The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) revised its policy on wind power stations in November. Previously it has sought to encourage limited wind power development outside designated areas such as national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and other high quality landscapes. Its tough new attitude comes in the light of recent experience of wind power development in Wales which now has six wind farms, a further two being built and many more planned. The CPRW's Neil Caldwell says: "Every consumer of electricity has to pay a surcharge which the government collects and hands over to multi-national companies so they can cover our beautiful Welsh hills with wind turbines that produce a tiny trickle of energy. If we really want to tackle global environmental problems and protect the countryside this money must be used instead to help cut energy consumption and everyone's electricity bills."
In its new policy the CPRW claims that a greater reduction in greenhouse gases and acid emissions could be achieved, and more economic activity and employment generated, if the money spent on wind energy was used to fund a massive energy conservation campaign. The CPRW's national council is calling for a moratorium on Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) payments for all new wind power schemes in Wales "until such time as substantial results have been achieved through conservation measures." Justifying its stance the CPRW points out that wind is an intermittent source of energy which does not do away with the need for other forms of generation. This despite many studies to the contrary. Its claim that wind power stations are only viable because of the subsidy which is raised by a ten per cent levy on all electricity bills is also misleading. What the CPRW fails to add is that last year 98% of the levy went in premium payments to the nuclear industry, while the remaining 2% was shared between all renewable energy projects, not just wind.
It is also calling for the government to increase funds to the Energy Savings Trust. A new government quango, it offers consumers financial incentives to reduce electricity consumption and to tighten emission standards on conventional power stations. The CPRW says it will continue its opposition to all new wind power stations in Wales until conservation measures achieve substantial reductions in energy use and wind power generation proves to be cost-effective.
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) reacted angrily to the CPRW's announcement. "We consider their arguments to be seriously flawed," says BWEA Chairman Peter Simpson. "Their assertions are based on a misinterpretation of the true facts."
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) in Wales says it is dismayed at the CPRW's "blanket condemnation" of all future wind farms. "It's a pity they are stepping outside the debate," says Margaret Minhinnick from FoE Cymru who believes the CPRW had a lot to offer with its previous thoughtful analysis of wind farm development proposals. "Of course we want energy efficiency, but at the same time we are aware we have to provide energy for the future that is more benign." She is concerned that the wind energy debate is being polarised by focusing too heavily on the landscape issue. "We have to be sensitive about the landscape but what this argument is doing is shifting awareness away from all other threats to do with traditional generation."
However, explaining the background to its new policy, Tony Walker from the CPRW insists its philosophy has not changed, merely developed. Under its original policy of looking at each site on its merits, the organisation found itself opposing nearly all wind farm proposals, he says. "We found that inappropriate sites were being chosen through lack of suitable planning guidance." Another criticism was that, against expectations, wind farms were providing negligible benefits to local communities at the expense of valued landscapes. "We decided we would be taking a stronger position if we declared our opposition to all wind farms," he explains. However, he adds that the CPRW would not necessarily object to small domestic developments of one or two turbines -- particularly where there is a tangible local benefit.