Cumbria is home to more wind turbines than the combined total of 22 other counties in Britain and the steady spread of them across the landscape is eroding the character of the region.
That’s the message coming from a defiant Cumbria County Council which says the Government must start listening to local people and end the rising tide of subsidised turbines across the county.
Figures obtained from the council by the News & Star show that as of December 2011, Cumbria had 177 onshore and 296 offshore wind turbines in operation or with planning permission approved. Opposition group Cumbria Wind Watch says a further 45 major wind energy schemes, consisting of over 300 turbines, have been proposed.
More than 15 campaign groups across the county recently descended on the council’s annual general meeting to lobby councillors and ask them to restate their opposition to windfarms in the region.
They found a warm welcome from council leader Eddie Martin and cabinet member for the environment, Tim Knowles, with both giving the Government and windfarm industry a clear message – no new windfarms in Cumbria.
While restating the county’s commitment to low carbon energy production, Mr Knowles said: “The cumulative impacts of [wind turbines] are starting to erode the character and qualities of our landscapes that attract so many visitors and their tourist pounds.”
Leader of the council Eddie Martin voiced his frustration with windfarms in Cumbria. “The plethora of windfarms creeping across the county are against the wishes of the majority of local people,” he said.
“If the Government is as good as its word about localism and letting local people dictate and direct local issues then they need to listen to local people and hear us loud and clear when we say ‘no new wind farms’.”
Campaigners say the region has reached “saturation point”.
Indeed, the development director of a company building wind turbines in Cumbria has said he believes that most of the suitable sites have now been found in the county. Phil Dyke, development director at Banks Renewables, said: “I really do strongly believe that. We spend a long time mapping Cumbria and the sites are either developed or are not very suitable.”
Banks Renewables, who are developing a six-turbine windfarm called Armistead on the Kendal Low Fells, have recently begun a public consultation process to create a five-turbine wind farm near Killington. The plan would see turbines with a maximum tip height of 135m being built on land owned by Killington Educational Foundation and Killington United Charities.
Cumbrian campaigners say these windfarms are adding to the county’s saturation problem.
Chair of the campaign group Friends of Rural Cumbria’s Environment (FORCE), Marion Fitzgerald, says Allerdale Council alone has already received nearly 30 wind-related planning applications this year. She said: “We think this is a make or break year. There are so many applications going in and if they were all to go through, the landscape which we all love would be destroyed.
“Destroying Cumbria is not going to save the planet.”
Mrs Fitzgerald, who lives in Bolton Low Houses, near Wigton, close to three turbines at the High Pow Wind Farm, said her group was opposed to wind farms because of their impact on the landscape, their unreliability in energy production and their reliance on government subsidies.
But why does Cumbria have so many wind turbines compared to the rest of the country? “Cumbria has some sites with exceptionally good wind speeds,” Mr Dyke says. But it’s not awash with them.
“The sites must not have high landscape sensitivities. They must not impact on a lot of people and they must have good access and good visibility. So there are a very limited number of sites in the county and most of these have been found,” he said.
Mr Dyke said the majority of opposition to wind farms, such as the proposed site at Killington, were about the visual and noise impact of the turbines. But he stressed that, ultimately, if a wind farm is unacceptable in wind or landscape terms, or in its impact to locals then it will not gain planning consent.
Windfarms can bring positive impacts to the communities they are a part of, with developers funding local projects and facilities for the areas. Asked if this was a way of buying the support of a community such as Killington, Mr Dyke said it was not. “We put a lot of weight on community consultation and that is why we have a good planning success rate,” he said.
“If this scheme goes ahead then we are going to be in this community for 25 years and we want to be a positive member of the community.”
Mr Martin, in his statement against any more windfarms being built in the county, said it was not just the impact on the landscape which he opposed.
He said:”I am not only concerned about the visual impact of all these turbines, I am also angered by the obscene subsidies developers are offered to build new turbines.
“This money needs to come from somewhere. It is not a free gift from the Government, it’s a tax on energy users as we all end up paying for these subsidies through higher energy bills.”
Cumbrian taxpayers currently subsidise windfarms by £32 per household a year, but according to data from the Organisation for Econmic Co-operation and Development, gas, oil and coal prices were subsidised by £3.63bn in 2010, whereas offshore and onshore wind only received £0.7bn in the year from April 2010.
Cumbria County Council and the many opposition organisations in the region want to preserve the beauty of the Cumbrian landscape against the onward march of wind turbine development, but it seems their calls have come too late.
They say “no new windfarms” and the developers agree – they have almost built on all the sites they can.