Earl Spencer is facing a revolt from his tenants over plans to build massive wind turbines on scenic countryside near his estate.
For hundreds of years the Spencer family have been the owners and guardians of the scenic Vale of Avon Dassett near their Althorp country seat.
But now Earl Spencer faces a revolt from locals, many his own tenants, over a plan to erect 13 giant wind turbines near the historic villages of Priors Hardwick and Wormleighton, which they say is motivated simply by “avarice”.
At 385ft high each turbine would be taller than the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
In a letter addressed to tenants in the two villages, Edward Crookes, Earls Spencer’s estate director, said the turbines would generate up to 26MW of renewable energy, enough, he claimed, to power around 12,500 homes each year.
But villagers are now to fight the scheme, which have to be approved by the local council.
Irvin Klegerman, the chairman of Wormleighton Parish Meeting, said feelings were already running high.
“We are going to fight this, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“The turbines are a terrible idea. They would devastate the appearance of the valley and dominate views of it from miles around.”
The estate’s trustees, of whom Earl Spencer is one, announced the plans after being approached by wind farm operators keen to exploit the potential of the 14,000 acres of land the estate owns across Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Norfolk.
Althorp Estate has now entered into an initial agreement with the generating company EDF Energy Renewables, which is carrying out a study into the feasibility of the scheme.
The proposal coincides with Government plans to route the new High Speed (HS2) rail link from London to Birmingham through the area and has served to add to locals’ fears over the future of the countryside they have long loved and nurtured.
It is thought the Althorp Estate would benefit from payments of around £15,000 a year in rent for each turbine – a total of £195,000 – with EDL in turn receiving an estimated £1 million in annual payments from the National Grid for the electricity they generate.
The Earl, brother of Diana Princess of Wales, is estimated to be worth £115 million.
Mr Klegerman, 73, a retired sales manager, said: “I can understand building wind farms on windy hilltops in the North and Scotland or on the coast. But to build them in a sheltered valley seems a nonsense.
“Of course you get some wind there, but weeks can go by without a blade of grass so much as stirring.
“From the point of view of the people who live in and enjoy the valley the turbines are a terrible idea.
“Each one is as tall as the length of a football pitch and they would dominate everything when we look out of our windows. It’s being done out of pure avarice by the Earl.”
Charles Williams, 64, the managing director of a tile import and export company and one of the few people in Wormleighton who is not a tenant of Earl Spencer, said: “At the moment we enjoy fantastic views for miles across the vale.
“The turbines and the service roads each one of them requires would destroy that. They would completely ruin a little village where until now time has stood still.”
There is also scepticism among locals as to whether the turbines could in fact generate the sort of amount of electricity boasted by Earl Spencer.
Last month The Sunday Telegraph revealed that 2010 was the least windy year since 1824 and that UK wind farms generated electricity to just 23.6 per cent of their full capacity between October 2009 and September 2010.
Furthermore only 0.2pc of a possible 5pc of the UK’s energy was generated by wind turbines during January’s cold snap, when high pressure meant an overall lack of wind.
Althorp Estate refused to comment on the proposals, but in their letter to residents it admitted there were concerns over the planned turbines.
It stated: “The Estate is very aware that there is already considerable concern about the HS2 proposals and that the possibility of a wind farm built on land at Wormleighton will add to that concern.”
French energy giant EDF said the turbines could lead to savings of around 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
Darren Cuming, EDF Energy Renewables Development Manager‚ said: “EDF ER is committed to developing new low carbon electricity generating capacity and we believe that the site identified at Wormleighton could be suitable for this purpose.”
The row comes after another episode in the Earl’s turbulent private life.
Earlier this month Earl Spencer, whose previous marriages both ended in bitter divorce, announced he is to wed Karen Gordon, a former model from Canada, at Althorp House, in June, after a six month romance, which began after he broke off his engagement to widower Bianca, Lady Eliot.
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