenly towards the River Lune. (There is no forest by the way – the Forest of Bowland is in fact a vast moorland.)

Ashton Memorial, Williamson Park

Right onto Little Fell Road, then down Stock-a-Bank towards Littledale. Past Baines Cragg and sharply down to Artle Beck. When my kids were tiny and driving me crazy, these lanes – quiet yet close – formed my escape route; an hour away from the house, out here, would lift my spirits and send me home closer to sanity

Ahead the wind turbines’ slowly rotating blades strike brilliant white in the low winter sun. Their slim white lines have the elegance of the egrets we sometimes see at Leighton Moss, a short way north on Morecambe Bay. Depending on my position the turbines seem sometimes close, at others distant. Sometimes they take me by surprise, their blades appearing suddenly above, disturbing the point at which land and sky meet. I love riding this compact, complex topography.

Wind turbine blade

To reach the wind farm I drop down almost to Brookhouse before climbing up again on a lane I’ve not taken in years. It rises steadily to Caton Moor, the wind farm all the while drawing closer. Up here the drifted snow is deep in places.

Wind turbine blades

Sheep with wind turbines

This was one of the UK’s first commercial wind farms. When it came into service back in 1994 it produced 11% of the UK’s total wind energy. Wind technologies have developed fast, and in 2005 its original ten turbines were replaced with the current eight. Their combined capacity is 16 MW, enough energy to power 10,000 homes.

Wind turbines in the snow

I ride reverentially between the white giants standing in the snow. They’re so high (55 metres) they make me and my bike feel puny. Standing next to one I turn my head to see its blades (35 metres long) tumbling one at a time down from the sky toward me. It’s like staring into the heights of a great cathedral, but better. I feel giddy, overawed.

Wind turbine from below

Cyclists know the wind’s power. We feel its pull and push. When it lends a hand the world seems easier. When it’s in our faces we hunker down and push harder. We know its noise too – the way it roars, at times so loud it’s hard to hear the words of the person riding beside you. Where would cycling be without wind?

A bridleway follows Kirkby Gill off the moor down to the Lune. Where it’s not covered with ice its surface is full of brick. I drop out of the snow and under the aerial ropeway which until recently took clay from the pits above to Claughton brickworks below. Just before Claughton a little track goes east through Farleton where I join the main road.

Iced bridleway

Out of the snow

I follow the Lune downstream to home. I’m glad to have been forced into this little ride, but I’m a coiled spring waiting for my road bike and milder weather to return so my corner of the cycling world can open up again. It’s snowing now, as I write, but a thaw is on the way.

The River Lune

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7 Responses to “Wind Power”

  1. georgie Says:

    The almost exclusive response to me cycling to and from work is that ‘you’re mad’ – I’m not sure anyone I know is coming round to the idea of the bike as a mode of transport any more than they were two years ago. Most people I know, would still never consider getting on a bike even for fun.
    In fact a good few older (and I’m not talking old, I’m talking around the age of 60) people I know have been so reliant on their cars for even minimal journeys for the last three decades (to the local offie for example) that they are now incapable of actually walking any short distance at all. Their mobility has depleted completely – it’s now their health that prevents them walking anywhere, but I’m pretty sure this is probably based on the fact they have not walked anywhere for such a long time. I imagine that the same will happen to people my age in a few short decades if they continue to be so reliant on their cars. It is beyond sad. And nobody seems to see this happening around them in their families. Am I the only person to know of people that have lost their health through lack of being generally bodily mobile?
    When people were panic buying petrol afew months ago before the strike that never happened, there was no media outcry wanting to know how we had become so tragically reliant on the automobile that society seems to be unable to function without it.

    As a nation, we have lost so much freedom, we have lost our communities and our general respect for each other – not having to interact with anyone between your doorstep and your work place. It’s like a more tragic, real life version of Wall-e.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Georgie, all that you say here (and it reads rather depressingly, really, doesn’t it?) is broadly consistent with our findings from the Understanding Walking and Cycling project. Finding it out for myself, however, took me rather by surprise. It sounds like there’s a difference between us here – I knew I lived much of my life within a nice, educated, liberal, green/left-leaning, progressive bubble, but I hadn’t realised quite how divergent my own practices (much more than values, I think) are from what’s become ‘normal’.

