Alan Davidson gestures through the car window as we turn on to School Lane to head west out of Copmanthorpe. “You’re now facing five wind turbines the height of Blackpool Tower,” he says.
We’re not, at least not yet. All that faces us is open sky and green fields.
But one day before too long, if all goes to plan for green energy firm Banks Renewables, there could be a row of up to five giant turbines dominating this skyline, their wind-powered blades sweeping around with a steady whump- whump.
The proposals may have been delayed by a year because of the need to conduct a more extensive ecological and wildlife survey, but Banks still hope to lodge a planning application for up to five turbines by the end of 2012.
Alan and other members of the Copmanthorpe Wind Farm Action Group are determined to stop it. They are all for green power, but it has to be the right kind of green power, produced in the right place. They are not sure onshore wind farms are the right kind of green power; and they are certain Copmanthorpe is the wrong place for one.
We drive out along Manor Heath – the houses here will be just 500 metres from the turbines, Alan says – and park beside a farm gateway looking south and west across fields towards Hagg Wood.
This, says Alan, is probably the best viewpoint. It also gives a sense of just how much the wind turbines would stick out if they were to be built.
“Way over there, on the skyline, you have Ferrybridge cooling towers,” he says. “These turbines would be more than double the height of those cooling towers.”
Wind power is one of the green technologies the Government is counting on to help the UK achieve its target of 15 per cent of all our energy being met from renewable sources by 2020. At the moment, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), only about 3.5 per cent of the energy we use is green. “So we need to increase that by four or five times,” a spokesman said.
The aim, he said, was to ensure that by 2020 about 14 GW of power was generated by onshore wind farms such as those proposed for Copmanthorpe. That would entail putting up an extra 5,000 to 8,000 wind turbines across the country between now and 2020, in addition to the 3,000 we have already.
The problem is where to put them. The obvious place would seem to be high hills and moors, where there are strong winds. But there you stand the risk of disturbing peat deposits, which would release carbon into the atmosphere, points out Phil Ineson, a professor of global-change ecology at the University of York.
Put them near low-lying towns and villages, however, and there is the risk that local people will object – as has happened at Copmanthorpe.
Banks’ initial ‘scoping report’ talks of up to five turbines, each 145 metres tall – not far short of Blackpool Tower’s 158 metres.
In practice, stresses Phil Dyke, a director of Banks Renewables, if a planning application is ultimately put in, there may be fewer turbines, and each turbine might well be less than 145 metres tall.
Nevertheless, the people of Copmanthorpe are up in arms.
Following a public exhibition on March 2 at Copmanthorpe Youth Club, the hastily formed Copmanthorpe Wind Farm Action Group did an exit poll.
“Over 700 people – about 85 per cent of those we polled – were against,” says Alan. “And only eight per cent were for,” adds his fellow action-group member Graham Auton. “The rest were undecided.”
Members of the group admit that in their opposition to the scheme they risk being branded NIMBYs.
And it is true that many of their concerns are to do with the impact of the wind farm on their village and their lives – the noise, the intrusion, the risks to local walkers, the impact on house prices, the effect on local wildlife.
But if they don’t raise these concerns, who will? “The people who say we’re NIMBYs – well, it’s not happening to them,” says Alan.
Yet they don’t simply object to the scheme because of the impact it will have on their lives and community, action group members say.
There are genuine reservations about onshore wind power and its ability to make a meaningful contribution to our energy needs, they believe.
First, the amounts of power generated by such farms are very small. At its maximum, the Copmanthorpe wind farm would have five big turbines producing perhaps 3 MW of power each: making a total of 15 MW in all. That would in theory be enough to provide power for about 8,000 households, which sounds quite a lot. But Ferrybridge power station produces 2,000 MW of power, admits Banks Renewables’ Phil Dyke. You’d need about 130 wind farms the size of Copmanthorpe to produce that amount of power – or 650 turbines.
In practice, says Alan Davidson, you would need more than that. Over the course of a year, he believes the wind turbine would only operate at something like 15-20 per cent of efficiency, because wind speeds aren’t constant – and sometimes there is no wind at all.
Mr Dyke insists that the 15 MW produced by a wind farm such as that proposed at Copmanthorpe would be an average output throughout the year.
