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Wind turbines: Are the protests just a lot of hot air?

They have been dubbed weapons of mass destruction, blots on the landscape and the key to tackling climate change. Rapidly sprouting up across swathes of the country, wind farms have been generating heated debate since the first blades started turning more than 15 years ago.

But are the protests just a lot of hot air? Asha Mehta Finds out.

In a sleepy village a short hop north of Peterborough, something is stirring. Aptly-named Thorney once again finds itself in the midst of the prickly topic of wind farms.

In 2003, residents banded together under the banner of Fenland Action Against Rural Turbines and mounted a ferocious campaign against plans to set up 12 80-metre high turbines on farmland.

Claiming they would wreck the Fenland scenery, devalue homes, unsettle wildlife and bombard people’s eardrums, they turned up in coaches to a Peterborough City Council meeting to voice their objections.

But in September 2004, officers gave the plans the green light, on the basis that niggles were ironed out.

Fast-forward three years, and the company behind the wind farm, Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES) has re-submitted a new application for a wind farm on Wrydescroft.

In four thick bundles of supporting material, it states that it has cut the number to six and slashed the height by 20 metres.

Extra bird and ecological surveys have also been carried out and the site shifted away from a gas pipeline.

It is estimated that the farm would supply enough energy to power 6,700 homes.

The report said: “RES is keen that the wind farm becomes a positive feature of the area and attracts interest from locals and visitors.

“There will be substantial contributions towards clean energy generation in Peterborough, and there will be a significant quantity of electricity and savings in emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Despite assurances that the visual impact would be limited to three kilometres, passions in the fen township are flaring.

But as the green brigade continues to shout from the rooftops, wind energy is free, never runs out, and unlike coal, is as clean as a whistle, without puffing out even a whiff of nasty gases. So why the controversy?

Chairman of Fenland Against Rural Turbines Philip Potts said he was “amazed” to hear of the new scheme and would be “going back into battle” to oppose it.

He insisted that the main sticking point wasn’t aesthetics but concerns that turbines were not efficient and could destroy animals’

He said: “I am a very green person. What I don’t like is waste. Initially, we didn’t want them building the turbines because they would be a blot on the landscape.

“But we now know that even in very high wind conditions, their best efficiency is only 26 per cent.

“They stick them up and when the wind is blowing, you get something, if it isn’t, you don’t.”

Mr Potts said subsidies poured into wind energy was detracting from the fight against global warming, because the cash would be better used by being ploughed into more efficient means, such as underwater turbines that give constant 24 hour output.

Meetings of the group are set to be restarted in the next few weeks in the wake of the fresh application.

Richard Olive from Peterborough Friends of the Earth, spoke in favour of the original venture, claiming the earmarked land was the ideal location for a wind farm.

By Ashta Mehta

The Evening Telegraph

19 October 2007