Tesco has approved secret plans to build wind turbines up to 50ft high at virtually all of its 2,000 stores.
The group is desperate to improve its green credentials and wants planning laws relaxed for its so-called micro-generation schemes.
Environmentalists last night questioned whether it was any more than window dressing to improve the image of a firm accused of exploiting farmers and unnecessarily transporting goods thousands of miles across the world.
John Constable, of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said the relatively small scale of the Tesco turbines meant they were likely to generate little useful power.
“It is just PR,” he said. “Provided the turbines don’t cause a problem for neighbours then it is not doing any harm but it’s a pretty meaningless gesture in terms of the impact on the environment.
“I don’t object to it but I hope Tesco is also doing something more substantive behind the scenes because there is a danger this just becomes tokenism.”
Wind farms have divided environmentalists in rural areas. Some claim they are vital in tackling global warming but critics say they are noisy, ugly eyesores generating little electricity and creating a hazard for birds.
The Tesco initiative threatens to bring the debate to towns and cities across Britain.
Tesco’s wind turbines will be much smaller than the 350ft commercial towers springing up at rural sites across the country. But at up to 50 feet they could still have a significant impact on the skyline.
Tesco’s first “eco-store” at Wick in northern Scotland features five small wind turbines on the roof to power the checkout tills. But it has run into difficulties with its proposals elsewhere.
Plans for a 35ft turbine in the car park of the store in Greenock, Scotland, were withdrawn last year after planners complained of their “harmful visual impact”.
And conservationists blamed a pair of 50ft turbines at the firm’s store in Barrow, Cumbria, for killing dozens of birds.
In a submission to the Government’s White Paper on planning last year Tesco called on ministers to ease planning rules, saying it had “encountered some difficulties in rolling out this technology”.
The firm said smaller turbines should not be subjected to the same “rigorous tests” as major windfarms.
It urged the Ministry of Defence, often objecting on air safety grounds, to be more positive. And it called for councillors on planning committees to be retrained, complaining they were throwing out applications for wind turbines “on the basis of a small number of local objections, with no consideration of national policy”.
Tesco added: “We believe it should be a priority for Government to make it easier and faster to negotiate planning for sustainable technology.”
A spokesman for the group last night denied the move was “cosmetic”, saying that a typical six kilowatt turbine could generate enough electricity to power four average homes.
By Jason Groves
10 February 2008
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