The Plough Inn at West Allerdean is a country pub “with views to die for”, according to landlord Trevor McArdle.
But those same views will lose much of their charm if a cluster of seven, 125-metre wind turbines are allowed to march across the magnificent landscape that unfolds between the pub and the Cheviot Hills.
“They’re going to be huge – it’ll be like taking the scenery away,” says Trevor. “We love it here; it’s nice and peaceful and things are going really well with the pub. Why would anybody want to spoil that view?”
Every owner of every small business in this part of north Northumberland is of the same opinion; they are not against new energy sources – most are extremely keen to find alternatives to fossil fuels – but not at the expense of such stunning scenery and their hard-fought livelihoods.
The equation is simple. If wind farms come, they’ll blight their surroundings; tourists will stop coming; the recent trickle of young people returning to the countryside will dry up; and locals could pack up and go, their dreams crushed under whirring white giants.
Trevor’s parents, Leo and Kay McArdle, settled in the area 11 years ago, Kay becoming a midwife in Berwick.
She says: “There’s no work around here, it’s all in tourism, in small pubs and B&Bs.
“Trucks will be coming day and night along tiny roads and not one single local person will be employed. We have a small caravan club touring site with a beautiful view of the Cheviots.
“You can see Holy Island from here, but if the proposal goes ahead it would completely ruin all that. They’re going to stand right outside the village and within earshot. The Government isn’t interested in the little people. I don’t think it has been properly evaluated. It’s really depressing.”
Kay believes the knock-on effect for other small local businesses will be equally serious. “Trevor has won awards for his food. He uses all local suppliers.
“If the tourists stop coming, it’ll affect their businesses too. We help support the local economy and they support us. It’s going to affect our business, no doubt about it. We wanted to expand into the barn for accommodation, but we don’t want to now with all this hanging over us.”
Trevor’s wife Julie can barely hide her frustration. “Our holidaymakers open their curtains to that view every morning,” she says.
“When people first come into the pub, they’ll get a drink, sit down and say, ‘what an amazing view’.”
Wind farms by numbers
The amount turned down by Frank and Clare Dakin from energy companies looking to erect wind turbines on their farm at Duddo, Northumberland.
The number of kilometres recommended as a minimum “buffer” between a two-megawatt turbine and the nearest home. At Barmoor there would be 160 homes in such a zone.
The percentage of power from renewables electricity suppliers are required to find by 2010.
We are subsidising the offers landowners can’t refuse
Farmer Andrew Joicey became concerned as he took note of an increasing number of plans for wind farms close to his family’s 16,000-acre Ford and Etal estate.
”I began to wonder why this area was being targeted, because it didn’t strike me as being particularly windy,” he says.
It was then he began to learn about the Renewables Obligation, which he believes has provoked a “scramble” for sites in Northumberland.
The Renewables Obligation is a Government-set annual target for the proportion of energy that must be generated from renewable sources. It stood at 6.7% last year and will rise to 15.4% by 2015. Every electricity supplier must meet this target. To allow this to happen, generating companies are given a Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) for each megawatt hour of electricity they produce.
Suppliers buy both the electricity and the ROC from generators, thus increasing the wholesale price of renewable electricity to make it attractive to generators.
This increases the price generating firms can afford to pay landowners if they rent land as a site for a wind farm.
If suppliers do not buy enough ROCs to meet their obligation for the year, they must pay into a buy-out fund – effectively a fine for failing to hit the obligation. This fund is then redistributed among suppliers according to the ROCs they have, so there is a financial incentive to acquire as many ROCs as possible. The price of these ROCs is then passed on to the consumer.
Industry regulator Ofgem estimates the system adds £7 a year to the average household electricity bill. This will rise to £20 as the targets rise. At present, about £1.55 a year pays for ROCs bought from wind farms. Ofgem has criticised the expense of the system, saying it costs £184 per tonne of carbon saved.
Andrew Joicey’s main message is that giant wind turbines are a relatively low-cost technology (in capital terms), though capable of earning huge income through consumer-funded subsidy.
“Giant onshore wind power stations are the ‘wrong renewable’ for high-value landscape areas, and a very poor value way of trying to save carbon. The visual impact will be enormous; these things are much bigger than we’ve ever seen so far – 125 metres high. They are designed to go out at sea.
“People think the landscape is just a pretty place, but it’s a working environment – there are 31 small business thriving on the Ford and Etal estate alone – with farm steadings, pubs and museums, all tourism-related.
“Developers can afford to offer a serious amount of money, and it’s very difficult for landowners to turn that down. I’ve got huge sympathy for landowners who do accept the money.
“The landowners who have agreed to having wind turbines on their land have had to sign a confidentiality clause. They can’t pull out once they sign, nothing can stand in the way of the developer.
“A lot of them are foreign-based with foreign investors, so the profits are going offshore. There will be very little in the way of local employment. We have lots of grounds for challenging planning permission – the noise, disturbance and the effect on people’s lives. I’m no Nimby, none of us is, but I’ve got a responsibility.”
Andrew says the typical price offered to landowners in Northumberland is £10,000 per turbine in ground rent.
Often, they can be paid £5,000 a year just to secure an option on the land, but this ties the landowner into an agreement. He turned down an approach himself for a wind farm from a German developer in the 1990s, before the Renewables Obligation system was set up. “If I was approached again now, it would be a hard decision to turn it down on financial grounds,” he admits. But he points out that, with 36% of the county economy now based on tourism, the cost of accepting the developers’ money could be far greater.
“It’s a glorious landscape which has a value, not just to the people who own the land.
“We had an Australian visitor recently and he said how could they possibly think of doing something like this to some of the finest landscape he’d seen in the world. He then said he’d been here for five days and we hadn’t had a single breeze.”
Matt Kelly, Your Energy’s project manager for Moorsyde, where it wants to build 10 turbines, says: “There have been three independent landscape assessments done for Moorsyde, all of which have agreed that Moorsyde Wind Farm is in the right location and can be accommodated in the landscape. The turbines are designed to operate at 20-30%. There is no problem with the wind there.”
Phil Jones, planning manager for the North-East Assembly, says: “The North-East Assembly’s renewable energy strategy, produced in 2005, identified that, in the short and medium term, onshore wind generation is the biggest resource available to North-East England to meet its renewable energy targets.”
For and against
Save Our Unspoilt Landscape (Soul) was formed at a public meeting in November 2005 attended by 180 villagers of Lowick, Bowsden, Ford and Etal in Northumberland. Information at www.soul-online.co.uk
Wind farm developers include: Force 9 Energy, formed in 2002 in response to Government policy promoting renewable energy. Its development partner is Catamount Energy Ltd, a UK company owned by Statkraft, the major producer of electricity in Norway, and Catamount Energy Corporation of the US.
Your Energy Ltd is an independent, UK renewables group. Formed in 2001, it is owned by Mistral Invest Ltd, the sector investment vehicle of shipping company CNC Investment Corporation (CIC), of Toronto, Canada.
by Alastair Gilmour
12 July 2007
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