Wales will “industrialise” some of its most sensitive beauty spots with turbines dwarfing the nation’s tallest buildings if bids for 25 new wind farms are backed, say protestors.
The bids are being made by green energy firms across Wales, with heavy concentrations in Powys and Pembrokeshire and smaller-scale schemes across the country.
Protestors say the plans could destroy Wales’ ability to continue marketing itself as a place of unspoilt beauty.
But Llywelyn Rhys, deputy director of RenewableUK Cymru, stressed not all of the 25 schemes would get off the ground, with some certain to be dropped, modified or rejected.
Among the biggest schemes planned is RWE npower renewables’ 150 megawatt (MW) Carnedd Wen project 25km west of Welshpool, in Powys, with 50 turbines standing 137 metres high.
The structures will stand 17 metres higher than Cardiff’s tallest building – the BT-owned Stadium House – or 30 metres loftier than The Tower, in Swansea’s Meridian Quay.
It’s one of three large scale schemes in mid-Wales that Powys County Council has no authority to reject – all proposals over 50MW are determined by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
The 25 schemes are for wind farms with more than two turbines – there are many other bids with Welsh local authorities for single and twin turbine schemes.
Montgomeryshire-based Alison Davies, who chairs protest group Conservation of Upland Powys, said people will stop visiting or moving to Wales if wind farm developments are allowed to continue unchecked.
She said because Montgomeryshire is not a national park like Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons it has many thriving caravan parks with mobile homes worth up to £80,000 each.
The owners of these homes, who bring massive benefits to the local economy, will simply go elsewhere if they find themselves surround by wind farms, said Mrs Davies.
“They’re helping to support businesses that have significant employment within the caravan parks, but also beyond that in the local pubs, the hotels, the restaurants and the shops because they buy locally,” she said.
Mrs Davies stressed some firms want to build turbines even higher than those at Carnedd Wen, but these plans remain at the “scoping” stage rather than having been formally submitted.
Among them is SSE Renewables plans for 64 turbines 146.5 metres high at Nant-y-Moch, in Powys, which are much larger than any yet built in the UK.
The area, in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains, is rated “outstanding” by the Countryside Council for Wales.
But Mr Rhys said a recent Scottish study showed there is little evidence that wind farms harm tourism.
He said: “The most recent report on this was in April and that said the presence of wind farms would have little impact on a decision on whether to holiday in Scotland.”
Research by Visit Scotland showed 83% of 3,000 people interviewed said their decision to holiday in the UK would not be affected by the presence of a wind farm.
But Mike Bird, of protest group Brecon Against Wind Turbines, stressed the Welsh Government must take an overview of the impact of the developments as they will industrialise the nation’s beauty spots.
In 2010 the Welsh Government revised its target downwards for the proportion of energy it wants to generate by wind power in seven areas around Wales from 2.5 gigawatts (GW) to 2GW by 2015.
And last year after protesters marched on the Senedd to make clear the strength of their opposition First Minister Carwyn Jones appeared to signal a shift in position, saying there was an “unacceptable” level of development.
Mr Bird said: “I personally feel large industrial sized wind turbines have a devastating impact on the landscape of Wales.”
Mr Rhys stressed Wales would be turning its back on a massive economic opportunity if the protestors get their way.
The turnover derived from wind-related activity in the sector in Wales is £123.5m. This is around two thirds of the turnover of the agriculture sector.
Wages in the sector are high, averaging £44,000, and companies contribute more than £158m to the Welsh economy in expenditure, according to research by RenewableUK Cymru in 2010.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said the 2GW target should be regarded as an “upper limit” and called on the UK Government not to allow “proliferation” of wind farms.
A spokesperson said: “Our future well-being, both material and social, will be dependent on Wales achieving sufficient, secure supplies of low carbon energy. However this must be balanced with our efforts to maintain Wales’ stunning natural environment.”
A DECC spokesman said work is carried out to ensure all developments are “appropriately sited”.
“Wind energy developers are required to carry out assessments of the landscape and visual impact when preparing planning applications and generally avoid the most sensitive landscapes, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.”
The biggest wind farms planned in Wales:
Neath Port Talbot: Acciona
Energy UK Ltd want nine turbines at Seven Sisters 125 metre high.
Merthyr Tydfil: Bedlinogwynt Ltd plans three turbines 125 metre high at Bedlinog Farm, Bedlinog.
Rhondda Cynon Taf: RWE npower renewables plans to remove the existing 20 turbines at Taff Ely, and replace them with seven 110 metre high turbines.
Wrexham: Quiet Revolution want to build five 22 metre high turbines at Spring Hill Farm, Near Selattyn, Oswestry.
Powys: RWE npower renewables’ plans 50 turbines standing 137 metres high 25km west of Welshpool.
Conwy: Wind Power Wales Group plc is planning 10 turbines standing between 100 metre and 110 metre high at Llys Dymper, Gwytherin, Llanrwst.
Pembrokeshire: Quiet Revolution Ltd is planning 20 turbines at Penlan-Oleu, Llanychaer, Fishguard, standing 23 metres high.
Bridgend: Gamesa Energy UK Limited wants 15 turbines at Mynydd Y Gelli/Mynydd Caerau, near Abergwynfi, standing 118 metres high. Only three of the 15 are in Bridgend – most being in Neath Porth Talbot.