The number of windfarms in the Westcountry is set to triple in the next few years, a WMN survey has found.
The Westcountry is already a focus for onshore windfarm development, and over the coming years more are set to be built, which have either already gained planning permission or are just beginning the planning process.
Currently there are eight windfarms in the region, but if all planning permissions and proposals went ahead that would increase to 24.
Proposals for windfarms in the region have been fiercely contested by some campaign groups, who have warned that any benefits from clean renewable energy will be outweighed by the adverse impact on the Westcountry’s beautiful landscape.
But mounting concern over the impact of global warming on climate change has also led to many calls for more wind turbines to be built as an important first step in developing a viable source of green energy for the UK.
One of the most vocal opponents of windfarms has been North Devon artist Christine Lovelock, who last year walked around Devon to visit all the sites of existing and proposed windfarms.
“These massive structures degrade the landscape, kill birds and bats, and do very little to either solve our energy problem or reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Miss Lovelock, who is a keen advocate of green issues.
But supporters of windfarms believe there is a growing public acceptance that turbines have a role to play in providing power in a renewable way.
Matthew Spencer, chief executive of Regen SW, the renewable energy agency for the South West, said: “In the past year we’ve seen a sea change in public attitudes to climate change but this is still not being reflected in planning decisions on renewable energy by local councils. Wind power remains the cheapest and most powerful renewable technology available to us in the short-term.”
In addition to the drive to build onshore windfarms in the Westcountry, the region has recently moved into the limelight for offshore development with plans being unveiled to build the world’s largest offshore windfarm off the North Devon coast.
North Devon MP Nick Harvey said the proposal was “brilliant news” for the area and the whole of the South West because it had none of the damaging landscape effects of onshore development.
Meanwhile, the owners of the first commercial wind farm in the UK at Delabole, North Cornwall, are to announce it is to be “re-powered”, with the existing 100ft (30 metre) high turbines being replaced by a new, taller generation.
Ashley Gray, chairman of the Two Moors Group, which was formed to oppose windfarms in the Exmoor area, said: “One should look at the windfarms that are out there and those that are likely to be out there and you will find that our natural landscape across Devon and Cornwall is becoming industrialised.
“It’s essential to understand that none of these things is in isolation, you have to look at the whole of Devon and Cornwall.”
Mr Gray said there was enormous support for renewable energy in the Westcountry, but in ways that were sustainable and did not threaten the landscape.
Christine Lovelock said: “Even sites that have been turned down by planners remain vulnerable as the developers keep coming back.
“The effect of windfarm developments close to each other will have a great impact on the landscape.”
But campaigners for urgent action to tackle rising carbon emissions and their impact on climate change believe if steps are not taken now it could be too late.
Gill Westcott, of the North Devon-based group Acting to Reduce Climate Change, said drastic action was needed. “I think that this century we are looking at a steep decline in the human population and the sooner we take measures which will reduce emissions the less terrifying will be the changes we have to face,” she said.
“We need to achieve cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 90 per cent by 2030.
“It would be possible to achieve that, but if people are not prepared to do that we have to look for a low carbon way of generating power, which would mean windfarms.
“I am very happy to initiate a way of life that doesn’t use much energy at all, but I don’t think many people would support that.”
Last month, Regen SW issued the results of its annual survey into renewable energy projects across the region. It found that all of the region’s counties were in danger of missing targets for energy generation from renewable sources.
Matthew Spencer of Regen SW said: “Changing public attitudes to climate change is still not being reflected in planning decisions on renewable energy.
“Some local politicians are now walking the talk on renewable energy, but they are still in a minority. Fortunately we are seeing a growth in interest in the South West from renewable energy developers and there is still the opportunity to make up lost ground.
“While we’d encourage local councils to support a range of renewable technologies it is their attitude to wind farms in the next two years which will be a crucial test of their commitment.
“It remains the cheapest and most powerful renewable technology available to us in the short-term.”
By Mark Clough
4 June 2007
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