Even so, thanks to the comparatively small amounts of power generated by wind farms, you would need thousands of turbines across the country to generate meaningful amounts of power.
And because that power wouldn’t be constant (it would depend on the wind) you’d still need back-up power stations to take up the slack, says Graham Auton. Relying on onshore wind farms for our energy needs would be like trying to mow Knavesmire with a hand-pushed lawnmower, he says. The scale isn’t right.
Phil Dyke doesn’t agree. Yes, he says, in terms of our national energy requirements, the 15 MW generated by a scheme such Copmanthorpe would be quite small. But if you had wind farms in communities across the country, then it would add up to a significant contribution.
Prof Ineson tends to support that view. Wind farms certainly aren’t a miracle solution to our power needs, he agrees. But we have little choice but to invest in wind technology, as well as other renewable energy sources and nuclear power, he believes.
Graham Auton still isn’t convinced.
“If by having ten of these, you could close Drax, I’d probably go along with it,” he says. “But you’d need something like 1,000.”
• NO DETAILS have yet been finalised for a wind farm at Copmanthorpe, says Phil Dyke, director of Banks Renewables. So far there has only been a scoping report, to test the ground and get initial reactions.
That report talked about a maximum of five wind turbines, each up to 145 metres tall, each generating between 3-4 MW of power.
When preparing such reports, however, energy firms always “scope the absolute maximum”, Mr Dyke said. That is so they don’t have to go back and do another scoping report should they later want to increase the size of a scheme. In reality, he says, it is unlikely that turbines at Copmanthorpe would be 145 metres tall – and quite possible there would be fewer than five.
No application has yet been prepared. The initial plan was to lodge one by the end of this year. Because of the need to carry out fuller wildlife surveys, that is not likely to happen before the end of 2012. “At the moment, we are trying to design a scheme. When there is a scheme for people to object to, we will come back and communicate it,” Mr Dyke said.
Local concerns… from noise to flying ice and harm to wildlife
• Noise: The noise from a wind turbine is said to be like “an aircraft coming that never arrives,” says Alan Davidson. In addition to that gearbox whine you have the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of the blades. The noise can be heard from up to 1km away, he says. The closest homes in Copmanthorpe would be only about 500 metres away – and most of the village would be within 1km.
But any wind turbines would conform to government noise limits, said Phil Dyke. Copmanthorpe has comparatively high levels of background noise, for example from the A64, which would make the sound of the turbines less noticeable. “We’re very confident we can design a project which won’t become a nuisance.”
• Visibility: At 145m, the turbines would each be nearly as high as Blackpool Tower. They would loom over the village, and be visible from miles away, says Alan Davidson.
York Civic Trust has raised concerns about this, saying the wind farm could spoil distant views of York Minster from places such as Ingrish Hill in Bilbrough or the top of Garrowby Hill.
The turbines would be visible from a long way away, Phil Dyke accepts – there is no getting away from that. However, it is “unlikely that if we progress the scheme we would go for 145m turbines,”
he said. “I think in the context that probably would be a bit high.”
• Safety: The wind turbines could distract motorists on the nearby A64, members of the wind farm action group believe. They could also, in icy conditions, ‘throw’ chunks of ice onto the A64 from blades traveling at up to 200 mph. There could also be risks to people walking nearby if one of the turbines were to collapse.
Distraction of motorists is an issue, Phil Dyke concedes. But people heading in the direction of Copmanthorpe on the A64 would see the turbines from a long way off, so there would be no surprise.
There are wind farms already within sight of major roads.
Ice throw will not be an issue in the UK, Mr Dyke says – it only occurs in much colder countries. Turbines do very occasionally fall over. “But it is exceedingly rare. These wouldn’t be next to a public footpath.”
• Wildlife: A wind farm in fields west of Copmanthorpe would cause serious disruption to wildlife, including possibly bats, lapwings and brown hares, members of the wind farm action group claim. Some of these might never come back.
Phil Ineson, a professor of global change ecology at the University of York, says there may actually be some truth in reports of wind turbines causing bats’ lungs to explode.
The potential ecological impact of a wind farm is a serious issue, Phil Dyke concedes. Banks will conduct bat, bird and mammal surveys. It is partly because some of the required ecological surveys have not been done yet that a planning application is now unlikely to be lodged before the end of 2012.
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