Brian Wilson: don’t mention Cefn Croes!
In his announcement last week about the “new era” of state-sponsored windfarm-construction in rural Wales, Rhodri Morgan couldn’t resist not mentioning the gold-plated option handed to the company run by his old Labour colleague and ex-energy minister, Brian Wilson.
Wilson is UK chairman of Airtricity, the Irish renewable energy company which got very shirty with Bertie Ahern’s government over its lukewarm attitude to windfarms, and has consequently turned its attention to the UK, where support for renewables-generation is generous and planners are under growing pressure to approve windfarms.
Rhodri Morgan referred last week to three un-named “preferred bidders” – Wilson’s Airtricity is one – who will be invited to build a string of big windfarms in “Assembly Government-owned forests” across Wales. Or, put another way, publicly-owned Forestry Commission land.
Airtricity has basically been invited to dig up the hills between Bontgoch and Nantymoch and to plant on these uplands celebrated for their rare birds and unspoilt views between 50 and 70 wind-turbines, with their attendant network of roads, sub-stations and overhead power-lines. The company can bank on earnings of about £10m a year from industrialisation of these meandering hillsides, which stretch from the cliff-and-waterfall beauty-spot of Craig y Pistyll in the west to Owain Glyndwr’s Hyddgen battlefield near Pumlumon in the east.
Airtricity, however, says it wants to be “good neighbours” with the people of Bontgoch and surrounding areas, so it’s going to put £44,000 a year into a “community fund”. And before the cynics among you scoff about bribes for the locals, of beads for the natives, let me tell you that Airtricity does not hold with sweeteners.
I know, because I spoke last week with Alex Fornal, its project manager for the north Ceredigion scheme, and he made that very clear. He said, without a hint of a strangled chuckle: “We’ll be setting up this fund because we want to be good neighbours. We see it as somehow a kind of courtesy to the community.”
Well indeed. Exactly so. And is that not perfectly normal? After all, which of us can say hand-on-heart that we have not committed ourselves to monthly payments into the bank accounts of our own next-door neighbours, because they’re our neighbours, and we like them? Quite apart from splashing the cash, Airtricity is keen on asking the public what it thinks about its windfarm schemes, and has already been round knocking on doors at Bontgoch to explain things.
Then there’s Brian Wilson himself, who is also at pains to point out that he wants to encourage public consultation.
So don’t any of you dare mention that unfortunate decision by the then unreformed Mr Wilson, who, in 2001, when energy minister, gave the go-ahead to the Cefn Croes windfarm, without a public inquiry, despite huge public opposition to the scheme.
And let’s be polite too and forget about the environmentally-disastrous excavation of peat at Cefn Croes which followed, and the resultant massive loss of carbon to the atmosphere, severely diminishing one of the main claimed advantages of windfarms – that they can replace power-stations burning fossil fuels which emit vast tonnages of carbon dioxide.
Likewise, let’s ignore that awkward fact that three transatlantic flights release as much carbon dioxide as a wind turbine saves in two years. And forget that, on a clear day over north Ceredigion, you can see that number of flights passing in the space of five minutes.
8 November 2007
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