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Turbines: An ill wind or powerful tool for good?  

Credit:  West Briton, www.thisiscornwall.co.uk 8 March 2012 ~~

Generating your own renewable energy means smaller fuel bills, with surplus energy even sold back to the National Grid for profit.

Wind turbines are also being viewed as a way to raise funds for local groups – communities on the Lizard are set to benefit from £1.2 million over the next 25 years, thanks to the Goonhilly Wind Farm.

Its six 107m turbines, which are among the largest in the county, generate enough power to supply the annual electricity needs of 7,000 homes.

Last week, operators REG Windpower launched the Goonhilly Wind Farm Community Fund, dishing out £48,000 a year to local good causes.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Cornwall Windfarm Action Alliance have questioned the number of turbines going up and their impact on the countryside.

Cornwall’s landscape is of national and international importance, as well as vital to the local economy, wrote Land Use Consultants in a document commissioned by Cornwall Council to assess the effects of turbines.

Thirty per cent of the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a further 24 per cent is recognised as areas of great landscape value, meaning many parts of the county could be deemed too sensitive for turbines.

According to figures on Cornwall Council’s website, there were 31 wind turbine sites in operation last month.

This is in stark contrast to the number of applications it is dealing with – currently 123 – many of which have been granted planning consent and are waiting to be built.

“Five years ago domestic wind turbines were around 18m to 20m high, now they are 40m which is similar to the ones at Carland Cross, near Truro,” says Dan Mitchell, head of planning at Cornwall Council.

“Something is going on out there. We have been inundated with applications, especially around Ladock, Probus and St Agnes. Clustering has become a critical element.”

It is this clustering effect which seems to have roused anger in many, like Alistair McCombie, from Probus, who is objecting to proposals for an 11kW, 24m turbine at Treverbyn Farm Road.

The turbine will be used to power a holiday let and yoga meditation retreat business, but Mr McCombie feels it is too close to his house, at 400 metres away, and will ruin his view.

“It is in direct line of sight of all our windows at the front. Unlike other turbines close to our home (at least six, with pending applications for five more) this one has two blades which is likely to cause a ‘flicker’ effect to the front of our property,” he claims.

The turbine has to do more than simply spoil a view for planning applications to be refused, said Mr Mitchell. “It has to have significant harm, such as impacting on a protected scheduled monument or AONB.”

In an attempt to better control the future placing of turbines, the council’s natural resources team is in the process of finding suitable sites.

The CPRE has criticised the council’s handling of applications, saying it was time it “got a grip on the damage that is being inflicted on the county’s countryside and economy”.

“While renewable energy is to be welcomed generally, it is not in the county’s best interest to sacrifice its most precious asset – its coast and countryside,” wrote CPRE secretary Ted Venn.

“Although precedents have now been established as a result of the planning authority’s deplorable acquiescence to wind turbines, enough is enough and consent for further turbines should be ended.”

Danny Mageean, chairman of the lobbying group Cornwall Windfarm Action Alliance, accused the council of “setting the bar very low”, saying he was “sceptical” of its measures to deal with turbine applications.

There are currently no rules governing the distance between turbines and homes in England.

If passed, a Private Member’s Bill, which is at the committee stage in the House of Lords, would see minimum distances of 1,000m, 2,000m or 3,000m imposed, depending on the height of the turbine.

“People’s perceptions of noise vary. The constant whine from (turbine) rotor blades can drive some people mad while others ignore it,” said Mr Mageean, who is backing the Bill.

Trewithen estate, near Gram-pound, is no stranger to controversy, owning land where a 12-acre solar farm at Trevemper in Crantock is situated, and at Carland Cross, one of the county’s first wind farms.

During its latest project to buy six small turbines the estate has invited councillors in St Newlyn East and Probus to consider buying or leasing the equipment and benefiting from the income it generates.

St Newlyn East, said the estate’s manager James Humphries, has welcomed the scheme, which could give it a 14 per cent return on investment.

Probus remains cautious, calling for more information on the costs and anticipated returns.

Tim Hudson, of TGC Renewables, told Probus council members that wind turbines, when compared to solar energy, were a “safe economic bet” and each member could potentially receive a return.

“I am so against this. It is a con, why should we be paying twice?” says councillor Melanie Fielder, referring to the Government’s feed-in tariffs (FiT) to pay for energy produced, which are subsidised by consumers through their energy bills.

“The way we look at Cornwall’s countryside and coast is subjective,” said Mr Humphries. “I like to see wind turbines. I personally like them.

“They have increased the income to the estate and help to maintain its houses (it has 20 farms, 30 cottages and the historic house). We have tried to keep them away from people’s properties.”

A keen advocate of renewable energy is Cornwall councillor Bob Egerton, Independent member for Probus. He is encouraging farmers and landowners to install the wind technology to take advantage of the FiT.

“The alternative is that we see foreign-owned multinationals in France or Germany take over our renewable industry,” he said.

“We all need energy, and fuel costs are going up all the time (the average yearly fuel bill stands at £1,345). So if Cornish farmers make money out of renewable energy, is that such a bad thing?

“Renewable energy is not state-owned, it is privatised with incentives through the feed-in tariff, creating applications from all sections of the community, and we have to judge each one on its individual merits.”

There is a debate over whether fewer, larger turbines should be built. The John Muir Trust, a Scottish conservation group, revealed figures that show, over a two-year period, 47 wind farms north of the border ran at just 22 per cent of capacity.

Gigantic schemes can also send sparks flying, resulting in fierce opposition.

The Stop Wheal Jane Turbine group has lobbied hard against proposals for a 122m turbine at Baldhu, near Truro.

Developers at the former tin mine have since revised their plans, reducing the turbine to 105m.

The science firms and Environment Agency based there have an ambitious “masterplan” to install hydro-power schemes, ground-source heating, a biomass power plant and a solar panel farm.

See more on wind turbines in our environment column on page 27.

Source:  West Briton, www.thisiscornwall.co.uk 8 March 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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