Landowners in the North-East are being offered staggering sums of money to site wind farms on their property, The Journal can reveal today.
A contract seen by The Journal for a site in the region could see the landowner rake in more than £6m for agreeing to the turbines.
It demonstrates the huge temptation for landowners, who are offered a guaranteed income way in excess of what they could gain from any other source, for no outlay of their own.
And it also illustrates the prices power companies are willing to pay due to the massive incomes they themselves can generate through a Government subsidy system for wind power.
The offer to landowners was described as a “no brainer” by one rural community leader last night.
The contract, for a rural site in the North-East, offers the landowner £1.50 for every megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated by the turbines in their first 10 years.
Given the likely amount of electricity such a site could generate, the landowner could expect to collect about £1.5m over that time from such an arrangement.
After that, the rate doubles for the rest of the wind farm’s lifetime. Given an anticipated 25-year lifespan, that would mean an extra £4.5m for the landowner.
However, for bigger wind farms being placed in the North-East, the total amount earned by the landowner in a similar deal could be as high as £10m over 25 years.
There is also a “retainer” fee paid during the period when the power firm is testing the area, with bonuses paid on the installation of an anemometer to measure wind speed, and on planning permission being granted. A bonus is also paid to the landowner for agreeing to the contract quickly.
The power company gives itself the right to withdraw from the deal with two months’ notice – but the landowner is locked in unless the company reneges on its side of the bargain.
The hefty price being offered in rent for each MWh is, however, just a fraction of the £46 the generating company can make from each MWh of renewable power through the Government’s Renewables Obligation subsidy system.
Countryside Alliance regional director Richard Dodd, a farmer at Belsay in Northumberland, said: “Of course it would be very difficult to turn that kind of offer down. Most farmers are in debt and are forced to live a poor existence – it’s a no-brainer.”
Only using land for housing developments would bring in a similar return, he said. But getting planning permission for doing so is virtually impossible, Mr Dodd claimed.
Campaign to Protect Rural England North-East policy officer Nic Best warned stopping sheep grazing on North-East hills will have an impact on the landscape as it will affect the spread of vegetation. But he added it is becoming increasingly expensive for farmers to maintain the landscape.
“Given the state of agriculture, I can understand why farmers would be looking for an additional income,” said Mr Best. “If people want to stop them taking wind farms, they’re going to have to do something about paying them a decent income for farming.”
He backed a study into the long-term impact wind farm developments could have on Northumberland tourism.
A 2002 study for Visit Scotland, the country’s national tourism body, found 28% of people said they would avoid parts of the countryside with wind farms. However, 18% of people said wind turbines enhanced their experience.
By Ross Smith
30 April 2007
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