Even a single domestic wind turbine can drive the neighbours crazy. But what are the alternatives?

Do you care how the countryside looks? Of course you do. We all do. And if you’ve been following the progress of renewable technology, you probably know there’s a storm of debate howling around the aesthetics of wind turbines.

Are they a blot on the landscape? Local residents in several areas have campaigned against them on the grounds of ugliness, pushing sites for wind farms all the way out to sea – and even then, they’re still under attack for being ugly.

Others, of course, think they have a simple, beautiful grandeur, and like seeing them dotting the landscape, quietly harvesting the energy in the air.

We’re not saying what we think, but it is clear that the debate will have to be resolved one way or the other, and we think that wind turbines are here to stay. We simply need more renewable, low-carbon energy.

Pylons: "the quick perspective of the future"

With all this in mind, here in the office we were interested to read a couple of recent articles about, of all things, electricity pylons. The wind turbines of their day, they are now a classic of industrial design, still loved and loathed, and still being campaigned against wherever they are being built.

The National Grid and the climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, are calling for submissions of a new design to take the pylons – those “industrial soldiers” that shoulder our energy and carry it around the country – marching into the 21st century. There is a need for many new pylons, and the government is hoping that a “sleeker, more elegant design” might head off the anger of residents. This anger is already bubbling up, and it’s worth reading this article in the Guardian to see how the issues go round: there is no simple answer.

Of course, the anger might not be assuaged by new designs. (Especially not those people-shaped ones, we’re inclined to think.) And there are  plenty of people who appreciate the “gaunt, skeletal, haunting beauty” of the old ones. (These will be the same people who love the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station buildings, the old  cast-iron gasometers, and other relics of the industrial boom. In the spirit of sharing, we can disclose that one of the blog team has written a poem about gasometers.) In the 1920s when they were designed, Modernism was celebrating the freedom that techniological advances were bringing, and looking to it as a new source of beauty. Now, we’re more concerned with protecting the natural world; but we still want our electricity!

Perhaps ironically, one of the reasons the new pylons are needed is to carry energy from the wind farms to the places where it’s needed. (And the further away the wind farms are located, the more pylons we’ll need.)

One proposal is to bury the electricity cables underground. But with fuel prices already on the rise, spending around £15-20 million per mile to bury the cables might seem like a luxury too far. Here at the Energy Saving Trust we are all about helping you to save money on your bills, not pricing renewable energy out of the market.

Then again, we don’t want the countryside to be so full of pylons (whether the sleek, modern kind, silly ones, or the old 1928 workhorse design) that you can’t even see the countryside.

Microgeneration can pick up some of the slack, but surely it’s time to renogotiate both our need for more power at all costs, and our relationship with industrial objects?