Dutch Don Quixotes fear Europe's largest wind farm

Dutch Don Quixotes fear Europe's largest wind farm

6th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

As world leaders draw up plans in Copenhagen to tackle one of the world's biggest challenges in the 21st century - climate change, modern day Don Quixotes fight against one of Europe's largest wind farms.

The aim is a sustainable world where clean energy takes over from traditional fossil fuels. But the solutions sometimes clash with ordinary, everyday life, as the people in the Dutch village of Urk would agree. They've become modern day Don Quixotes in their fight against one of Europe's largest wind farms.

I was born on Urk, some 90 kilometres northeast of Amsterdam, on the shores of the Ijsselmeer Lake. I realise I should say I was born in Urk, but we still regard our hometown as an island, which it was until the early 1940s. Then new land was reclaimed and the town of Urk now sits on a peninsula jutting into the Ijsselmeer, but the island mentality has never really vanished.
Life as it used to be

In many ways, Urk is atypical of early 21st century life in the Netherlands. Most people are devout Christians, the main source of income is the fishing industry, it has the highest birth rate in the country, unemployment is virtually non-existent and the Urkers are famous for being the biggest donors to charitable organisations.
Never give up

We are also famous for our determination. We rarely give up easily. When the new surrounding polders absorbed the island, our fathers and grandfathers didn't give up fishing. Instead, they found other ways to build a fishing fleet so big, the Urkers rightfully claimed it was Europe's largest and most modern.

My fellow Urkers are showing the same determination in fighting Europe's largest wind farm, the Windpark Noordoostpolder, which is planned only a few kilometres from the historical and picturesque seafront of Urk. Nearly 100 giant modern windmills, each between 150 and 200 metres high, stationed in three or four rows along the shores of the IJsselmeer. We'll be surrounded by these giants on two sides: the north and the south. Currently, Urk's tallest building is its lighthouse, which is just 27 metres high.

Photo © Markus Bernet - Wikimedia Commons

 The quay of Urk

An uphill fight

But the Don Quixotes of Urk are fighting an uphill battle, as the windfarm fits perfectly into the Netherlands' drive for sustainable energy within the next decade. Dutch Economic Affairs minister Maria van der Hoeven fully embraced the plans last week and offered up to one billion euros worth of subsidies to anyone wishing to invest or participate in the project. Apparently there's no way back, even though this giant wind farm will only provide 0.1 percent of the Netherlands' total energy needs in the future.
Against the tide

And there's another struggle. It feels like we're combating generally accepted - and laudable - views on sustainable energy. If you're against a wind farm, you're against clean energy and you're simply ignorant on climate change, some say. Most Urkers would disagree. It's not about being ignorant. It's about saving a piece of centuries-old history.

"Just imagine", wrote one protester in Urk's local newspaper, "if you walk on the seaside boulevard in Urk, trying to enjoy a wonderful sunset on a beautiful summer's day. It's possible now, as you have an unobstructed view and you can see for miles. In the future, all you can see is a little bit of IJsselmeer and many, many windmills. What kind of view is that?".
A sacrifice too far

Not that the Urkers are against sustainable energy. In fact, the current economic crisis is hitting Urk hard, many ships of our oil-guzzling fishing fleet have gone out of business due to high oil prices. Fishermen are currently looking desperately for cheaper and more sustainable fishing methods.

But 200-metre-high windmills towering over the quiet village are stretching Urk's willingness to help stimulate sustainable energy a bit too far, many say. But this is Copenhagen and Kyoto put into practice, so there's hardly any opposition from environmental groups and political parties.

Photo Flickr © jack_of_hearts_398


Drop by for a visit

Perhaps the world leaders should break away from their Copenhagen summit for a few hours and take a look at Urk. It's only a short flight from Denmark, anyway. Once they've taken in the magnificent seaside view, they might see for themselves that sometimes, sustainable energy comes at a huge price.

The question is whether we're all ready to pay that price. Many Urkers aren't. We're beginning to feel isolated from the rest of the world once more, as nobody seems to understand our feelings. A sense of isolation only islanders recognise.

Johan van Slooten
Radio Netherlands

 Photos credit: Markus Bernet (Wikimedia Commons);BasL;jack_of_hearts_398

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