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NO STONE LEFT UNTURNED

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has considered over 200 written representations, heard evidence from 27 different organisations and visited all six operational Welsh wind farms as a basis for its report on wind energy. The role of the cross party committee of 11 back bench MPs is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office -- the government department responsible for all Welsh matters. The report has by and large been positively received by British Wind Energy Association and environment group Friends of the Earth, while the media offered it little attention.

During its seven month inquiry into wind energy in Wales the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has considered over 200 written representations, heard evidence from 27 different organisations and visited all six operational Welsh wind farms. The role of the cross party committee of 11 back bench MPs is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office -- the government department responsible for all Welsh matters.

Although ministers may sometimes regard the recommendations of select committees as a thorn in their side, civil servants within government departments find the feedback from the committees extremely important in cutting across party political rhetoric, allowing them to get a more representative view of the feeling in the country at large.

Under the chairmanship of Gareth Wardell, the committee impressed observers on all sides of the debate by the thoroughness of its examination of witnesses and evidence and its refusal to let any bogus or unsubstantiated claims slip through unchecked. "What the report does effectively is to debunk a lot of misinformation," says one wind industry witness. "The tone from the whole inquisition was that claims by the industry were generally considered to be sensible, while many of the claims by the opposition were considered to be hysterical," he adds. However he surmises that some of the savage criticism of the CCW in the report could be the committee indulging in a "bit of quango-bashing."

The report is welcomed by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). "We value the careful consideration the committee has given to wind energy and its conclusion that appropriate developments in Wales should be encouraged," says the BWEA's Michael Harper. However, the association takes issue with two of the report's conclusions, believing that banning developments where they would be seen from within a National Park or other area designated for its landscape value, would be unnecessarily restrictive. The BWEA's other concern is that wind farm developers' rights under the appeal process should be no different than for any other type of planning application.

Environment group Friends of the Earth praises the report as a "significant step forward in the debate on wind power." In particular it welcomes the MPs' views on the importance of community involvement. "The committee has reinforced FoE's view that the involvement and consultation of local communities is the crucial determining factor in progressing an appropriate wind industry."

Given the favourable nature of the report towards wind energy, many throughout the industry lament that it received poor media coverage. With the exception of a small item in the Financial Times the day after its publication, the report appeared to sink with very little trace in the UK national press, although it provoked more interest in the local Welsh media. "I guess the publicity it received is commensurate with the seriousness with which ministers will treat its the findings," is the resigned comment of one.

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