Muriel Goodman last week looked out across fields towards Dartmoor from the Georgian manor house where she and her husband run an upmarket bed and breakfast business, feeling sick to the pit of her stomach. Within a year, thanks to a decision announced on Monday, her guests, if she has any, will be looking out on nine colossal 394ft wind turbines barely a mile away, each the height of Salisbury Cathedral’s spire.
The decision that such a huge industrial installation should be allowed to dominate this unspoiled tract of Devon, against the wishes of the local council, the local MP and almost the entire community, was taken by a Government inspector, David Lavender, who, from the Government’s point of view, has become an ideal choice to conduct wind turbine enquiries.
There was a time when Mr Lavender was prepared to turn down such proposals, to protect valued landscapes, and even to point out that their benefits could be greatly exaggerated. But he then seems to have undergone a conversion, as he demonstrated last May when he gave the go-ahead to a single giant turbine on the unique plateau of the Mendips in Somerset.
As he showed last week in Devon, he has been persuaded by the Government that our “international commitment” to produce 10 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2010 – and the “targets” imposed on each county to meet it – are all that count. Since Devon must produce 151 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, the county must have scores of wind turbines, starting with the nine 2MW monsters that will blot out the view of Dartmoor from Den Brook and North Tawton.
But even Mr Lavender recognises that turbines produce very much less electricity than their “rated capacity”. It is the utter futility of the sacrifice of her view, and her livelihood, which most sickens Mrs Goodman, who is a former chairman of the Den Brook action group. She has been advised that the turbines could knock as much as £400,000 off the value of her home and business. “If I thought they were going to do genuine good,” she says, “I could accept it. But knowing the facts, and how little environmental and economic benefit turbines actually provide, makes it very hard to take.”
Equally unhappy last week were many inhabitants of Lewis in the Hebrides, where the council on Thursday approved a plan to build 181 turbines. A recent analysis by William Oxenham in The Scotsman showed that the carbon emissions saved by this giant wind factory will be zero. Its “rated capacity” will be 650MW, equivalent to the capacity of a small conventional power station. But it will be lucky to generate a third of that, of which 80MW will be lost as it travels 200 miles down to central Scotland.
Here the country’s two largest power stations will shut off 140MW of power when the wind is blowing, but still be producing steam, to be “spilled” to the air, ready for when the wind in Lewis stops blowing. The only real benefit of creating a vast industrial site in the Hebrides, says Mr Oxenham, is that it will eventually be ideal for a nuclear power station, able to generate 10 times as much clean energy as the windfarm, 24 hours a day.
By Christopher Booker
18 February 2007
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