by Andy McFarlane
The North West region will fail to meet its renewable energy targets unless Âpeople stop saying no to wind farms, according to the head of a leading environmental lobby group.
British Wind Energy Association figures show there are 17 operational wind farms in the North West, four under construction, three more with consent and a further eight going through the planning process.
North Wales has nine operational farms and three more with planning approval.
But in March the government refused permission to create England’s largest wind farm with 27 turbines at Whinash, on the edge of the Lake District.
Now campaigners in Saddleworth are gearing up for a battle after energy group ÂE.ON announced it is to appeal against Oldham Council’s decision to throw out a £2m plan to build seven 340ft turbines on Denshaw Moor. They believe the development would ruin the area’s character.
Attempts by energy companies to build wind farms have been dogged by slow progress through the planning Âsystem, with some projects delayed by up to four years.
Even when developers seem to have planning guidelines on their side, they do not always succeed. In 2004 United Utilities’ plans to build a 12-turbine farm at Clowbridge, near Burnley, was refused on appeal despite the site being identified as suitable for a wind farm in the borough’s development plan.
Three years ago, the government introduced planning guidance to force councils to “promote and encourage rather than restrict” renewables in response to figures showing half of applications in England were refused at local level. But applications still provoke controversy and Renewables Northwest general manager Julian Carter said attitudes will have to change. He said: “At some point we are going to have to start saying it’s OK to build these things.
“Unless you live by the power stations near Warrington or Heysham nuclear plant, you’re fortunate you just don’t see where your electricity comes from. But it’s going to have to change.”
Carter, whose organisation was set up by the North West Development Agency, United Utilities and the Sustainability North West charity, said only three per cent of the region’s energy came from renewable sources. Less than one per cent is currently provided by wind energy, with most coming from landfill gas or coal-fired power stations, which burn bio-fuels along with coal.
Renewables provide enough energy to supply 228,000 of the 2,874,000 homes in the North West. However, offshore wind capacity is increasing. One scheme off Barrow, which will produce enough energy to power 50,000 houses, began operation recently. Carter said there was a “reasonable chance” the North West would meet the target of providing ten per cent of its energy from renewables by 2010.
However, he said increasing that figure to 15 per cent by 2015 and 20 per cent by 2020 ““ when regional planners want up to 62 wind farms ““ would be tough. He said: “If we keep on saying no then damn right it’s going to be difficult.”
Parish councillor Ken Hulme has spearheaded the fight against the Denshaw proposals. He said: “Saddleworth is not one of the bleak moors many people would think and this development is next to one of the most beautiful valleys in the Pennines. Even the local Greens are against it. It’s a bonkers place to put them.
“People here identify with the landscape; it’s part of them. It sounds romantic but it’s important to them. Castle Shaw Valley would be wrecked by it.”
Campaigners claim the scheme would involve five miles of road, 300 tonnes of concrete foundation per turbine and pylons spread across the area.
However, E.ON’s senior project develÂoper, Phil Canning, said the appeal was launched after an independent review of the reasons for refusal. He said: “We believe Denshaw Moor is an excellent site for a wind farm and have taken steps to minimise impact on the community. We look forward to working constructively with stakeholders, like the council, in the run-up to the appeal hearings.”
The firm, which has stakes in 20 wind farms nationally, claims the farm would power 8,000 homes and save more than 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
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