Persuading people to let you build 125m-high wind turbines on seven-and-a-half square miles of unspoilt countryside was always going to be a tall order and E.ON hardly got off to a good start.
The firm appeared to leak its plans on its website in April, when it said the site – The Isles, east of Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham – has the potential for 25 to 45 turbines.
E.ON’s statement and accompanying map was soon taken off-line, but not until after The Northern Echo published the details.
Sixteen town and parish councils have already opposed the plans, as have scores of residents who fear they will literally be living under the wind farm’s shadow.
Concerns had been raised before E.ON announced its consultation, which starts today and ends on October 7.
E.ON is consulting on three potential layouts for the wind farm – 29, 30 or 45 turbines – with a capacity of up to 115MW, enough electricity to power 53,000 homes a year.
“There is a presumption that people want some kind of wind farm in the first place, whereas people would rather not have any turbines,”
says Phil Wilson, MP for the Sedgefield constituency which includes The Isles.
“If E.ON is going to be objective, then there should be an option for no turbines.”
Mr Wilson said 95 per cent of respondents to a survey he commissioned about The Isles said they did not want any kind of wind farm at all.
People are also suspicious about the sums of money involved and who will benefit.
E.ON has offered a community benefits fund, worth up to £460,000 a year, which would support local projects throughout the lifetime of the wind farm, which is expected to be 25 years.
Over the same period, the company, which will receive an additional £50 in subsidy per MW of energy produced on top of the £42 market value, is expected to make £575m.
Using E.ON’s figures, each of the 53,000 households The Isles could power would pay an additional £235 a year in subsidy on top of their electricity bills, while receiving £8.60 in community benefits.
In line with other energy companies, E.ON recently raised its electricity charges by 11 per cent and its gas by 18 per cent, while returning profits of £63m for the first six months of the year.
Concerned that the decision is being taken out of the region’s hands, residents have set up a fighting fund for what is expected to be a costly battle.
Because of its size of the application, it will be one of the first in the region to be fasttracked by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) – an independent body that examines applications of national significance.
E.ON is expected to submit its plans in December, but a final decision, which will be made by the Secretary of State, is unlikely to be made until late 2013.
While the IPC, like a local planning authority, says it will consider oral and written submissions from residents, people feel it is no substitute for lobbying local councillors before a planning committee meeting.
In the meantime, the wind farm debate about efficiency, flicker, bird strikes and the effect on house prices will be played out in The Northern Echo over the coming weeks.
PAUL Hunt, project manager for E.ON, is urging people to get involved with the consultation process and give their views. He says: “We understand the concerns of communities close to any potential development site and we’re working very hard to factor all feedback into our overall proposal.
“We consider ourselves to be a very responsible developer and we have a strong track record in the North-East.”
Public consultation sessions will be held at The Xcel Centre, Long Tens Way, Newton Aycliffe, from 1pm to 8pm, on September 8; Sedgefield Racecourse, from 1pm to 8pm, on September 9; and Chilton and Windlestone Workingmen’s Club, from 9am to 2pm, on September 10.
Questionnaires are available from Chilton, Ferryhill, Shildon, Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield libraries.
In addition, people can give their views by visiting eon-uk.com/theisles or by calling 0800- 096-1199.
Mr Wilson is campaigning against the wind farm and is appealing for people to get involved.
He is available on 01325-321603.
The largest wind farm in England to date is Scout Moor, near Rochdale, Lancashire, which has 26 wind turbines.