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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 18:52 GMT
Exploiting wind power in Holland
Dutch Windmills
For many people, windmills epitomise The Netherlands
By Elizabeth Blunt in The Hague

If the proposed protocol on Greenhouse Gas emissions is ratified, the Netherlands, like other developed countries, will be obliged to cut back its use of fossil fuels and develop renewable energy resources.

For environmentalists, the windmill is a perfect alternative. The wind never runs out, and leaves no waste products behind.

And for many people, the slow creak of wooden gears, and the faint whoosh of turning sails of a windmill at work is the sound of the Netherlands.

But modern day turbines are not nearly as picturesque as the old Dutch mills, and not everyone wants a wind farm next door.

The land of windmills

One mill in Leiden is still turning, but now the grinding stones have gone, and it remains only as a tourist attraction.

Wind farm
Modern windfarms are not as pretty as the old windmills
Its curator Hennie van der Lelie, explained why his country first became the land of windmills.

"It's the lack of running water because the alternative is a water driven mill. Holland is so flat that the water doesn't flow fast enough to drive a water driven mill," he said.

"There were once over 10,000 mills roughly 100 years ago and there are only 10% left now, of which two-thirds can be used one way or another."

Green reputation

Windmills, bicycles, and efficient electric trams have given the Netherlands a green reputation. But Jasper Korff of Dutch Friends of the Earth, questions whether this reputation is justified.

"We have a long tradition of windmills, but that was a long time ago," he says. "Now we're using a lot of coal, gas and oil for our electricity."

"We have quite a good record on environmental issues, but we must get a dramatic change from fossil fuels to renewable energy," he adds.

Living next door to windfarms may be just one of the many sacrifices people will have to make if the climate change convention is ever to have its intended effect.

Limited space

The problem for the Netherlands is that it is a very small, densely populated country, with a lot of industry and highly intensive agriculture crammed into very limited space.

We are not a front runner...we have been behind in the 1990s

Jan Pronk
Dutch Minister for the Environment
It will be hard for the Dutch to meet their targets within their own borders, and being the host for the meeting has turned the spotlight on the country's record so far.

The government are particularly interested in some of the flexible mechanisms which allow countries to get credit for energy savings they help make in other countries, particularly in the developing world.

The Dutch Minister for the Environment, Jan Pronk, says his country is trying to live up to the responsibilities put on them as hosts of the meeting.

Mixed record

"We are not a front runner...we have been behind in the 1990s," he admits.

Power station
The conference is discussing how to reduce dependency on fossil fuels
"We are changing our policies and I think we have a very good record in the assistance of developing countries and these are extremely important."

"Now we have a good record on that score (but) our record as far as energy consumption itself is mediocre," he adds.

The Netherlands still has the present-day descendents of the old windmill makers, with a legacy of expertise in renewable energy.

Slow process

Anne Marie Hootmakkers is in charge the renewable energy division of one of the country's major power generation companies, Nuon.

She says they are ready and willing to cut back on the use of fossil fuels, but the process is painfully slow.

"In the Netherlands we talk and talk, but we are not so good at decision making," she says.

"I would like to see a sense of urgency. We have plans to build more than 500 megawatts of wind farms, but we have had the plans for more than 10 years," she adds.

Key stories


See also:

13 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
11 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
11 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
06 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
01 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
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