Monday, 28 April 2014

Power to the people…

I have already suggested how the residents of Tysoe could make concrete the sustainability we place at the heart of our response to Gladman’s rapacious development proposals: by placing a “wind-turbine, or two, on Tysoe Hill… generating profit for its residents, as well as power”. And, although this may have sounded somewhat tongue-in-cheek, at the time – especially considering how conservative (both small and large ‘c’) we appear as a village – I was actually utterly serious.

We cannot continue our lazy ways of driving our children to school; or arriving at village meetings by car; or nipping down to Bart’s for a loaf of bread in our 4x4s, when all of our local amenities are central, and easily accessible on foot even to those, like me, who walk in pain, and with a stick; and when the three hamlets – from Tysoe Manor to Lane End Farm – are less than two miles from end-to-end (and that’s using the roads; not cutting corners with our frequent footpaths, or as the numerous crows fly…). It is often, therefore, refreshing – and one of the advantages of being at the bottom of the Edge Hills – to see so many villagers cycling to and fro: even though our local roads are not the most accommodating for those on two wheels; and it is easy to feel trapped between rushing motorists, the larger-than-apparently-needed local bus, and our many (and often deep) potholes and ragged, infrequently-maintained road edges.

We must practise what we preach on a larger scale, though; and, although I understand some people’s aversion to the change represented by the incursion of wind-turbines (sadly, frequently accompanied by naked nimbyism; and not helped by David Cameron’s thoughtless appeasement of climate-change deniers and voters defecting to those “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” in the Ukip camp), I, personally, find them rather beautiful and graceful: modern, mobile sculptures bestriding our landscape even more elegantly than the “iron men” that were originally designed in the 1920s.

As we have so gotten used to pylons, and as we so adore the few windmills remaining from our water-pumping and flour-producing (and occasionally bone-grinding) agricultural and industrial heritage, I cannot see why, eventually, we would not grow to admire – or just forget or ignore their presence… – what will surely become a fundamental and necessary safeguard for the future of the human race (and the planet, of course). As I say, it is the “change represented” I believe that causes repulsion more than the design itself, though; and it will be interesting – as they are adopted more widely – to see what reactions will be provoked by the modern replacements for supporting overground electricity transmission. I wonder if people will then start professing their adoration for the suddenly historical (and therefore belonging to our “olden days”), latticed giants: which are, supposedly, equally as abhorred, currently (if you’ll excuse the pun), as the modern bladed replacements for stocks and sails.

Before I forget, does anyone know what is happening to ‘our’ windmill?

As now – although for divergent reasons – the windmill was also at the centre of the village’s identity in Joseph Ashby’s time; as well as playing a key rôle in its economy:

…sometimes as he saw the miller struggling up the hill, getting daily now more short of breath, the latter would seem for a moment a Sisyphean symbol for the endless struggle of life.

For the old man himself his mill was a symbol…. “My mill ’ll lose its sails one o’ these days, like the ships, but the tower ’ll last ’undreds of years; wind nor wet can’t get a hold on it. As one wind wets,” he said as though reflecting on the wide world, “another dries.”

…and it this economic – as well as community-enhancing – rôle I would want villagers to think about and discuss before rejecting something just on the grounds that they don’t like the look of it (especially as this is one way, in our control, to help prevent the power-cuts that, we are told, may become even more prevalent).

Not all of us who live here are rich, or can afford to absorb the high costs associated with oil-fuelled central-heating; and many would therefore benefit from the return an investment in ‘alternative’ power could provide – as well as the parallel reduction in their power and heating bills. (The number of solar electricity and water-heating panels visible in the village testifies to this, already – even if the majority of them, currently, appear to be attached to social housing.)

With the proposed advent of peer-to-peer ISAs, next year: which could provide a tax-free way of funding “community-owned renewable energy schemes” – such as those at Findhorn, and, more locally, at Watchfield – we would be one small step closer to living in the world we say we want for our children:

International and national bodies have set out broad principles of sustainable development. Resolution 42/187 of the United Nations General Assembly defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The UK Sustainable Development Strategy Securing the Future set out five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

The bid by Ovo Energy “to boost local power generation”, announced today, would also help us make our giant leap into the future:

Ovo has invested in systems that can easily be scaled up to give community groups, local authorities and housing associations the tools they need to run a utility business, including customer service, billing and power generation. The company, through its Ovo Communities division, will also offer smart metering, power purchasing and energy efficiency installations.

A recent YouGov survey showed that three times more people believed they would get a fairer deal from a community-based energy supplier than a large company answerable to City shareholders.

The community model is already used in mainland Europe, especially in Germany, where more than half of electricity and gas is provided by local municipalities or other community organisations.

If we can grow our own fruit and veg, surely we can start to think about generating our own electricity, as another move, in Tysoe’s history, towards community cohesiveness and self-sufficiency?

In [the] 1880s Joseph [Ashby] made contact again with Lord William Compton; Lord William was at the time residing at Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire, and Joseph working nearby. Joseph had “stood in the road, waylaying his carriage. He met with recognition and welcome; an interview was arranged”. He persuaded Lord William (now a Liberal MP) to let a farm to the Tysoe Allotments Association for division into allotments and small-holdings, himself becoming one of the first tenants.

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