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Presently Lancaster and its university are dependant on fossil fuels. This is worrying for several reasons; the cost of oil has risen dramatically over the last decade, optimistic estimates say we’ll start to run out of oil in the next 40 years (pessimistic estimates say we’re already running out) and experts are increasingly worried that natural gas stocks will decline shortly after oil stocks. Put simply, we’re going to run out of fuel.
The other major issue with fossil fuels is their effect on our climate. I’m not going to debate climate change here, but I, like the majority of the scientific community, believe it to be a very real and serious problem. A problem our generation is going to have to deal with sooner rather than later. It will affect us all, whether through increased migration exerting more pressure on our public services, the spread of disease or evermore erratic weather.
Fortunately there is an alternative – renewable energy. We know this, Lancaster knows this. Recently the university won money and submitted an application for an ambitious wind turbine project. Unfortunately, the council decided to turn the application down. Whether this decision will be held on appeal I don’t know. But I hope not.
The project would have provided a third of the university’s energy – equivalent to all the electricity used by the residential blocks – and as such would have greatly reduced our dependency on old fuels and our carbon footprint. It would also have placed Lancaster at the forefront of a low carbon economy. It would’ve helped pull us out of recession by attracting investment in low carbon technologies. The rejection comes with a heavy cost to the university and the local economy. The signal that has been sent about Lancaster to the markets, developers and potential investors is clear—stay away.
Our application was refused on the grounds of aesthetics. A handful of houses can see the turbines. They back onto the M6. Furthermore, the Forest of Bowland Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) Manager considered the proposals and in respect of impact on the AONB from a landscape and ecological viewpoint “did not feel that there was sufficient grounds to object to the proposal”.
So why was it rejected? It wasn’t for lack of support; not all the councillors voted against the proposal, people spoke in favour and grassroots movements are springing up all over the country to deal with peak oil and climate change (if you’re interested search ‘transition university lancaster’ on facebook).
The problem was that those in power do not consider peak oil and climate change to be serious problems. The M6 is an eyesore, louder than the turbines and actually ran through peoples land. Were there problems getting permission to build it? No. Because it needed building. So compulsory purchase orders were issued, complaints ignored. When will the council and the government realise renewables need treating in the same way as roads? Renewable energy is not a choice or an inconvenience, it’s a necessity.