The first commercial wind farm in the UK could be replaced by the latest wave of towering turbines, it has emerged.The ten 100ft (30-metre) turbines have stood at a rural site at Delabole, North Cornwall, since 1992.
The wind farm, one of the country’s first, is visible from the main A39 route into Cornwall and has since become an iconic landmark. But now site owner Good Energy has revealed plans to “repower” the turbines.
The renewables producer and supplier wants to upgrade the ageing technology with “a second generation of modern, more efficient” turbines.
The company – which through its parent company bought the pioneering project from Cornwall farmer Peter Edwards in 2003 – yesterday refused to offer details of the size or timescale of the Delabole wind farm’s facelift. An official launch is expected next week. But the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) admitted “repowered” wind farms were typically twice the size of their predecessors or more.
Good Energy’s move comes as wind power and newer green energy sources are increasingly seen as vital in the battle against climate change.
But critics yesterday warned that the door was now open for “big machines”.
It remains to be seen whether they are on a par with the highly controversial 360ft (110-metre) turbines planned for Fullabrook Down, near Great Torrington, North Devon, which would be the largest in the Westcountry – and almost twice the height of Nelson’s Column.
Commentators added that more wind farms, especially other older schemes in Cornwall, could follow Delabole’s lead and seek planning permission to bring in bigger, state-of-the-art technology to harness “green” electricity.
In a statement, Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, said: “Delabole wind farm has shown that wind power is a great source of sustainable, clean energy. By installing Delabole’s second generation of wind turbines, we can create greater amounts of renewable energy for the UK, contributing to the South West’s green energy targets and grow Delabole’s heritage as the UK’s home of wind power.”
Peter Edwards, who lives in the shadow of the Delabole site, known as Deli Farm, said he did not know any detail but added: “All I do know is that they are now 15 years old and at some time they need to be repowered.”
Good Energy has approached North Cornwall District Council in preparation for submitting a full planning application.
Given that turbines have a life expectancy of 20 years, and are granted planning consents of a similar length, the 15-year-old Delabole wind farm is making its plans public now because of the lead-in time of many years between consultation and construction.
Other Westcountry wind farms set up during the first wave of developments include one at Cold Northcott, near Launceston, which opened in 1993, and turbines at Four Burrows near Truro, whose blades have been spinning since 1995.
Devon’s first wind farm, in Bradworthy, North Devon, was only installed in December 2004.
A spokesman for Regen SW, the region’s renewable energy agency, said: “It is likely that some wind farm owners in Cornwall will consider the option of repowering their sites as the turbines come to the end of their useful life, or their planning permission is near to expiry.”
Many wind farms have been modernised well before their “sell by” date. The first project to be repowered in the UK was at Great Orton in Cumbria in 2000. It opened a mere seven years earlier.
With the “repowering” debate now coming into sharp focus in the Westcountry, it could reignite long-running grievances between anti-wind farm protesters and green developers.
Residents of many small villages in the Westcountry have claimed that their lives have been made a misery by what they see as blots on the landscape and the noise pollution the turbines are said to cause.
Keith Goodenough, chairman of the Group Against Windfarm Proliferation , said he was in no doubt that the new Delabole wind farm would make a greater dent on the North Cornwall landscape.
He said: “It’s what we thought would happen at Delabole, so we’re not surprised. They’re just keeping up with the trends.
“The turbines will be more intrusive, so it’s bound to be more of an eyesore. They are bound to be as tall again as they are now; they will be double the size. They’re big machines.”
Mr Goodenough, a farmer in Davidstow, North Cornwall, and an independent councillor for the Tremaine ward, added that the north of the county would be a black spot for massive wind farms if Delabole is enhanced and plans for a development of five 233ft (71-metre) turbines at Otterham, near Camelford, get the nod. He said: “If they go ahead it would have meant nothing but wind turbines. The one at Otterham is twice the size that they planned for eight or nine years ago.”
There are seven onshore wind farm projects in Cornwall and one in Devon.
Green energy advocates are in favour of “repowering”, arguing that it increases energy production through the use of fewer machines.
A spokesman for the BWEA said repowering was the “new face of the industry.” She added: “What we have seen is a huge advancement in technology since the first ones. What we are seeing is more powerful machines that make more electricity.
“In terms of physical size it depends on the manufacturer used. It can be up to doubling. Those first ones were about 30 metres (100 feet), now they come in at 60 metres (197 feet) or so.
“But the important thing is the length of the blade, so you get more power from fewer machines.”
A spokesman for Regen SW added: “Repowering could be a good opportunity to take advantage of modern wind turbines which are quieter, and have the potential to produce greater amounts of green energy.
“Any planning application for repowering at an existing site will receive the same level of scrutiny from the local authority as a planning application for a new wind farm, and it will have the advantage of many years of site-specific environmental monitoring and performance analysis data.”
By Graeme Demianyk
31 May 2007