WINDMILLS – blots on the landscape?

Does new=ugly, old=charming?

There was an interesting discussion about wind farms on Sydney radio this morning, sparked by the release of a CSIRO report showing atmospheric CO2 levels are their highest for 800,000 years.

That makes sense. I can’t remember them being any worse, and I’m getting pretty old. It’s been a cool, wet summer in Sydney, but the last decade was Australia’s warmest on record.

Those calling for fast-tracking of renewable energy development quickly run into opposition not only from the fossil fuel industry and shock-jocks, but also from environmental groups who contend that windmills spoil the scenery, disturb the peace and endanger low-flying orange-bellied parrots.

Our NSW state premier, Barry O’Farrell, is on record as saying he personally opposes the building of new wind farms. There’s a proposal that future wind farm developments will require signed consent of all residents within a 2 kilometre radius. Needless to say there is no such requirement for prospective coalmines or coal seam gas exploration.

I’m not an expert on the extent to which wind power can contribute to our energy requirements. Nor am I in a position to judge how many birds are endangered by windmills, compared to the number of birds endangered by climate change.

I am however an expert at looking at windmills. In Holland I ride past them constantly on my bike. My hearing is not perfect, but I can’t hear a windmill two kilometres away. Even from 20 metres there is hardly any sound.

I was interested to read in Alain de Botton’s book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work that the old Dutch windmills were also once thought of as ugly industrial blots on the landscape.

Now of course we photograph them at every opportunity.

The windmills at Zaanse Schans have been moved here specially for tourists to visit.

As a caller to the Sydney radio station pointed out, did rural residents ever complain about the clatter of the Southern Cross outside their back doors? They have been icons of the Australian countryside for generations.

These windmills are on display in the Melbourne Museum.

I rather like the look of modern windmills. I find they elegantly enhance many views in the Netherlands. A row of them gently turning offshore reassures me that someone, somewhere is taking this environmental thing seriously, rather than just hoping it won’t happen.

Zeeland specialises in dykes holding back the sea, and windmills. They don't look bad at all.

A Dutch proposal for a windmill tree. Design: One Architecture, Ton Matton and NL Architecture.

A bit of Googling turned up some wonderful images of wind energy generators which are works of art.

Look at some of the designs on this website.

What do you think? Blots on the landscape? Ugly but necessary? Ugly and unnecessary? Or beautiful so long as they’re in someone else’s backyard?


Filed under Holland, Travel-Australia

21 responses to “WINDMILLS – blots on the landscape?

  1. Like many things in life, used or positioned appropriately, a wind farm is fine. They are, however, far bigger than an old windmill and can dominate the landscape. I don’t mind them in a farming or urban area where they can (kind of) blend in to the landscape or be a little sculptural but where I don’t like them is in a pristine area of rolling coastal hills or even desert country where there is little evidence of mankind. Is that NIMBY? Maybe, depending on whose backyard you are talking about.

    • Thanks Bob. Many of the larger Dutch and Danish wind farms I’ve seen have been offshore or lining coasts. That’s where the wind is.

      Of course the Dutch and Danes have few pristine beaches, so perhaps there was less to protect in the first place.

  2. We walk along the Maribyrnong River in Melbourne, under giant pylons carrying power lines. I doubt if there were any protests when they were erected, or the power plants that currently supply electricity to the grid. If we want to have all these electrical devices at our disposal, we need electricity. Every source has its drawbacks, but solar and wind certainly should rank #1 and #2 at the moment.

    • Alain de Botton’s book also speculates that in the future people may look at elegant power pylons with nostalgia. There’s a nice chapter on walking across Britain following the power lines, thinking about where the electricity is going.

  3. I like the windmills. We have seen lots in Spain and Germany and I think they look great slowly turning in the wind. I think their time has come.

    • I feel that pollution comes in many forms and one of those forms is visual. Yes, there is a place for them but would you like to see them in the hills above Bagni di Lucca? (love your blog by the way)

      • I wouldn’t have a problem with them being in some of the hills around Bagni di Lucca. I’m sure the Italians could design something that looked elegant. Thanks for the comment on my blog.

  4. The hills above Bagni di Lucca (and many other places) are already visually polluted by cell phone masts and I haven’t heard of anyone anywhere throwing away their mobile phones in protest. It may be harder to accept something whose immediate benefits are less obvious, but the options seem pretty clear. Either we all cut our power consumption in half or we accept new ways of producing electricity. Anyway, I agree with you, Richard, windmills old and new don’t look bad to my eyes.

  5. I think they are rather attractive but then agian I don’t have to live near one (yet)!

    • Andrew, If they put one on top of our Amsterdam apartment block (6 storeys high, we’re on level 5) I still don’t think I’d have a problem. It wouldn’t even register over the traffic noise.

  6. Karen Bray

    Hi Richard,

    I enjoy getting your blogs and I even learn things! Thanks.

    I am all for windmills as a power source but I have visited neighbors who live
    close to them on Vinalhaven in Maine
    and the noise is really awful. It is a sort of constant, nauseating sound. It basically
    has ruined the quality of their lives.

    I love the windmill tree!

    Keep your blogs coming. It’s like getting a Christmas card every week!


    • Thanks Karen, I’ve learned something too…

      I’m sorry to hear about your friends’ windmill noise problem. The old ones in Holland creak and flap, but that’s quite pleasant, I find. I really have never been able to hear any sound at all much around the new windmills.

      Either there’s too much ambient sound in Amsterdam, or my ears are going, or we’ve just got used to noise pollution, living under Sydney’s main aircraft flight path. (We’ve moved away from a bit now, but for years we thought we had an arrow on our roof pointing to the airport).

      It’s early morning as I sit at the computer, and I can hear it humming. Once the traffic gets going outside I’m not going to notice it any more. Must turn on the music!

  7. Francis Burns

    You won’t be photographing turbines in the distant future because their life expectancy is only 25yrs……..

  8. Richard, these will never become cute historic moments………because they will only have a life span of 25yrs.

  9. Shannon Edwards

    My son and I spent yesterday afternoon taking photos of the sleek. modern windmills that line the shores from the banks of Malmö, Sweden across to Copenhagen. An amazing site!

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