Telecoms group BT is today expected to announce that the iconic Goonhilly satellite station in Cornwall could be the home of a massive windfarm development.
Details will emerge about how the firm, one of the UK’s biggest electricity users, plans to reduce carbon emissions across its nationwide operations by 80 per cent.
Central to the multi-million-pound programme is thought to be an appetite for BT to create “green” power on its own land through renewable energy schemes.
BT-owned Goonhilly Earth Station, whose giant satellite dishes have dominated the Lizard peninsula landscape for decades, is believed to be one of three sites earmarked for cutting-edge wind turbine technology. The other two are in Scotland.
With more than 6,500 telephone exchanges and almost 431,800 people employed directly and indirectly by BT in the UK, the group is one of the country’s biggest consumers of energy, accounting for around 0.7 per cent of all electricity use.
In what is believed to be the largest UK scheme of its kind ever undertaken outside the energy sector, BT is poised to announce that it wants around a quarter of all its electricity needs to come from green sources by 2016.
Goonhilly, the historic Lizard Peninsula site where the first live images from the US were beamed into British living rooms in 1962, is likely to play a central role in the aspiration.
Today’s announcement is symbolic of how UK’s big corporations are anxious to be seen as climate-friendly.
In 2004, BT announced a three-year plan to get all of its energy needs from renewable sources, which was hailed as the biggest such project in the world.
It is thought any plans for Goonhilly are at an early stage. The number of turbines it would like are yet to be decided, much less the hard data to form the backbone of a planning application.
Observers warned it could face fierce opposition as the station is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and that there are issues of over-development, given that a cluster of turbines has existed two miles north of the base since 1993.
It is understood BT’s plan is unconnected to the 14 turbines nearby, owned by Cornwall Light and Power, which now wants to “repower” the cluster with seven new, more efficient windmills.
Matthew Spencer, chief executive of Regen South West, the region’s green energy driving force, said BT was following the lead of The Bristol Port Company and supermarket chains Tesco and Asda-owner Wal-Mart by developing wind and solar schemes on their own land. He said: “For too long we have been dependent on the Government and the energy sector to get ourselves out of the mess we have got ourselves in, which is dependency on fossil fuels.
“BT has had a programme for a long time to reduce its carbon use and it is easy to see why they might be going down this route.
“It’s a growing trend for business to generate their own power on their own land, as they’re saving money and reducing their environmental footprint.”
The scheme could ease fears over Goonhilly’s future, where the 1,100-tonne Antenna No 1 – or Arthur – has Grade II-listed status.
Last year, BT announced it was to move satellite communications from Goonhilly to its other main UK station at Madley in Herefordshire.
But the company later confirmed the long-term future of Goonhilly’s popular visitors’ centre with an investment of more than £500,000.
Andrew George, MP for St Ives, whose constituency covers the Lizard Peninsula, said: “The principles of renewable energy, providing it is cost-efficient, is one I support.
“I am quite happy about the existing windfarm as it fits quite happily to that environment. Against the backdrop of the satellite dish, it’s no more or no less of an attraction to the area. But that doesn’t mean I support the rest. The siting, design and impact is not something I can comment on yet.”
Diana Wilson, of Lizard Peninsula Friends of the Earth, said the group would want to see details about the turbines before making a judgment.
By Graeme Demianyk
18 October 2007
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