      The only community with whom I’ve worked that has to some extent realised the awful health consequences of sedentary life is the south Asian community, where among the older generations diabetes, coronary heart disease, asthma and other ailments are rife. Quite a lot of the people we spoke to from this community had (belatedly) understood (but only, really, because it was having a direct, dramatic impact upon them) the steadily (but invisibly) growing dangers of car-based, exercise-empty lifestyle patterns, especially when mixed with poor diet.

      At the level of policy discourse, it looks like health is (again) gaining momentum as a reason to promote cycling. But sadly, until there’s a governmental commitment to invest in structural solutions which make cycling (or walking) the obvious means of getting around, and the idea of driving to the offie (or pretty much anywhere else, for most people most of the time, within a couple of km radius) is embarrassing, then we’re not going to get very far.

      But although it’s variable (and maybe happening more in Lancaster than where you are) the glimmer of hope is that – at the anecdotal level – I know that many of my mates and neighbours are much more interested in cycling than they were a couple of years back and some of them are trying to get ‘set up for cycling’. But we need to start producing the conditions for these kinds of people to cycle, rather than continue (haphazardly, half-heartedly, and often poorly) to cater for the tiny minority of people who are currently cycling.

      Thanks for reading and responding, much appreciated. And please don’t lose despair because things *will* change.
      All the best

  2. womencyclists Says:

    This is a very thoughtful piece and I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed the pictures!

  3. Ian Says:

    Beautifully written and thought provoking as usual, but I have to disagree. Cycling and mega wind farms seem to me to belong to different possible futures.

    I would associate cycling with a future of human-scale, localised, solutions, with a world where human impacts are lower and non-human life more valued. The generation processes that live with bikes would be small scale, more fragile, but less damaging and more accepted by communities. We may not “keep the lights on”, but there would be compensations.

    Mega wind farms, on the other hand, belong to a future in which technofixes attempt to keep going our artificial society and inflated population, while reducing carbon emissions, which have become the only issue some alleged environmentalist can focus on. the transport solutions that lives here is not the bike, but the electric car, another poor compromise, with few benefits except lower emissions.

    Ok I know have exaggerated this, but I do think the general point iday at least worth thinking on.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Ian. I know what you mean and I sympathise, but actually I wonder if cycling will have to leave the cosy (I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense – probably the biggest influences on my thinking have been green anarchist theorists who elaborate very local, human-scale, convivial, accountable and sustainable worlds) niche its in, and become something more akin to big wind farms, if it’s to have the kind of impact which – if our societies are to change for the better – it could have. So I would now advocate large-scale rolling out of cycling infrastructure (some of it, along big and busy roads, dedicated infrastructure) of the kind which makes cycling an obvious ‘choice’ for many people. But such provision will almost inevitably be resisted and perceived by some as ‘anti-democratic’ (of course we can – and will need to – argue about what precisely ‘democratic decision-making’ entails here).

      So in a way I am arguing that cycling needs to adapt to the world, in order to change that world, rather than that we wait for the world to change (how? through more and more calamitous catastrophes?) around cycling. And that entails a loss for (a kind of) cycling, in order for cycling to ‘succeed’; and also a compromise (selling out) of (some of) the strong, grassroots, localist, green/anarchist visions which probably brought many of us to here in the first place.

      For what it’s worth my own position is to try to negotiate not being too fixed (particularly in an ideological way), but to try to retain some of the spirit of disgust with the status quo, and with the virtues of critical thinking, that brought me to here in the first place.

      So absolutely, I think your point is well worth thinking on, and I have been/will! So thanks for taking the time and effort to make it!
      All the very best

      • Ian Says:

        Thanks for your reply. I’ll happily agree that the kind of provision you advocate, done well, would be a Good Thing, and make cycling possible for more people. My disagreement is not with that, but more a belief that the impulse which leads to building mega farms won’t be sympathetic to the argument for more cycle infrastructure, because the electric car alternative will be seen as more likely to yield emission reductions, since it involves less change.

        I suppose I’m arguing that we do have to change, more than will be comfortable, that environmentalism must be about more than concern over carbon, and that maybe as cyclists we should be part of that. Apologies, I’m groping and fumbling a bit trying to think this through!

  4. David Barker Says:

    excellent piece; I am with you all the way on the ethics/politics/aesthetics of bikes and wind farms.
    In the mean time one option for you is to move 50 miles south; if you saw the satellite shot of white-out Britain at the weekend in the Guardian yesterday, you could just see a dark patch which was Greater Manchester and north east Cheshire. And, boy, didn’t we bike-riders make the best of it

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