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The beauty of windpower

It is time for PR practitioners to take the moral high ground to promote the use of windpower.

The greatest brains in the UK PR industry read PRWeek and I need your help. In fact, the nation needs your help. Do this for your children or for your country.

The first time I saw a wind turbine, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things on earth. I was 11 years old and on a family holiday. The turbine in question was a 50ft prototype on St Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly.

To me, it summed up everything that was good about the modern age - a magical machine that would generate free electricity for the community from the Atlantic breeze. It was a 20th century landmark towering over the Bronze Age ruins of Bant's Carn, in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It was at one with the environment.

Fast-forward almost 30 years and I am working for the public affairs firm that helps secure planning consent for some of the UK's most important wind turbine developments. Recently, we worked with one of the leading renewable power firms to win the trust of the local people in Cambridgeshire in order to build turbines.

The drivers may have changed - climate change is now more of a worry to most people than running out of North Sea oil - but the central arguments are as true now as they were in the 1980s when legendary industrialist Sir Robert McAlpine arguably took a huge business risk installing that first structure on Mount Todden. Society needs power and most of the current methods of generating it have significant downsides, be they pollution, ugly concrete structures or nuclear waste.

Thanks to the people of the Isles of Scilly and numerous other places, the UK is one of the world leaders in wind power. It is a technology that is providing a large number of jobs for British workers, as the UK sells many turbines abroad. Our turbines are quiet, clean and as beautiful as the windmills that graced the landscape in bygone years.

Sadly though, they can still be controversial. While many local residents welcome wind farms, some developments have faced vociferous opposition from a vocal minority. Their views are frequently given huge, and unfair, prominence in parts of the national news media that seem to have their own agenda on the issue.

We are engaging with one of the more powerful forces known to nature - residents who are naturally badly disposed to any change to the view from their bedroom window and who believe that a wind farm will devalue their property and threaten their peaceful tranquillity.

We know from talking to residents who have lived near wind farms for 20 years that turbines are often seen as a thing of beauty and become an established local landmark.

As a firm that frequently engages with people in cities, we too have embraced the genuine pleasure of spending time with rural communities and finding out about their needs.

As such, through PRWeek, we want to open a debate. This is a good example of where the public affairs industry has to take sides in what is, in many ways, a moral debate. What more do you believe we should be doing to keep the country onside? Should we be engaging directly with national politicians or is that counterproductive?

Does the presence of environmentalists win or alienate potential supporters? If a wind farm was brought to your area, what would you like to see in return? How do we best involve young people in the process? After all, the impact of our work on wind farms will be felt for generations to come.

Post your suggestions on Twitter @indigopublicaff. There is a bottle of champagne for the best idea and we have always got room in our team for clever people who want to make the world a better place.

Richard Patient is managing director of Indigo Public Affairs


Views in brief

Have you been able to turn the Government's need for efficiency in public spending to your clients' advantage?

We have achieved this by helping developers create products that are welcomed by local communities and win planning permission at the first attempt. This means everyone, including local authorities, gets better value for money.

Which TV programme title best sums up the culture of your agency?

The Persuaders.

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