Operatic squalls are not uncommon. Rossini depicts a passing storm in his overture to William Tell, Wagner conjures up a tempest at the start of Die Walküre, Verdi begins Otello in a gale, and there is a rough sea interlude in Britten’s Peter Grimes. Now, Glyndebourne Opera House has stirred up a tornado in a teacup.
After many years battling local authorities for planning permission, Glyndebourne, founded in 1934 and set deep in the heart of the English countryside, has erected a modern-day windmill amid cheers and jeers. Broadcaster Sir David Attenborough was on hand to inaugurate the very first wind turbine to power a major British arts institution. Now, when a gale “plies the saplings double” at Glyndebourne, it will be turning a £1.5m piece of equipment powering one of today’s hi-tech opera productions.
Gus Christie, the founder’s grandson and now Glyndebourne’s Executive Chairman, first thought of building a wind turbine in 2004. He believes that, over the course of a year, it will generate more than half of Glyndebourne’s electricity requirements, a significant step towards a target of getting 90% of energy from renewable sources. Christie also hopes that other arts organisations and environmental bodies will join forces to find sites for more turbines.
Speaking at the launch ceremony, Attenborough – well known for his support for the environment – said that older people had still not grasped the scale of change essential to avert climate catastrophe. “If people don’t like the rhythmic puffy noise it makes then that’s their choice, but I can’t help feeling such people haven’t really grasped where energy comes from. What do they imagine happens when they turn on a light switch or drive their cars?”
He continued, “For most of my lifetime most power came from burning coal, which killed many hundreds underground and thousands overground from breathing in fumes, and in my memory caused smogs where you could not see your hand in front of your face. It is almost unbelievable to me that we now have the ability to draw the power we need from every gust of wind.”
A dramatic fall in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (apparently caused by the 2009 recession) has been marred by the figure for 2010 which shows national emissions rising by 3.1%. The increase, the first in almost a decade, is attributed to home heating during a cold winter and shutdowns at nuclear power stations after technical problems. Wind-power would seem to be an obvious solution.
In 2011 the Duke of Edinburgh criticised the onshore wind turbine industry, calling wind farms “a disgrace” and accusing people who support them of believing in a “fairy tale”. Britain already has more than 3,400 turbines – nearly 3,000 onshore – with another 4,500 soon to be built under plans for wind power to play a more important role in providing Britain’s energy. So airy persiflage of the kind indulged in by ancient royals is unlikely to hold much sway. Wind turbines at Windsor? Not likely!