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Wind farms can improve the landscape

Henk Daalder explains how an innovative wind-farm design in the windy north-west of the Netherlands delivered both more energy and a better-looking landscape.

The Netherlands has a troubled relationship with wind power. Dutch government subsidies - in the form of tax deductions - for fossil-fuel power plants attract companies from other countries to build their coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands. Wind farm developers, in contrast, have to participate in a lottery for their subsidies, meaning investors face a significant risk that projects may stall. Wind power has not grown for several years, and there is some 4GW in stalled projects.

Under this fossil-fuel-friendly regime, the community of Wieringermeer in North Holland realised that it had the freedom to make its own decisions on where and how to erect wind turbines. Dutch spatial policies dictate dense wind farms, as policymakers think that wind farms are ugly and should be built in areas that are designated for wind power - regardless of the people who live there. But this simply was not what Wieringermeer wanted.

Design principles

The municipality hired an architect to create a plan for more wind power with fewer turbines in a more beautiful landscape. The architect, Pros ten Hove of Arcadis, proposed a visual approach: how does the wind farm sit in the landscape? Does it look good? Does the design eliminate visual imperfections?

A two-year debate between turbine owners and citizens resulted in a design with several single rows of turbines along an octagon-shaped polder with a 15-kilometre diameter. I had created a similar linear wind farm design on my Windfarm Wiki, which was built in 2006.

There are some simple design rules to be followed to build good-looking wind farms. Wind turbines should be erected in linear structures, straight or slightly curved. Lines of turbines should be at least eight kilometres apart from each other, because that creates a clear visual distinction between turbines nearby and those in a neighbouring line.

It is also important that parts of the horizon remain free from turbines, and that people living in the area have ownership of the wind farm.

In Wieringermeer, relatives of the wind-farm owners also live in the polder, so almost everyone knows someone who owns a wind turbine. This is enough to enable people to identify with the wind turbines as something of local value.

Ownership

But while this has worked in Wieringermeer - which has two decades of experience with wind turbines - for communities that are confronted with a new wind-farm plan, it is essential that something more meaningful is put in place: real ownership.

Local ownership in a wind farm is legally required in Denmark and very common in Germany, two very successful examples. Ownership is not just a legal issue. Being an owner makes your wind farm look better, at least in your own eyes. Applying the rules as a prospective owner helps to improve the visual quality for those less involved or interested.

In the years to come, many wind farms will be built without an architect being consulted. But with these design rules in place, both developers and the people living near the wind farm know what to look for in the plans. Especially when "the developers" are in fact the citizens that plan their own wind farm. My wish is that many people will enjoy the view and pride of their own, well-designed wind farm.

Henk Daalder is an electrical engineer who has applied organisational change management to opposition against wind farms in the Netherlands. See his Wiki wind farm at bit.ly/windfarmwiki

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