The battle lines have been drawn and neither side appears in the mood for compromise.
Once seen as a flight of fancy by an environmentalist minority, wind farms have graduated to the mainstream and are now increasingly seen as playing a vital part of future energy plans. But not everyone is happy.
While supporters wax lyrical about how England’s 137 turbines are an aesthetically pleasing solution to the need for more renewable energy, opponents remain unconvinced.
Critics claim that, placed in the wrong area, they produce unacceptable levels of noise, adversely affect wildlife and destroy the natural landscape. If that wasn’t bad enough, these apparently innocent looking structures also have the power to drive away tourists and kill birds.
There appears to be little middle ground and, with plans in the pipeline for a further 136 sites – 23 of them in Yorkshire and the Humber – the debate is set to get more intense. In one corner are the likes of the British Wind Energy Association which claims the inevitable controversy which accompanies the turbines is the result of the Press being hoodwinked by a small, but vocal minority.
“I don’t think the public have a problem with wind farms,” says a forthright spokesman for the organisation. “In fact, a very reliable survey was carried out which found that 80 per cent of people are in favour of wind farms. I don’t think it makes a difference whether a site is at the bottom of their street or 50 miles away, you are either in favour of it principle or not. Most people fall into the first group.
“Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether those who demonstrate against wind farms represent the views of the wider community or whether they are just a vocal minority who make others feel obliged to support their objections.”
The inference that anti-wind farm protesters thrust placards into the arms of unsuspecting friends and neighbours, unsurprisingly gains little credence with those fighting proposals across Yorkshire.
In the east of the county, energy company E.ON has recently launched a series of public exhibitions promoting its Humber Gateway Offshore Wind Farm scheme which could see 83 turbines erected off Spurn Point.
The development, which aims to provide power to 195,000 homes, would be one of the largest of its kind in the world, but fishermen, worried it will mean limited access to fertile fishing grounds, fear they could become the forgotten victims of the drive for renewable energy.
While the Humber Gateway proposals have raised concerns specific to a coastal community, across the county the wind farm debate is being replayed on an almost daily basis as quickly-formed community action groups attempt to persuade the powers that be their fears are the product of painstaking research not nimbyism.
The Pontefract Wind Farm Action Group is typical of the kind of organisations which has sprung up. It was formed 18 months ago when Banks Development unveiled plans to install six 125ft turbines on land surrounded by six villages. Among a myriad of objections, the group’s main concern is that the site it so close to residential properties.
“We are all in favour of renewable energy projects and have nothing against wind farms per se,” says chairman, Tony Hames, who along with other members of PWAG will be
asking people to sign objection forms in Pontefact market
“However, this development is just too close to people’s homes. For some the turbines will be just 500m away and it will be the closest wind farm to residential property in the UK.
“We are lucky that we have a number of technically-minded people in the group and they have done an awful lot of research in terms of the likely knock-on effects of the wind farm, from the problems of noise and loss of television reception to potential health problems and the loss of recreational amenities.
“It’s not just affecting one area, it’s green belt land right in
the middle of a number of communities and it just seems like the very worst place they could have chosen. I think it says something that both Labour and Conservative councillors are behind our appeal.
“Banks Development has held exhibitions and it has given small amounts of money to the local school, but to be honest, most people see it as a cynical attempt to win us round. This particular part of Yorkshire is generally seen as quite deprived. It has what I suppose you’d describe as an industrial landscape, and maybe people thought that no one would mind.
“However, we do mind, and we won’t give up without a fight.”
While the BWEA has come to expect public protests, it insists the facts, when not twisted or taken out of context speak for themselves.
“You can’t debate taste,” said the BWEA spokesman.
“Some people like the look of wind turbines and others don’t. However, people need to be
clear of the facts.
“Any development has to meet strict regulations when it comes to noise and distance from residential properties. These are not something which can be fudged. Similarly, there is absolutely no evidence that living near a wind farm results in health problems and many of the concerns which crop up are simply myths which need to be debunked.
“Often people say the turbines have an adverse effect on the native wildlife population, particularly birds, but wind farms in the right areas are supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.”
However, this week the issue of wind farms took a further turn when plans to install 181 turbines in Lewis were rejected by the Scottish Executive. Environmental agencies long concerned about the impact of the development on rare peat bog and birdlife habitat welcomed the decision, but the developers continue to claim it would have made a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The BWEA remains upbeat about other proposals, but
with wind turbines generating just 1.5 per cent of the country’s energy needs, it is starting to look like a lot of time and effort is being ploughed into projects often with very little reward.
“The fact is we need to change the way we generate power,” says the BWEA spokesman.
“This is not about what we or other environmental groups want, it is about the targets we have been set by the European Union.
“By 2020, 15 per cent of our energy should come from renewable sources and wind power has a vital contribution to make. It is clean, it taps into a natural resource and it is reliable.
“We have a long way to go, but the foundations are being put in place and we remain confident that we will follow the lead of our European neighbours like Germany, which has 10 times the wind capacity of the UK.”
Proposed sites in the UK
Yorkshire and the Humber: 23 proposed sites with 185 turbines
Devon and Cornwall: 21 sites with 86 turbines
North East: 18 proposed sites with 168 turbines
Lincolnshire: 12 proposed sites for between 220 and 254 turbines
Cambridgeshire, Northants and Beds: 11 proposed sites with 188 turbines
Cumbria 11 proposed sites with 82 turbines
North West: 10 proposed sites with 636 turbines (one site is hoping to install 500 turbines)
Norfolk: 9 proposed sites with between 74 and 137 turbines
South West: 7 sites with 45 turbines
East Midlands: 5 proposed sites with 35 turbines
South Coast (incl Isle of Wight): 4 sites with between 77 and 123 turbines
Suffolk: 3 proposed sites with 13 turbines
London and the Home Counties: 3 sites with 24 turbines
Essex: 2 proposed sites with 23 turbines
West Midlands: 1 proposed sites with 8 turbines
Gloucestershire: No proposed sites.
By Sarah Freeman
25 April 2008
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