Friday, June 27, 2008

Lean, green, wind machines

Now, I think we’ve established that Rutland is very small, very beautiful and very rural, but it’s not, I confess, very exciting. Pity then, the editor of the weekly Rutland Times newspaper, which today leads with ‘Young dancers win talent contest’ and ‘Woman cautioned for stealing eggs’. Talk about a slow news week.

More interesting and timely, in relation to yesterday’s announcement of a new initiative for windpower expansion in Britain, is the news that North Luffenham’s primary school has become the first in the county to install a wind turbine. Apparently, on windy days, the 1.2kw of energy generated is enough to power ‘one of the school corridors and classrooms’ which is all very educational and eco-friendly I’m sure, but why does it generate so little?

A quick trip to the government’s Windspeed Database at the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) reveals that the average windspeed in North Luffenham at 10 metres above ground-level is only 4.5 metres/second (m/s); considerably slower than the 6m/s recommended by the Energy Saving Trust (EST). According to the database, a turbine in North Luffenham (despite its hill-top position) would have to be 45 metres above ground (not sea-level) in order to attain the recommended wind speed.

So while the school’s efforts are laudable, they fall some way short of fulfilling the true potential of a turbine at their location. Similarly, the suggested praise of Rutland County Council for giving planning permission to this enterprise looks unwarranted, given the self-evident benefits of microgeneration versus this winter’s projected 40% fuel hikes.

There are, however, two pieces of good news:-
- BERR’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme offers Grants from £400 to £2,500, depending on the technology (solar or photovoltaic panels for example), to home-owners wishing to install a microgeneration system. Applications are accepted on a ‘rolling first-come first-served basis’, dependant upon fulfilment of energy efficiency measures.

- On 6th April, the government made changes to the General Permitted Development Order for renewable technologies, which lifted planning restrictions for most domestic microgeneration technologies, excluding Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites. The EST website says that ‘it is expected that roof mounted and free standing micro wind turbines will be permitted at detached properties that are not in conservation areas.'

Further legislation is expected later this year. In the meantime, we must rely upon the forward-thinking elements of Rutland’s Planning Department to allow us the opportunity to make real monetary and ecological savings.

BBC on Windpower
BERR Low Carbon Building Programme
BERR Windspeed Database
Energy Saving Trust
General Permitted Development Order (6th April 2008)
PM’s speech on Local Carbon Future (full text)
Rutland County Council Planning Office
Rutland Times

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cat catch

Just beautiful this morning. The forecast promises sunshine, cloud and a continuation of those fun, high winds we’ve been having recently. At least the cat likes it, strutting home with blown-dry just-out-of-the-salon smugness, though the gift of yet another dead bird isn’t received with quite the enthusiasm he expects. It must, I think, be hardwired: after all, it takes just one instance for him to remember that he can get into the house by climbing onto the garden wall, leaping across to the balcony and inching its barely ajar window open with a persistent paw. Tens of pitiful, small and unnecessary deaths later however, he hasn’t quite grasped that we’re unwilling beneficiaries of his brand of largesse.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Multum in Parvo - much to lose?

Monday is grey and unexciting. Rudely hauled into consciousness by the unexpected arrival of the builder, I spend the morning locked in the living room, grimly drinking coffee and wishing I’d had time for a shower. By twelve o’clock I can recite most of the News 24 stories by heart and even the ‘breaking news’ on George Bush’s visit is hours old. I surf through my usual bookmarks, check and for local news because I didn’t get the weekly papers last Friday.

I’m disturbed to find that 78% of visitors to the Rutland Times site (myself included) think that Rutland will be a worse place to live in ten years time. But on further thought, I can’t think of anywhere that will be a better place to live in ten years time. Now I’m passionate about Rutland, and so, I think, are many people in our little county but you can’t, as they say, stop progress. And all credit to the council, I think they do a stirling job of protecting what we value most about Rutland; our unfortunately high taxes are the price we pay for independence and I’ll happily pay them to help preserve the place I love.

But doesn’t this survey say more about our state of mind, than the future of Rutland? Oil has reached $139 a barrel, the housing market is in meltdown, the fabric of society seems increasingly frayed, we are threatened by terrorists, global warming, negative equity, Gordon Brown; tormented by the cost of living, by the speed of change, by what next door have done now; we are characterised by fear. No surprise, then, that the future looks bleak, even for our rural idyll. We may not be a terrorist target but we can feel the effects of global warming and see the potential for disaster in the formerly vibrant microcosm of the Rutland property market.

How many of our neighbours will lose their homes? How many of our treasured local businesses and shops will fail in the harsh economic climate, to be replaced by the blight of cheap high-street chainstores and burger-bars that we’ve held at bay for so long? How many of our ancient pubs and restaurants will close for good? How many post offices and village shops will shut for ever? And when they are gone, how many of us, having lost the things that we loved most, that made the smallest county so special, will simply take our remaining money and leave?

For such a little place, Rutland has so much to lose.

Rutland social

We’ve erected a badminton court on the lawn and there’s nothing I’d like better than to spend the day lightly tapping a shuttlecock across the net - or sipping bombay sapphire and tonic from the comfort of my deckchair, while someone else runs around – but with English idyll comes English responsibility: FĂȘtes must be attended, Open Gardens viewed, raffle tickets bought, fund-raisers supported, other-people’s-children applauded, garden-parties attended: hats fixed; forelocks tugged; caps lifted; upper lips stiffened; snouts raised; eyes rolled; brows raised; noses tweaked; gobs-smacked.
In fact, it’s all very Midsomer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

A busy weekend in which we accomplish very little. Completely forget about the church fundraiser on Saturday; reminded only by the sour face of Mrs R as we pass her taking down the damp cardboard ‘car park’ sign at noon on Sunday. Fortunately, it’s Father’s Day, so H’s parents afford some protection from the full wrath of the village matriarch as we totter past on our way to the pub for lunch – parental entertainment is best facilitated by an early bottle of bubbly and it still leaves me a bit tiddly after the first glass. Two courses and several drinks heavier, we weave our way back in time to catch the Queens final on BBC1. I can take it or leave it but the in-laws are keen and at this point I just want to put my feet up and snooze for a couple of hours: clearly this is not going to happen but at least the tennis keeps them occupied. When (I wonder in clichĂ©d fashion) did I start thinking of them as children? Not completely of course, but enough that they are creatures to be entertained: fed, watered, kept quiet and happy. I suspect it’s not them but me. Certainly they’re no trouble, really. I’m nevertheless quietly relieved when they peck goodbye and we can settle down to mooch comfortably through the evening.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer scene

It’s summer in Rutland, today. I type slowly, basking in the late afternoon sunshine of a soft blue day - we have yet to reach the dizzy depths of August’s rare indigo or July’s extraordinary azure. Perched on the edge of my deckchair, sunnies plastered Bono-style to my face, I peer through my pinking reflection at the ghostly typeface beneath: the eyes may strain but at least the wrinkles are held at bay. Our gentle shire raises it’s newly formed tendrils, fresh silver leaves sparkling in the tenderest of breezes as a harrier scrapes itself across the sky. Now, I didn’t say we were perfect, did I? At least, not yet… Best of all, the first squirt of sun-lotion has transported to me to every-holiday; the Factor 15 is well and truly in effect.