With rising oil prices and increasing global pressure to find alternative sources of energy, businesses all over the world are looking to the power of wind; and they have Northamptonshire in their sights.
Power company E.ON is investigating the possibility of installing turbines close to the historic battlefield of Naseby, Hemex LLP is looking into installing 12 turbines to the east of the M1, near junction 19 and supermarket chain Asda has applied for planning permission to build a 417ft wind turbine in the car park of its Brackmills distribution centre.
But the public debate on turbines is getting louder.
A new study published today by the Centre for Policy Studies has dismissed wind power as unreliable and expensive, and said Government plans for a 20-fold increase in power production were over-ambitious and impractical.
Environmental charity Greenpeace has responded by saying wind power worldwide was the strongest growing sector of energy, providing jobs and backed by big businesses who saw its potential.
To try to get to grips with the debate on a local scale, environment reporter ALEX VALK spoke to Tony Skirrow, chairman of chairman of Great Houghton Parish Council and one of the most vocal opponents to Asda’s turbine application, before taking those concerns to the supermarket giant, and to WNDC, the authority which will ultimately decide if the turbine will go ahead…
Tom McGarry, property communications manager for Asda, said the group campaigning against the turbine had inconsistent arguments.
He told the Chronicle & Echo: “The group campaigning against the proposed wind turbine has claimed in the past that the area is ‘not windy enough’ for the turbine to be effective. Now it is suggesting it could be ‘blown over’.
“This application is a crucial part of ASDA’s strategy to reduce energy requirements across our estate by 20 per cent by 2012 (on a 2005 base level). Central and local government, environmental campaign groups and consumers are all demanding that businesses do more to reduce their environmental impacts. This project represents an investment of over £2 million. This is a significant commitment to meeting our overall target, which can hardly be disregarded as a ‘stunt’.”
He also denied a planning requirement for a fall-over distance for anything other than overhead power lines.
“Our application has been assessed for safety and planning compliance by experts.
“We have met all the necessary conditions for this application and it will bring massive green energy benefits to Northamptonshire.”
Asked about the appearance of the turbine, Mr McGarry said a professional qualified landscape and visual assessor who gave her report for the application stated that the turbine was acceptable in an industrial car park area owned by ASDA.
He said: “One must remember that the key benefit of building the turbine here is that it should generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of about 1,250 homes a year.
“It would show that Northamptonshire is taking renewable energy seriously.”
Mr McGarry added the collapse of a modern wind turbine was highly unlikely: “No one has ever been injured by a wind turbine. Almost without exception, major turbine collapses relate to old turbines that have been poorly maintained by their owners once outside of their warranty period.
“ASDA will maintain our wind turbines to the highest standards, through a stringent operations and maintenance programme with a reputable service provider; and the turbines will be fitted with advanced condition monitoring systems to ensure early identification of any need for maintenance work. Turbines are safely shut down above certain wind speeds.”
He added the proposed turbine would meet Government conditions for noise impacts, and the local environmental health officer who assessed the impact had confirmed the project would be acceptable.
“Remember, this is an industrial site, there are hundreds of HGVs and a major dual carriageway with 24-hour traffic rumbling past which generates far more noise than the turbine ever could.
“Vibration sensors note if icing occurs on the turbine and stops it rotating, making it no different to structures such as bridges, buildings, overhead power lines and so on.”
A spokesman for WNDC said: “West Northamptonshire Development Corporation was satisfied that the report adequately covered the planning considerations associated with the impact of the wind turbine on the landscape.
“WNDC is now currently working on the application, taking into account matters that arose from the planning meeting on June 3 and it is intended that the application will report back to committee on the July 29.”
A possible collapse of a 417ft turbine, noise fears and vibration are not the only things that trouble Tony Skirrow about Asda’s wind turbine plan. He is also unhappy with the way West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (WNDC) has been dealing with the application.
So far Asda’s planning application for the 417ft turbine has been recommended for approval by WNDC planning officers, but a final decision is not expected until the end of this month.
Mr Skirrow said the turbine would not fit in with the landscape, could pose major safety risks, and that the WNDC had ignored local planning rules in recommending the application for approval.
He said: “It’s going to stand out like a sore thumb and will alter the appearance of Northampton for the next 50 years. And there are a lot of safety concerns.”
Among his worries are the threat of noise and vibration, the overall effectiveness of a turbine in an area so far from the sea, and the fear it could fall over in high winds.
“There are guidelines to planning policy which advise you should allow at least the fall-over height of the turbine between it and any roads or other developments. With the size of this turbine the distance should be 120m away but that’s clearly not the case. It actually overlooks Asda’s building and a right-of-way. There’s a public footpath which runs down the side of Asda’s building as well as, I believe, a nursery inside.
“Asda is part of an American company and US companies don’t do anything unless there is an incentive. PR is a factor and I can see as soon as it goes up all of Asda’s TV adverts will feature a wind turbine.”
But the campaigner’s gripes do not end with ASDA. Mr Skirrow said the WNDC was wilfully allowing national planning guidelines to get in the way of local planning rules.
He said: “The planning officers have taken as read what Asda have said in their proposal. Some of the words in the planning report have been copied verbatim rather than carrying out their own research.
“The local plan has height restrictions for buildings in Brackmills; on the outskirts it is 50m but the turbine would be 150m.
“The skyline between Great Houghton and Hardingstone is protected in the planning policy, yet the WNDC report recommends the application to be approved. Those points have been overlooked.
“In Great Houghton we are not opposed to all wind turbines. We have supported a wind turbine in on a residential road in the village. It was a little one 11 metres high.
“A couple in our village applied for permission to put solar panels on their house and we supported that too. But it was denied planning permission on the grounds it wasn’t in keeping with the building. That property is probably one of the closest to the wind turbine.”