The French have a wonderful expression for describing meaningless speeches, “Vendre du vent” (to sell wind), may seem like a cute way to describe a lot of talk without saying anything but politicians are very clever at doing just that. One local politician recently announced that St. Eustatius and Saba are preparing to construct wind farms as a first step to using alternative energy. Have members of the community been asked what they think of these noisy and ugly structures?
But this French disease is not only restricted to local politicians. Maxime Verhagen, Dutch outgoing Caretaker Minister of Economic Affairs, only recently trumpeted that his ministry will foot the bill for installing three wind turbines on St. Eustatius and Saba. It all sounds like a done deal! Thank you, but has he asked residents of the Historical Gem or the Unspoiled Queen what they think of that?
The wind lobby in The Netherlands is extremely influential. This miserable country has only microscopic periods of sun and a plethora of climatic and verbal wind. So why should all these Dutch uncles suppose that they know what is right for Caribbean islands with a lot of sun, hot air and only small surfaces?
Leaving aside the allegation that the demand for lining one’s pockets is greater than the demand for reclaiming a future based on sustainable energy, let us examine for a moment the major issues involved. Wind turbines are a source of clean and renewable energy, but they come at a cost to the community. Their low frequency noise, flicker and strobe effects can have serious health consequences for local residents. Heart pulse irregularity and sleep disturbance are regular complaints, and then there is the disturbing flickering shadow when the sun is directly behind the blades. Neuropsychological experts argue that like flash photography, fast turning turbines can trigger epileptic seizures in those patients who are particularly photosensitive. In Scotland, planning advice calls for a 2 km separation from new wind turbines. Yet on Saba, the 45 meter high masts will be located within 200 meters of residential properties.
Should residents be alarmed? You bet! The “swishing” or “whooshing” from rotating blades will drive them to utter distraction during their waking and sleepless hours; sense and apparently their cents will also expire. In the UK, property values have slumped by as much as 25 per cent within the proximity of these whirling dervishes. Cause for concern? As an ardent admirer of the beautiful landscapes of Saba and Statia, I find it totally abhorrent that their horizons should be punctuated by such visible and audible towers of turbulence. In the quest to achieve independence from unruly providers of addictive petroleum like Iran, European states are investing billions in what they think will be a more sustainable solution. Truth is that from a scientific point of view these overpowering masts are underpowered. Wind energy is dependent on the wind. Wind turbines are less efficient than solar panels. The cost per kilowatt-hour generated by the noisy former is much higher than the silent latter. Solar payback periods are thus significantly shorter. Moreover, solar photovoltaic cells work even on a gloomy day. This explains why roof top solar panels are found everywhere in the Mediterranean and hardly anywhere in the windy Lowlands.
B ut, the wind lobby has over-inflated the departing sails of Verhagen. His plans for wind farms in the Dutch province of Groningen involved plenty of local consultation. Why does he think he can get away with not asking the people of Saba and Statia? More to the point, who gave him that idea?
If similar previous situations or anything to go by, a royal appointment now awaits him. All Dutch politicians want to be nominated as senior civil servants, that way they can run an administration they do not understand after representing the people they never understood. It is, therefore, a pity that during his recent holiday to the islands this very outgoing ex-politician did not hop over to St. Kitts. The government there has invited a Taiwanese company to produce solar panel systems for new housing, once installed the panels will give households the opportunity to sell power back to the grid. They will also provide locals with equally sustainable jobs. However, on Statia politicians are regularly blown away by short term economic spin-offs. One can understand why, with such heads in a spin it becomes difficult to see. Before signing Memorandums of Understanding with foreign firms they would serve us better by having an open conversation about the possible consequences of their actions and all available energy alternatives.
This would mean that they would have to listen to their constituents for the first time. Such a wind change could be beneficial. This process could even demonstrate their leadership qualities. But, do not rush outside to fly the flags of celebration quite yet, hurricanes can be just as merciless to flags as to wind farms and like politicians they frequently face the wrong direction. Even the creative lyrics of Bob Dylan were misplaced: “The answer in the Caribbean my friend is not blowin’ in the wind!”