The scale of the area of Welsh woodland that could be razed to build new wind farms has emerged in a tender put out by the Forestry Commission.
Some 386 hectares – each equivalent to the size of a rugby pitch – could be cleared of trees in a plan opponents fear would dramatically change the landscape of Wales.
The Forestry Commission, which has tendered for a private company to bid for the clearance work, said the process was only at an early stage and that any construction would still need planning permission.
But opponents said the bid highlighted the scale of the threat that faced the Welsh landscape.
Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies said: “What this tender does is demonstrate the huge scale of potential wind farm development in Wales and the huge impact it would have on the landscape of the countryside.
“It’s not difficult to see why people in Mid Wales, for example, are showing a lot of angst towards such proposals, the impact would be huge.
“And although onshore wind is probably the most advanced renewable energy technology we have at the moment, what happens when something better comes along in the future.
“I am convinced that in 20 years’ time we’ll be looking back and thinking ‘what on earth were we doing?’. It’s a huge amount of land.”
The Welsh Government has identified onshore wind farms as having a key role to play in helping Wales meet its renewable energy obligations, which include meeting a third of electricity demand by 2020 – the majority of which will come from wind power.
A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: “As managers of the Welsh Government’s Woodland Estate, we have a responsibility to help meet this target.
“The Forestry Commission Wales Wind Energy Programme is working with selected developers to deliver approximately 40% of the Welsh Government target by integrating wind farm development into the sustainable management of the Welsh Government’s Woodland Estate.”
In its notice for tender, the Commission says the 386 hectares of “forest crops” will be in blocks throughout Wales.
It said: “These are predominantly young crops that are not deemed economically viable to harvest as average tree sizes have not reached merchantable dimensions. Works under these contracts are entirely dependent on planning consent.”
Spokeswoman Monica Boehringer said the work was being done for the Welsh Government and would be “a lengthy procedure”.
Environmental experts at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth welcomed the move.
Kim Bryan said: “Wales has the potential to take a lead in renewable energy generation, bringing many benefits to the economy.
“Wind power could deliver more jobs and more income for local people than it currently does.
“This can be achieved through encouraging community ownership of wind turbines and a Welsh manufacturing industry.
“In this way we can generate a sustainable source of income from the sale of electricity and well paid permanent qualified jobs.”
She added: “Wind turbines do have an impact on the local environment where they are built, and for some people they ‘spoil the view’.
“But change is coming whether we like it or not. Given that we will not simply stop consuming energy we will need to accept some form of power generation technology.
“Compared to the devastating effects associated with the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power renewable energy is the best option in the UK, wind power has an enormous role to play within that energy mix.”
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