Moves to force energy companies to invest significantly more money into community benefits in return for wind farm approvals have been dismissed by anti-turbine campaigners in the region.
Reports at the weekend claimed rural communities affected by wind farm proposals could receive millions of pounds in compensation from the developers – under new Government plans to limit the scale of public opposition to the controversial schemes.
It is claimed the plans – which have been branded “bribes for blight” by some critics – could see the enhanced benefit packages used to pay for new village halls, home improvements, reduced household energy bills and bursaries for children’s university fees in the affected communities.
Energy companies already provide community funds for areas in which they build their wind farms – but ministers want them to do more to help stifle local opposition and pave the way for thousands more turbines to be built in the countryside.
It is claimed that under the new proposals, developers would pay at least £5,000-a-year into a community trust for each megawatt of generating capacity they install.
For turbines with a generating capacity of 4mw, this would mean £20,000-a-year for each one. On a 20-turbine wind farm, the result would be £400,000 a year for the local community – or £10m over its 25-year lifespan.
The extra cost of the enhanced benefits scheme – which would also apply to fracking sites and even new nuclear power stations – would be passed on to customers through higher energy bills. Conservative county councillor Glen Sanderson has been leading efforts to clamp down on the number of wind farms being given the green light in Northumberland.
Yesterday he said: “We have had wind of this before. Some would describe it as incentives and others as bribery, although most people that I know would use the latter term.
“We have to be very careful not to be taken in by handfuls of silver, and allow damage to be caused to the countryside environment and tourism by wind farms for the sake of a few thousands of pounds.
“More money for community benefits might persuade one or two people, but I think the vast majority would not be taken in by this. It depends what price you put on rural views and the serenity of the countryside. You would need to pay an awful lot of money to make up for that sort of damage.”
John Grant is a member of Widdrington Parish Council, which recently objected to two separate wind farm schemes, involving a total of 13 turbines, near the village. The applications, by Infinis and Peel Energy, were both approved.
He said: “The community benefits we have been promised here are pretty derisory, and I’m sure the companies can afford to pay more, but I don’t think that would appease people affected by the turbines.
“My perception is that people are opposed to wind farms because of the impact they have on localities, and suspicion about how useful or efficient they are in producing energy. I don’t think it’s a question of money for the local communities.”
Wind farm developers pay between £1,000 and £2,000 per installed megawatt in community benefits in an attempt to win over locals. In a consultation exercise, the Government was so deluged by complaints about turbines that ministers decided the rate must go up to £5,000.