On the edges of the Yorkshire Dales national park, a revolt is brewing. The green and pleasant landscape of Wensleydale is facing the prospect of housing wind turbines and the very thought of it has sparked outrage.
“When people normally oppose this sort of thing they’re accused of being Nimbys,” said Gerry Smith, who has launched a Save Wensleydale website in an effort to highlight the issue.
“However Wensleydale is a national, if not an international, treasure. It’s completely free of any man-made structures. Wind turbines in Wensleydale would completely and utterly destroy it.”
At the moment, Kelda Water Services – sister company to Yorkshire Water – has applied for permission to install a wind monitoring mast on its land at Thornton Steward, to see if the wind is strong enough to install turbines. If the application is approved, and the tests are positive, the company is likely to return to seek permission to install turbines.
Dozens of people have already lodged complaints ahead of next Friday’s deadline to have their say, but this is no isolated campaign. The internet is littered with websites set up by campaign groups fighting proposals across Yorkshire, evidence of the explosive controversy surrounding onshore wind power.
While hundreds of homes, schools and businesses across the region have installed their own domestic wind turbines to cut their reliance on electricity suppliers, Government figures reveal there are already 108 industrial sized turbines operating in Yorkshire. Another 141 are either being built at the moment or have been granted planning permission, and there are plans for more than 100 others which have yet to be approved.
The figures – which will see Yorkshire and Humber hosting England’s third largest number of turbines, after the North-West and North-East – will encourage green energy enthusiasts who argue that wind power is essential to tackle climate change and avoid having to rely on imported energy in future.
But it will infuriate sceptics, some of whom question the science of climate change or the economics of wind power and others who simply want to protect cherished landscapes or are worried about noise. And then there is the fact that consumers are subsidising the march towards renewable energy to the tune of more than £1bn a year through bills.
Whichever way you look at it, the turbines promise to change the region’s landscape for good. And what is more, while the typical turbine at the moment is about 125 metres (410ft), taller ones are being developed all the time, with 150-metre (492ft) structures likely in the coming years to catch faster wind speeds.
Phil Dyke, development director of Banks Renewables which is behind several projects in Yorkshire, insists there is often significant silent support for projects while protesters are vocal.
This week the company was dealt a blow when York councillors rejected its application for a mast to test wind speeds at Copmanthorpe, where it hopes to build five-turbine Hagg Wood wind farm.
The company will study the findings in full before deciding how to react.
“I understand the concerns, but drive around Yorkshire and how many wind farms can you see?” said Mr Dyke, who says the company is still looking for more sites in the region.
“To a degree, Yorkshire has to accept that more renewable energy project which can produce green electricity probably should be sited in Yorkshire.
“For people who don’t like wind farms, the fact of the matter is we build farms in a place with a wind resource. We know we can make money from it. If we build any other renewable energy technology the commercial arrangement is not as strong or prevailing. That’s why onshore wind is a solution today for generating renewable energy.”
While Mr Dyke argues that every area has to take its share of the responsibility for generating green energy – the Government is demanding 30 per cent of electricity comes from green sources by 2020 – Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy warns that parts of the region like North Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire have borne an unfair burden.
If all projects currently drawn up go ahead, drivers heading along the M62 from Pontefract towards Hull could pass as many as 20 wind farms soon.
Mr Percy said: “We’ll accept our fair share, but we’ve become a dumping ground, and I’m concerned where this will end.”
He says the area has already passed its 2020 targets for generating renewable electricity which were imposed under Labour but still the windfarms keep coming. A public inquiry will soon resume into two projects near Spaldington in East Yorkshire for another 12 turbines.
Howard Ferguson, who is leading a campaign against plans for 14 125ft turbines at Woodlane near Selby, argues that there are better ways than wind power to cut carbon emissions, such as biomass or anaerobic digestion.
“My problem comes where turbines are increasing in size every year and being placed very very close to people’s homes,” he said.
But the Government has thrown its weight behind onshore wind energy – saying it has an “important contribution to make” – alongside a massive push for less controversial offshore wind.
A shake-up of the planning system may give communities more of a say but the coalition is not about to turn its back on tackling climate change.
A spokesman for Renewables UK, the industry body, denied there was an “invasion of the countryside”, adding: “If we as a society want to reduce our carbon footprint how do we go about it? You need to build things somewhere and I think with renewable energy you build where the resource is.”
A Kelda spokesman said: “Kelda Water Services are exploring the potential for wind energy sites at different locations in Yorkshire.”
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