Graveney was the site of the last combat on English soil when British forces battled a downed German bomber crew in 1940. Now the village is fighting a new enemy: the world’s biggest wind farm.
The local council, acting on behalf of the town’s 473 residents, refused to permit a substation for the $1.5 billion London Array, which would put 271 wind turbines in the estuary of the River Thames. Royal Dutch Shell Plc and E.ON AG plan to bring power cables ashore near Graveney.
“They say this is the only place they could put it – that’s rubbish,” said retiree George Schneider, 73, strolling on Saxon Shore Way, a rambling route across the coastal plain. “Why use a green-field site when there are other places?”
London Array is central to the government’s goal of producing a 10th of the U.K.’s electricity from so-called clean sources such as wind and solar power to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Prime Minister Tony Blair is trying to recapture the green vote from Conservative leader David Cameron, who plans to erect a windmill on the roof of his home.
Britain trails Spain, Germany and Denmark in producing electricity from wind. London Array would generate power for 750,000 homes, or a quarter of the capital’s needs, and meet 10 percent of the government’s clean-energy target.
The turbines, barely visible from the coast, would generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, overtaking the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas as the largest wind farm.
An onshore substation is needed to connect the windmills to the national power transmission grid. The proposal is to construct it on Graveney’s Cleve Hill, 800 meters (900 yards) from the shore, with the tallest part 12 meters high.
Swale Borough Council refused planning permission in June, saying the structure would stain the rural landscape and increase traffic along country lanes during construction. Project developers plan to appeal the decision at a public inquiry held by the government Planning Inspectorate early next year.
Local residents, including Schneider and David Jeffrey, formed the Graveney Rural Environment Action Team to campaign against the substation. It warned that as many as 60 large trucks might trundle through the village each day.
Andrew Murfin, a director of the project, said traffic would average two trucks a day for five years, peaking at 16 during the busiest three months.
Next to Nature
Beyond a row of blue-and-white beach huts, the seascape already is dotted with turbines from a smaller wind farm and offshore gun platforms from World War II. The citizens group isn’t opposed to wind farms, it just don’t want a substation that may lead to “creeping industrialization” in an area bordering a nature reserve, Schneider said.
After the council’s rejection, The Hague-based Shell, Dusseldorf, Germany-based E.ON, and Horsholm, Denmark-based Dong Energy A/S revised the substation design. They also suggested ways to reduce traffic and offered 850,000 pounds ($1.7 million) in community and conservation funds and student scholarships.
Schneider said many residents rejected the overture, which he called an attempt to bribe them.
“It’s absolutely not,” said Murfin, who is also a manager at Shell. “Its purpose was that while in planning terms the impacts may be acceptable, no matter what we did in terms of mitigation, it would still leave some residual effect, during construction in particular.”
The offer didn’t persuade Swale Borough Council Leader Andrew Bowles, who runs a family farm in Graveney.
“Traffic mitigation is welcome, but quite clearly the view of the community is they’d still rather not have the money and not have the transformer station and traffic,” Bowles said.
Trucks and construction equipment would have to wind through narrow lanes, cross a Victorian brick railway bridge and pass Graveney Primary School.
Village campaigners say industrial sites along the north Kent and east Essex coasts, such as the Isle of Grain and a power station at Richborough, weren’t fully considered as alternatives.
Murfin insists Graveney is the best choice, given its proximity to the sea, the small number of people affected, cabling routes, shipping lanes and the voltage rating of nearby transmission lines.
Phil Harris, landlord of The Sportsman pub, said cost was probably the deciding factor.
“Agricultural land is cheap,” he said. “It’s just the wrong place for something like this.”
Delays for Birds
Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry secretary, said in a statement last month that he wants to streamline planning rules for large energy projects. Some offshore wind farms, including one near Blackpool, have been delayed to allow time for studies on the impact on marine bird populations. Large wind turbines can also block shipping lanes and interfere with radar navigation.
Back in September 1940, British soldiers fought and captured the crew of a German bomber that crash-landed in the marshes outside Graveney.
In this battle, the ultimate decision rests with Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Ruth Kelly, who can overrule the result of the public inquiry.
Harris, the pub landlord, said he knows what will happen: “It will get rubber-stamped.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Voss in London at email@example.com
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