Campaign groups fighting plans for wind farms and nuclear reactors have locked horns over the future of energy production in the West.
Earlier this week, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne pledged Britain will meet the target of having new nuclear power stations up and running within eight years. He also insisted the coalition would continue to invest in renewable energy, such as on- and offshore wind farms and wave and tidal power.
That has angered people on the Somerset coast, where a number of groups are simultaneously fighting the expansion of Hinkley Point power station and the proposed construction of several wind farms in the area.
French energy giant EDF is planning to replace the ageing Hinkley B station with a new reactor, Hinkley C.
Meanwhile EDF Energy Renewables and Ecotricity are proposing two separate wind farms a few miles away at East and West Huntspill, though no planning applications have yet been made.
Parents Concerned About Hinkley (PCAH) wants the power station closed down and the giant wind turbines approved.
However, the Huntspill Windfarm Action Group said PCAH was “very misinformed” if it thought wind turbines would ever be able to generate as much power as is needed to fill the widening energy gap.
Jo Brown, of PCAH, said the group, based in Burnham- on-Sea, was hoping Sedgemoor District Council would “resist the Nimbys and grant approval for these Huntspill sites”.
“Sedgemoor could also act in the interests of the communities they represent by turning down EDF’s applications relating to new nuclear build at Hinkley Point on the grounds that we do not need nuclear power in the UK,” she said.
“Hinkley is one of the windiest parts of the UK. EDF could also invest in the Severn Barrage scheme.”
The group also claims local residents have suffered health problems as a result of Hinkley’s presence, but NHS Somerset, and its predecessor Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust, say there is no evidence to support PCAH claims.
The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment said the only excesses were leukaemia, and most were of a type of leukaemia not previously considered to be associated with exposure to radiation.
John Wakefield, chairman of The Huntspill Wind Farm Action Group, said: “Parents Concerned About Hinkley are seriously misinformed, it is not possible to replace a nuclear power station with wind farms.
“You would need 3,000 (turbines) to get the same power out as Hinkley, and when the wind stopped you would have nothing. They would also cover 200 square miles.
“There are other forms of sustainable power which are much less problematic.
“Wind power has a place where it does not affect local residents.”
He said the nearest resident to proposed wind farms would be 500 metres away.
In some European countries, wind farms are not built within 2km of homes. Britain has no regulations on distance from homes, but the issue is under review.
A spokesman for Ecotricity, which is proposing to build five 120-metre turbines at Black Ditch, West Huntspill, said: “We’ve never said that wind is the whole answer, but the UK has 40 per cent of Europe’s entire wind resource.
“It’s free, non-polluting and will never run out. The site at Black Ditch meets all the criteria for a really good spot for wind energy – so if not here, then where?
“Most people say they find windmills attractive and graceful – you probably couldn’t say that about a nuclear power station.”
Many have doubted that the complex approval processes would be completed in time for nuclear plants to meet the 2018 target.
Mr Huhne said the Government will not subsidise new nuclear power stations but investors have indicated they are ready to press ahead because of rising gas, oil and carbon prices.
He said: “We have absolutely no intention of the lights going out on my watch.”
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