United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Pilots lives before giant wind plant

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) has scotched plans for the country's largest wind farm. The refusal comes after MOD objected to the Humble Hill wind farm at its Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Tactics Range. MOD says the wind farm would interfere with radar and with low flying. AMEC Border Wind points to studies which show that wind farms pose no threat to military aircraft. But the government accepts the MOD's claims that the facilities are unique, with no similar site in the rest of Europe.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has scotched plans for the UK's largest wind farm near Kielder in Northumberland. Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers says he "reluctantly" decided to say no to AMEC Border Wind's 80 MW project. "However keen the government is to see new wind projects, we are not in the business of taking risks with aircrew lives," he says. Byers' decision comes after MOD objected to the effect of the Humble Hill wind farm on operations at its Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Tactics Range (EWTR).

MOD says the wind farm would interfere with radar and with low flying, particularly at times of poor visibility. The EWTR lies to the south of the proposed site and approaching aircraft would have had to fly over the wind farm, maintains MOD.

AMEC Border Wind points to studies and experience in Sweden and Denmark which show that wind farms pose no threat to military aircraft. But Byers accepts the MOD's claims that the EWTR facilities are unique, with no similar site in the rest of Europe. "So it is imperative for the front line training of RAF crews and therefore the tactical training value of the range must be safeguarded," he says.

Byers claims he reached his decision only after extensive discussions over a period of years to try to resolve the problem. Ecogen, the project's original developer before AMEC Border Wind's involvement, first lodged its application for consent in 1993. Despite support from environmental groups and local authorities, MOD has consistently resisted the scheme.

According to David Still from AMEC Border Wind, the company had put in an amendment to its application to resolve some of MOD's concerns, but the ministry never contacted them to discuss the proposal. "It is disappointing that they never talked to us about where we could site the turbines," he comments.

Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry and MOD are working closely to find solutions to the problem of finding sites on which to develop wind farms, both onshore and offshore, while preserving the UK's defence interests, states Byers. He stresses that the Humble Hill decision was due purely to local circumstances and does not set a general precedent.

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