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Vote 2012: Blowing up a Powys election storm

BBC Wales is looking at local issues in some of the key council battlegrounds ahead of the council elections on 3 May.

Like elsewhere in the country, jobs and the economy are election issues in Powys.

Modernising education is a hot topic too.

But one subject above all others has commanded the main attention during the months before the local elections is windfarms.

It is a subject that has also demanded much of the councillors’ time. That is despite the fact that Powys council does not have the authority to make final decisions on all matters.

And a third of the county will not be affected at all. While Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire have been earmarked for possible wind developments, Breconshire is not a target.

A little over a year ago, few people in Powys would have identified windfarms as a burning issue.
Placards and protests

But that was before an announcement in March 2011.

The National Grid said it had identified two possible locations for a new 19 acre power station in Montgomeryshire – either Abermule in the Severn Valley near Newtown, or in the uplands in Cefn Coch near Llanfair Caereinion.

Since then wind energy development has been the main debate.

Now you can’t drive far, in Montgomeryshire at least, without seeing painted signs and posters in fields and verges opposing the proposed ‘power plans’.

The substation will transfer power from the windfarms and on to the national grid.

A network of pylons will be needed to carry the power and there are reports that hundreds of new wind turbines could be added to those already on the Powys hills.

Concern about the effect of these on the landscape and the tourism industry in mid Wales have sparked keen campaigning by opponents.

The voices in favour of developing wind energy are few and far between – but there are some amongst the general population and within the county council.

They argue that ‘clean energy’ is needed to reduce carbon emissions and that developing more windfarms would increase job opportunities for local people.

Anti-turbine campaigns

But by far, the voices of the opponents are the loudest, and their campaign has targeted councillors from the start.

Protesters have lobbied outside County Hall in Llandrindod as well as holding a large rally outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Powys councillors reacted to the public interest by taking unusual steps. Last summer, they held a meeting of the full Council at Welshpool Livestock Market to allow space for a large public audience – 1500 attended.

Recent meetings in Llandrindod have been broadcast live on the internet.

In these meetings, councillors supported motions describing “the profound and long lasting impact upon the character, landscape and communities of Powys”.

It has led the councillors to call on the Welsh government to review TAN 8, the advice note that earmarks two areas of Powys for the development of renewable energy.

In March this year, Powys council opposed three applications for windfarms.

Council opposition

The planning committee refused permission for an 11 turbine development at Waun Garno near Llanidloes, and a week later two larger schemes were opposed by the council’s cabinet: a 17 turbine windfarm near Llanbadarn Fynydd in Radnorshire and 50 turbines on Carnedd Wen near Llanbrynmair.

But as these larger schemes have the potential to generate over 50mw of electricity, they will ultimately be decided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in London.

These were not the last – there are four other applications which DECC will ultimately decided upon, but which the new council will have to make recommendations on before September.

And we will learn the preferred location from the National Grid later in May for the Montgomeryshire development – but not until after the local elections have taken place.

All in all, it means one thing – wind energy is set to take up even more of the councillors’ time in Powys after the elections, just as it has before.