The hostility aroused by the Parham project is not unusual either. Some locals complain that wind farms are noisy, ugly and (citing estate agents) that they reduce property prices. Others, like John Constable, who lives 700 metres away from the airfield, say they are just inappropriate. “I happen to like the Chrysler building,” he says, “but I don't want it near my house.”
THE hedgerows of Great Glemham, a small village in Suffolk, make an unusual billboard for political posters. Currently they feature eye-catching protests against plans for a wind farm on a disused airfield in next-door Parham. When the project was announced in December, residents mostly welcomed the idea. Many have now changed their mind and relations with the farmer who owns the site, an upstanding member of the Parish Council, have become strained. In the middle of one Saturday night, someone snuck around taking all the posters down.
When subsidies for wind energy were first mooted, most wind farms were expected to be built offshore, since there is a lot of wind there and seagulls don’t sit on planning committees. But the subsidy system, under which wind farms sell renewable obligation certificates (ROCs) to conventional generators, rewards onshore and offshore farms equally, and building on land is less risky or costly than building at sea, where special barges costing £30m each are needed to manoeuvre the turbines into position. Developers therefore favour onshore projects, and farmers, driven by falling agricultural incomes to look for new sources of income, are happy to oblige. Of 22 wind farms due to be built this year, 21 are onshore.
Wind farms get around three times as much in subsidy-a mixture of selling ROCs and a share of fines paid by non-renewable plants-as they do from selling electricity. Powergen reckons that putting up just two or three turbines becomes viable on this model. Other investors are picking up on this too: Saxon Windpower, the company that wants to put up six turbines on Parham airfield, is backed by a venture capital fund based in the Bahamas. Small wind farms are therefore proliferating.
The hostility aroused by the Parham project is not unusual either. Some locals complain that wind farms are noisy, ugly and (citing estate agents) that they reduce property prices. Others, like John Constable, who lives 700 metres away from the airfield, say they are just inappropriate. “I happen to like the Chrysler building”, he says,”but I don’t want it near my house.”
The British Wind Energy Association says around half of all planning applications in England get scuppered (mostly by angry local residents), though the success rate is higher in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Locals have some control, but not as much as they would like: district councils decide on applications for wind farms with a capacity of under 50MW (around 25 turbines), while bigger proposals go to central government.
Wind farms’ opponents argue that a carbon tax would be a better way of discouraging pollution than subsidising particular forms of renewable energy- and that, among green energy sources, wind is one of the least efficient. Hugh Sharman, author of several studies of wind power in west Denmark, which has the highest concentration of turbines anywhere in the world, points out that in February last year the wind stopped blowing and almost no power was generated. When this happens electricity has to be imported from elsewhere or generated by conventional plants kept as back-up. This isn’t very green: keeping thermal power stations ticking over consumes energy without producing any useful power, and cranking them up and down is inefficient and dirty.
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