Nearly half of England’s biggest wind farm has now been erected in the hills north-west of Barnstaple and the size of the 360ft turbines is provoking mixed emotions among local people.
So far, nine of Fullabrook Wind Farm’s 22 turbines have been hoisted into the North Devon skies and their white blades can be seen from as far afield as Dartmoor and Cornwall.
The development, which was granted planning permission in 2007 following a public inquiry, is expected to be fully operational this autumn – and for a period will be the largest onshore wind farm in England before larger projects are completed elsewhere.
The Government has made clear its commitment to clean renewable energy and Fullabrook’s operators, ESB Wind Developments, say the new North Devon wind farm should produce sufficient electricity over a year to meet the domestic electricity needs of around 30,000 households – roughly two-thirds of North Devon households.
Not all those households are happy about the development. Barnstaple-based painter Christine Lovelock has set up the Artists Against Wind Farms group in a bid to fight all such projects.
On a tour of the site this week, she told the Western Morning News: “Now they are actually going up I am thinking they are worse than I ever imagined.”
Ms Lovelock, the daughter of scientist Professor James Lovelock, said: “I know a lot of people who are deeply upset – they have been in tears.”
Meanwhile, the area has been gearing up for £1 million of funding that will be made available to communities surrounding the wind farm by operators once the turbines begin generating.
The Fullabrook Community Interest Company, set up by Devon Wind Power Ltd which was responsible for the original development plans, will be handing out funds for projects which in some way benefit North Devon throughout the next 12 months – and for the following 24 years, when the operating company will be gifting £100,000 a year over the expected duration of the wind farm’s life.
The volunteer group’s chairman, Paul Ginnings, said: “We have eight directors and they range from being opposed violently to the wind farm through to mildly enthusiastic – and that includes some who are ambivalent to it. What they tend to say is that they loathe this thing but they’re going to make sure that this money is spent wisely as some sort of compensation for the presence of this objectionable development.”
Other communities in the Westcountry are watching the Fullabrook situation closely as battle-lines are drawn around potential developments of even larger wind farms in the region. One of those could be at Davidstow, just across the Cornish border, and already local interest groups there are gathering to form an alliance to fight against plans for 20 even bigger turbines.
“The development at Fullabrook is exactly the kind of thing we fear,” says Jeremy Varcoe, vice-chairman of the Stop Davidstowe Wind Farm Alliance. “When we see the scale of that we realise just how prejudicial the one at Davidstow would be for Cornwall.”
The Fullabrook wind farm was given the go-ahead after several public enquiries and much local opposition. The two-pronged scheme will see the turbines being erected along two arms of what could be described as an upside-down “Y” in the little-visited area of hills that divide Barsntaple and Ilfracombe.
Charles St George, spokesman for ESB Wind Developments, told the WMN: “At present nine turbines have been fully erected. Subject to weather conditions, [Danish turbine manufacturer] Vestas are erecting two turbines per week and all the turbines are expected to have been erected by the middle or end of July.
“There will then be a period of testing and commissioning before electricity is exported to the National Grid.”
He explained: “Deliveries of blades for the turbines have now been completed. Tower sections, nacelles and hubs are delivered on a ‘just-in-time’ basis so these will continue for the next few weeks, outside peak periods.
“Each turbine is 65 metres high to the hub with 45 metre blades (a total of 110 metres to the tip of the blade), and weighs over 130 tonnes.”
To understand the real scale of these measurements it’s best to go to the bald green ridges amid the parishes of West Down, Bittadon, Heanton, Punchardon, Braunton, Berrynarbor, Ilfracombe, Marwood, Mortehoe, Georgeham, Ashford, West Pilton, Shirwell and East Down. The Western Morning News did just that in the company of Christine Lovelock who, as a non-driver, often walks the hills in order to paint her landscape pictures.
The first thing the visitor notices is the great network of works’ roadways that have carved their way across the fields to cater for the enormous trucks that deliver to the site. A fierce wind was blowing the day we were there and the massive blades trembled in the gale as if impatient to be released.
Two walkers passed by and commented: “We live here and we’ve been fighting this for years.
“We feel let down by the government – this place will never produce the electricity they claim. In the coldest period of last winter there was no wind up here at all.”
Another man exercising his dog jogged past, grinning. ” I don’t mind them at all,” he said. “They’ve got to go somewhere haven’t they – the country needs energy.”
He added: “I can’t actually see them from my house but I can see the sub-station, which I think they should landscape.”
The sub-station in question has been built below the 22 turbines by a stream in a beautiful leafy valley.
“This place is a particular favourite of mine,” sighed Ms Lovelock. “I have painted here many times, but I can’t see myself doing so ever again. The sub-station is bad enough but I think the turbines are completely out of scale with the natural landscape.
“People say, ‘What’s wrong with windmills?’ Well, they were on the same scale as village churches, but these are so much bigger.
“And I am worried they will get even bigger – like the ones they have in Wales – over 600ft. I worry these here at Fullabrook are the tip of the iceberg for the Westcountry. All the next generation will be bigger – the ones planned down by Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor will be bigger than these.”
She continued: “For a while I thought this wouldn’t happen because the public inquiries threw the plans out. But they changed the goalposts.
“But will it produce the electricity they say it will when the wind doesn’t blow? Of course not.”
A couple of miles away in Braunton, Paul Ginnings is booking the school hall for the annual general meeting of the Fullabrook Community Interest Company.
“Because we are not a charity we can also use our money for commercial organisations if we think fit,” he explains. “So somebody setting up a good café to help a village – or a village shop that’s in difficulties, we’ve said – well, come to us for a loan.”
Other communities are looking at the Fullabrook development with interest – and looking in the literal sense. So huge are the new turbines that one newspaper is running a competition to see who can spot the wind farm from the furthest distance.
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