The countryside is caught in a “hurricane of new wind turbines”, campaigners warn today – demanding urgent action to protect the landscape.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) today publishes a new report highlighting the dramatic proliferation of huge onshore wind turbines.
The issue is proving increasingly contentious, and is leading to tensions within the coalition Government.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last week he “passionately” believed the rapid growth of renewable energy was vital for the nation’s future, and cited the falling costs of onshore wind.
But more than 100 Tory MPs – many from the West – attacked wind farms earlier this year, claiming they were inefficient and demanding big cuts in subsidies.
And Chancellor George Osborne was accused of “anti-green rhetoric” after warning green policies could put a burden on business, while last month’s Budget championed gas and handed £3 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuels.
The Western Daily Press told last Wednesday how campaigners fighting plans for nine huge wind farms on the Somerset levels were ‘ecstatic’ when councillors threw out the schemes.
Stroud-based Ecotricity had applied to build four turbines at West Huntspill, and EDF Energy five at East Huntspill, the villages close to the M5 near Bridgwater.
But the CPRE today says West applications are part of a pattern that has seen exponential growth, with local communities struggling to safeguard valued landscapes.
In 2008, 685 wind turbines that were 30 metres or taller had been completed, were being built or were awaiting approval.
By 2010 that had increased to 1,831, and at the start of this year the number had soared to 3,442.
Applications made by March this year saw the total reach more than 4,100 – and the figures do not include turbines smaller than 30 metres, which add significantly to the strain on the planning system in many areas, the CPRE says.
CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “There is no easy way to provide the country with the energy we need.
“CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations.
“Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.
“The English countryside is one of this country’s great glories. It will always change, of course, and it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs. But we must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection. Otherwise we will sacrifice the beauty and tranquillity of much-loved landscapes for at least a generation.”
The charity urges the Government to:
Provide more clarity about the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects to see built, and where they might be located.
Develop an approach which recognises landscape capacity, including cumulative impacts of onshore wind turbines.
Ensure local councils seek to protect landscape character through their local plans and planning decisions.
Make the onshore wind industry take legal and financial responsibility for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape when they stop working.