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Planet Saver Or Eyesore

It happened once in a while to all of us; the moment when we use an expression that we’ve taken for granted for ages and then wonder where it came from.

It is fascinating to read how they came about and some give an insight into the society of the times. For instance, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The likely explanation would enrage many feminists today but the origins come from how filthy we used to be before the advent of the power shower. In Tudor times, most people bathed just once a year. Even when they did bathe, the entire family used the same tubful of water. The man of the house bathed first, [first cause for feminist outrage], followed by other males [second cause], then females, and finally the babies. If you can, imagine how thick and cloudy the water became by that time, so the little ones’ mothers had to take care not to throw them out with the bathwater when they emptied the tub.

Another expression brings us right up to date, even though some believe it comes from the third century BC in Greece – ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The concept is easy enough for people – you might find one person to be blindingly beautiful, while others would prefer to gaze at the rear end of a bus (of whatever gender).

But what if we add another term – NIMBY? Not in my backyard seems to have become popular from the 1980s, particularly in relation to the transport and storage of nuclear waste.

Usually it refers to an attitude that while something may be of benefit to society, it won’t if it’s sited close to where existing residents are. You might be surprised that this can extend to all sorts of things than hazardous materials. A publisher’s daughter once came rushing into our office, determined to find out where she could get information to prevent the building of social housing near to where she lived. Mind you, it was before David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, not that it would have made any difference to that particular Nimbyette.

However, we know that wind farms are thought by many to be an eyesore and we have had solar farms regarded in much the same way. The argument of the true worth of wind farms is well known and there’s no doubt that this form of energy is expensive and can be variable in terms of output.

With solar heating, surely we have a passive form that can and does offer something preferable to burning fossil fuels, be it oil or North Sea gas, or the more recent possibility of shale gas?

There have been a number of instances where solar farms have been fought against and ‘victories’ have been scored.

The most recent was in Reigate, Surrey, where the local Green Party has been fighting against a proposal by Southern Solar to have a farm that could provide heating for 3,500 homes. The Green politician involved used the classic NIMBY argument – although his party supported solar farms, they still needed to be built “in the right place”. In his defence, he said that solar panels should be installed on farm buildings first and land second.

We will have to see what will be the reaction to plans in Scotland for a 40,000 panel farm near to Coldingham in the Scottish Borders. Proposed by BHA Enterprises, it wants to build the development on land at Huxton Bogbank. Interestingly and given what has been said about a possible ‘green’ alternative, the company had originally wanted to have a wind farm. After discussions with Scottish Borders Council, it chose to press ahead with a solar option.

No one can say that solar panels beautify a building or a location and we will have to wait some years before they become part of the fabric of a building to achieve the best of both worlds, even though there are examples of that.

Ah, I feel another craving to seek out this expression – ‘the best of both worlds’. The French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote in 1759: ‘…If this is best of possible worlds….all is for the best….’ (Chapter 1 of the novel Candide.) What is the French for “Not if it comes near my backyard”?


Michael Gannon




Caption                    Solar panels may be the salvation of the planet but not in Nimbyland. Our image shows the150 MW Andasol solar power station, a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain.


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