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Wind farm arguments just won't be blown away

Since the Assembly announced the favoured areas for large-scale wind farms in 2005, a vision of Neath Port Talbot’s valleys dominated by huge turbines has become a step nearer reality. Or so objectors would have us believe.

Supporters of wind farms claim the developments will pave the way for Wales to become a world leader in renewable energy.

Objectors claim the turbines will intrude on their lives, affecting residents health and house prices.

In 2005, Tan 8, the Assembly’s technical advice note which paved the way for the introduction of renewable forms of energy, named two large areas of the borough as acceptable for large scale wind farms.

Under the document, Neath Port Talbot contains 38 per cent of the designated areas for wind farms in Wales.

One development – Ffynnon Oer, near Resolven – is already up and running and plans are in the pipeline for many more.

An application for a 15-turbine farm in Maesgwyn, on the hillside between Glynneath and the Dulais Valley, has been submitted but it is understood this is just the first of many applications for the valley which could see around 50 more being located in the Maesgwyn area alone.

Another development is understood to be planned for Rheola, near Resolven – a village already overshadowed by the Ffynnon Oer wind farm.

Energy firm npower, which runs the Ffynnon Oer wind farm, claim the site’s 16 wind turbines generate enough electricity every year to supply the average needs of around 17,000 homes – equivalent to almost one-third of households in the Neath Port Talbot local authority area – saving around 67,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Plans are also in the pipeline for two developments in the Afan Valley at Glyncorrwg.

The proposals have provoked strong opposition with the Glyncorrwg Action Group (Gag) leading the way.

Gag’s chairman Bob Slater said the group’s main objection is due to the visual impact.

He said: “To most people wind farms may mean a few 100ft-high turbines, but now there will be these 410ft-high turbines on our doorsteps.

“They will look like a 40-storey high block of flats. They will be higher than Big Ben. It is the shear scale of them.”

But why has the Neath Port Talbot area become so attractive to energy firms?

According to the companies themselves, the simple answer is the Tan 8 document itself.

Acciona Energy is currently considering building a wind farm development to the east of Crynant and Seven Sisters in the Dulais Valley.

Mike Paffey, senior development manager of Acciona Energy,

said: “The Assembly said where development is best suited. As a result, that directs developers to look at these areas to identify sites within them.

“That is why we particularly looked at the site.”

Huw Evans, of Gamesa Energy, said: “We believe in what we are doing. We are not the big bad wolf.”

A spokesman for Eco2, who have submitted the plans for four turbines at Corrwg Fechan said: “The area was chosen in line with Assembly planning policy documents, which identify the need for wind turbines, and also provide the means for finding suitable wind farm sites.

“This area was chosen following a study by consultants on behalf of a number of South Wales authorities, which concluded that it was the most suitable when considering all of the planning guidance,” he said.

However, Mr Slater suggests there is simple reason for companies focusing on the area – cash.

“They are here for the money,” he said. “It is as simple as that. “There are massive government grants available.

The Gag chairman added the health of villagers was an issue planners should consider.

He said: “It is already having an effect on people’s health due to the stress.

“Many have already been to see the doctor because of the effect this is having on them. Everybody says they like wind farms, but no one wants them near their homes.

“We think Tan 8 is unfair and they should be shared out.”

By Alex Brown

South Wales Evening Post

16 June 2007