A would-be windfarm came under the spotlight this week, as councillors visited the proposed turbine site.
The plateau between Maerdy coal tip and Tynewydd forest could soon house the 400-ft towers, if plans submitted by the Wiltshire-based Renewable Energy Partnership (REP) are approved.
Planning committee members visited two spots near Maerdy and another two thirds of the way along the A4233 towards Aberdare.
Planning officer Huw Roberts said the sites were chosen because they offered the best views of the site, around one-and-a-half miles north-west of Maerdy.
Eight 80m towers, each with three 45m blades, are planned for the plateau, where a 70m monitoring mast currently stands.
Mr Roberts told planning committee members the site was within one of the Rhondda Cynon Taf’s “special landscape areas” that were protected from development – but that protection was outweighed by Wales-wide recommendations.
Coun Merfyn Rea said: “But we’re told, in ordinary planning matters, those special areas are sacrosanct. How does this application override that? Do the rules not apply when you want to build a windfarm?”
Mr Roberts told the Pontyclun councillor: “The Welsh Assembly Government, in their guidance, have specifically said there could be harm to such areas as part of renewable energy development.”
The council party was observed on-site by about a dozen members of the public. Objector Marcus Middlehurst, of Eileen Place, Tynewydd, said wind power was overrated as a climate change solution.
He said: “The turbines don’t turn round if the wind speed is below a minimum, and the generator shuts off if it gets too fast – and there isn’t much space in between.
“We’re all for renewable energy, but it’s ludicrous to say wind power is the answer.”
Mr Middlehurst added the environmental cost of transporting the turbine components – including 24 blades, each 150ft in length – from Swansea via to A4061 Rhigos Road made the project less environmentally credible, and would severely affect traffic.
But development control manager James Bailey told councillors the highways department had no objections, provided all large-load deliveries were made outside of rush hours.
REP Director Richard Hadwin said the Maerdy site was one of the “lowest-impact” locations found during a four-year search.
He added the plans were supported by Assembly environmental policy and had received no objection from the RSPB, Countryside Council, and other bodies they were required by law to consult.
He said: “Hopefully councillors were able, from the site visit, to appreciate how the qualities of this site minimise any visual impact. Forestry shields views on three sides, the tabletop plateau significantly inhibits views from the valleys below and the site is located at the north east extreme of the Rhondda Valleys, away from communities.
“Maerdy windfarm is a good proposal that balances delivery of sustainable low-carbon electricity to thousands of homes in the Rhondda with finding the lowest impact sites.”
REP has also promised to set up trust funds for Maerdy and Treorchy, sharing £50,000 a year for the windfarm’s 25-year lifespan – or a one-off £600,000 lump sum when the site opens.
Councillors are due to vote next month, and officers recommend they grant the proposal.
Views of the proposed windfarm are available at the Renewable Energy Partnership’s website, www.maerdywindfarm.co.uk.
By Alex Moore
19 June 2008