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United Kingdom

Wind energy development - the indictment

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The two sides in the battle over the development of wind energy glower at each other from their trenches and break out periodically in a vicious exchange of statistics. Windpower Monthly has arranged a cease-fire so that we can explain our views to each other and reduce the level of incomprehension, though a lasting peace may be a long way off.

For most of the opponents of large commercial wind farms the central issue is their impact on high-quality landscape. Some of the opponents would reject that impact under all circumstances; others would accept it if they felt that an environmental cost/benefit analysis justified it. What none will swallow is that there is no significant issue about landscape except in the minds of an extreme minority. In these pages I have read over recent months the following remarks: "The view that wind energy projects are intrusive is not shared by all," and "A minority É is positioning itself against any form of change in the landscape É and "A wind plant ... can actually lead to the preservation of large tracts of countryside."

Until wind energy developers take the issue of landscape seriously they will create a juggernaut of protest that will halt the introduction of the technology in its tracks just as the nuclear industry has been stopped.

You can argue about whether a turbine is beautiful or not, but you cannot deny that a wind farm is a significant industrial installation. The presumption against them within designated areas [areas which are protected by law to varying degrees] recognises that they degrade the landscape. Counsel for the Wind Energy Group at the Kirkby Moor Public Inquiry admitted, "It tends to be the higher parts of the country which are technically suitable for wind farms. These are all too often prominent, scenically beautiful sites and that causes a dilemma."

It doesn't seem to cause a dilemma for some of the developers currently putting up anemometers or submitting planning applications. The Black Hill (anemometer) and Reeves Hill (planning application for 14 Tacke Windtechnik 600 turbines, overall height 72.5 metres) are both within areas designated as being of great landscape value; the Black Hill site is less than 500 metres from a National Park; both are just off the Offa's Dyke Path, a national trail.

Of course, there is much fine landscape outside designated areas and if the latter are protected, pressure increases elsewhere. Marcus Rand of Greenpeace, in his Developing Wind Energy for the UK report, identified the need to balance the technical demands of wind plant with the characteristics of the landscape, so that a landscape with wind power, and not a wind power landscape, is created. In the optimum wind power sites outside Designated Areas, however, we are beginning to see a cumulative saturation of the countryside. Cemmaes (24 turbines), Bryn Titli (22 turbines), Carno (60 turbines approved) and Llandinam (103 turbines) in mid Wales are within a circle whose radius is 11.66 miles, with complete inter-visibility.

Let the developers not question the landscape cost that we are being asked to bear. The benefit is another argument. All of us accept the case for renewables. Until fossil fuels run out, however, we have to weigh the benefit of pollution reduction against the environmental cost of the renewable. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) accepts that to produce 10% of our energy from wind we would need 30,000 plus turbines covering some 750,000 acres. The British Wind Energy Association, in its Fact Sheet No 9, has pointed out that only 37% of national C02 emissions derive from energy production. To lose a million acres of largely non-industrialised upland coast to industrialisation and still to have 96.3% of our CO2 seems the worst of all possible worlds. Energy conservation and the switch from coal to gas is much more effective in reducing harmful emissions. Yes, we do need balanced energy generation as well as energy saving, but not at any cost.

While areas used recreationally and promoted by Tourist Boards for their landscape are targeted by the wind farm developer, then opposition will rage fiercely. For every BWEA survey that finds local residents untroubled by a wind farm, the opponents will produce a Stonewall Hill or a Flaight Hill where many hundreds of letters of protest have come in. Groups like the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales and the Ramblers' Association will eschew case-by-case evaluation of proposals and continue a blanket policy of opposition.

Robert Woodward is a former teacher and Sixth Form College Principal. He currently organises overseas study trips for British students. He is a vice chairman of Country Guardian, but the views expressed here are his own.

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