Love them or loathe them, wind farms are never far from the headlines.
Now controversy has blown up again in the wake of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plans to have thousands more turbines built across the UK over the coming decade.
And nowhere is the debate being more closely followed than in Neath Port Talbot, as well as parts of the Swansea and Amman valleys, which seem destined to become the wind farm capital of Wales.
There was outcry over Assembly planning guidelines that saddled the county with more than a third of all designated wind farm sites in Wales.
But Mr Brown’s announcement, coupled with a review of those guidelines, has left the entire issue up in the air.
“We don’t know what it’s going to mean,” admitted Neath Port Talbot Council leader Derek Vaughan.
“But what we have made clear is that we do not expect the review to leave us with more.”
The Prime Minister’s vision is of a wind-powered Britain leading the way in renewable energy at a cost of £100 billion.
He wants a national debate on achieving the UK’s target of 15 per cent renewable energy by 2020, describing it as the most dramatic change in the country’s energy policy since the advent of nuclear power.
“Increasing our renewable energy sources in these ways, on this scale, will require national purpose and a shared national endeavour,” he said.
“The North Sea has now passed its peak of oil and gas supply, but it will now embark on a new transformation into the global centre of the offshore wind industry.
“And yes, there will have to be more wind farms onshore too.”
What the Government wants is an extra 4,000 onshore and 3,000 offshore turbines.
Mr Brown promised up to 160,000 new jobs through promoting renewable energy and manufacturing turbines and cables.
Greenpeace hailed Mr Brown’s strategy as visionary, though it met with a predictably less enthusiastic reaction from his political opponents.
Opinion is equally divided locally – not in terms of the need for renewable energy but rather how this will be achieved.
The Assembly’s Tan 8 technical advice note in 2005 paved the way for the introduction of renewable forms of energy.
It included two large areas of Neath Port Talbot as acceptable for large wind farms.
In fact, Neath Port Talbot contains 38 percent of all designated areas for wind farms in Wales.
Not surprisingly, this has not gone down too well with politicians and, particularly, residents of valley communities.
Councillor Vaughan told the Post: “Our view is clear. We have recognised that wind and other forms of renewable energy should form part of an overall national energy policy.
“What we object to strongly is the scale of the proposed wind farms in the Neath Port Talbot area in the Tan 8 proposals.
“Since then we have put in our own supplementary planning guidance which is now being consulted upon.
“We have reduced the search areas in order to try to minimise the impact of wind farms on the communities of Neath Port Talbot, particularly those in the valleys.
“We certainly would not want any more and in recent meetings with the Assembly ministers we have made it clear we do not expect the review of Tan 8 to lead to more wind farms in Neath Port Talbot.
“We’ve got more than our fair share – we think there are too many of them.”
A contrary view is taken by community energy charity Awel Aman Tawe’s development officer, Dan McCallum.
“The bottom line is that the renewable energy target has to be achieved,” he said.
“Mr Brown’s announcement is a real opportunity for us to deal with climate change.
“To be honest, it’s only a minority of people who have concerns about wind turbines.
“All the issues about their efficiency or their effect on birds or noise have been addressed and are not issues any more.”
Awel Aman Tawe has twice tried to play its part in generating renewable energy by developing a small wind farm on Mynydd y Gwrhyd, near Pontardawe.
It originally applied for permission to develop a four- turbine wind farm in 2004. Neath Port Talbot Council refused the application in 2005, and an appeal was lodged.
In September 2006, an Assembly planning inspector upheld the authority’s decision, which then prompted a judicial review.
In October 2007, a judge ruled that the appeal be dismissed.
Last month, scaled-down plans for two turbines were also refused by the council. The charity has not yet decided whether to challenge that decision.
“Climate change is happening,” said Mr McCallum.
“Everyone accepts that, and wind turbines are the key to dealing with it while generating electricity.
“There aren’t any better alternatives at the moment.”
He doesn’t accept the argument put forward by some critics that turbines ruin the landscape.
“That is subjective,” he said. “I think most people actually like them. Youngsters certainly do – we know that from the work we’ve done in schools.”
5 July 2008
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