There are records of a windmill on Woodbury Common as early as 1549, as David Jannaway pointed out in his fascinating and wonderfully illustrated talk to Otter Valley Association members about the East Devon Pebblebed Heathlands on 11 January. And indeed there are about a dozen surviving windmills dotted around the county, mostly in a state of ruin.
David seemed to shudder at the possibility that clusters of the 21st century versions of windmills might somehow find their way into the local landscape. But in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in which Budleigh Salterton lies, it's unlikely that planners would ever permit the intrusion of the gigantic wind turbines which dominate many parts of the British countryside. Or is it?
Over in Massachusetts, where our sister-town of Brewster is situated, wind turbines, along with waste-to-energy plants, sustainable biomass, solar and hydropower have for some time been an integral part of plans to make the area self-sufficient in energy requirements. The American state "has incredible clean-energy potential," as Brewster's Town Administrator Charles Sumner points out. "We need to make sure we own a piece of the global clean energy economy."
It was in such a spirit of optimism that the local authorities were hoping that the construction of two 1.8-megawatt turbines measuring 410 ft high, on town land off Freeman's Way, would go ahead smoothly and in due course provide Brewster with approximately 50% of its electricity. The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, which includes 18 towns on the Cape and Martha's Vineyard, would pay for the purchase and installation of the turbines, and would own and operate them for 20 years.
Many residents approve the plan. But the number of dissenting voices has suddenly grown. "In what I see as a bit of a rush to judgment, the Brewster town officials have pushed this process through without clearly informing the taxpayers what the pros and cons of such a project might be," wrote local resident Greg Norgeot in a letter of 7 December 2010 to the Cape Codder newspaper.
And with the new year has come a more concerted opposition to the turbines plan with angry protests at town meetings and a vociferous presence on websites like http://www.wind-watch.org/
"We represent a group of Brewster residents who have been educating ourselves about the many facets of wind turbines: public welfare, property values, safety and maintenance," reads a statement on the site by Brewster Citizens for Responsible Energy. "We have also been learning about how the town has been shepherding the plan, while marginalizing the people who raise concerns, and ignoring credible evidence of problems with wind power."
On Tuesday 4 January 2011 a continuous and raucous protest at a planned presentation by the Cape and Vineyard Electric Co-operative in Brewster's Baptist church persuaded the organiser to terminate the event less than nine minutes after it was to begin.
"We are in favor of 'clean' and 'renewable energy' of all kinds, as long as citizens are free from dangerous consequences, and the environment is not at risk," I was told by Mitch Relin, of Brewster Citizens for Responsible Energy. He has challenged the location of the Freeman's Way turbines, pointing out that some European countries have established two kilometres as a 'setback' - the distance between the turbines and the nearest resident.
In England, he notes, a bill intended to legislate on this matter is currently being discussed in England's House of Lords. “They seem to be looking out for their citizens," he is quoted as saying. "They seem to care about their welfare. So who is looking out for us?”