Scores more new wind turbines may soon be joining the region’s countryside landscape. But a backlash against their presence is now well and truly under way as Peter McCusker discovered.
TOUTED as a viable alternative to coal, gas and nuclear, the bid to cover the UK in wind turbines is now facing mounting opposition. Not only are they under attack from their neighbours, airports, and tourist attractions they are also coming under fire from the military. The Ministry of Defence has already opposed at least four wind farms in Northumberland, saying they make it impossible to detect aircraft flying overhead.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defence staff, insists the UK’s radar capabilities must not be impaired.
At a public inquiry into plans for 18 turbines at Middlemoor near Alnwick, these objections were raised.
An MoD spokesman told the inquiry: “The proposed turbines would cause problems because they would be in direct line of sight of the defence radar station at Brizlee Wood, near Alnwick.”
The MoD has denied it will automatically lodge objections to new plans, saying: “All wind farm applications are assessed on a site-by-site basis.
“Whenever possible, we seek to find a mutually acceptable solution.”
But the MoD raised the same objection at a ongoing public inquiry into plans for turbines in Tynedale and this prompted an angry response for the body representing wind farm companies.
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says the building of wind farms is “stuck” because of planning hold-ups and Ministry of Defence objections.
BWEA chief executive Maria McCaffery told a committee of MPs investigating the Government’s Energy Bill that on and offshore wind turbines could boost renewable energy.
But she claimed some applications were stuck in the planning process for years, with local councils blaming this on a lack of resources and inadequate qualifications.
The risk of air collisions was also sited by Newcastle International Airport at the same inquiry into plans for plans to build 59 wind turbines close to three radars in Tynedale.
The airport says structures at three separate wind farms proposed in Tynedale – Steadings, the Ray Estate and Green Rig – would all be in direct line of sight of its air traffic control radars.
It claims the presence of turbines would impact on the operation of those radars – adding to the risk of collisions for pilots and passengers.
The inquiry, at Newcastle Airport’s Britannia Hotel, which is set to end in April has been told that there is a “history of incidents” in the busy air space close to where the wind farms are proposed.
This is used by commercial craft from the airport as well as planes from RAF Spadeadam and the Otterburn Ranges.
Thomas Hill, speaking for Newcastle Airport, said: “At the heart of NIA’s objections to the proposed 60 wind turbines is a profound concern to do everything within its power to maintain the highest possible levels of safety in the airspace for which it has responsibilities.
“Ultimately the interest which it is seeking to protect is that of human life. It has concluded that each and all of the proposals before this inquiry have the potential to increase the risks to the safe operation of airspace and, in consequence, to human life.”
The MoD told planning inspector David Rose that RAF Spadeadam was the only base in the UK used for training pilots in evading missiles and one of only two in Europe. It has two radars which are used to guide pilots which would be affected by turbines.
However, wind turbine producers have insisted the UK cannot meet its energy commitments without turbines.
Your Energy, which has plans to build seven wind turbines in Northumberland, says: “The only technology available right now to generate large amounts of renewable electricity is through wind turbines.”
Regional development agency One NorthEast have also backed the controversial turbines.
Andrew Williamson, senior specialist in renewable energy, said wind turbine technology could bring in thousands more jobs to the North East, many more than might be lost to the Northumberland tourism industry.
He said: “This doesn’t mean wind farms all over the region, it means the North East playing a huge part in the supply chain as we build off-shore wind farms in the South East and in mainland Europe.
“Yes, wind turbines are not the answer to the energy gap but they are a substantial part of the solution.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity which we cannot underestimate.
“Over the next decade we will see billions and billions of pounds invested in the technology and in businesses here. We are already leading the way and that means jobs, potentially thousands of jobs.
“I don’t see wind farms as a threat to businesses in Northumberland, I see them as an incredible opportunity.”
Mar 19 2008 By The Journal
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