David Cameron is fed up with onshore wind farms and the controversies they fuel. “I suspect there will be fewer schemes going ahead,” he told the Western Morning News last week. He reaffirmed this idea in a Q & A with Lancashire factory workers: “Frankly, we’ve got some in the UK – I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount more.”
The result? A push for fracking – see the PM’s Telegraph op-ed this morning – and a huge emphasis on offshore wind farms, which don’t lose Mr Cameron so many votes.
But there’s an extremely worrying development on this front. RWE Npower Renewables, a German-owned green energy giant, has applied for planning permission to build the biggest offshore wind farm in the UK – and they want to situate it just 8.1 miles to the north of Lundy, a staggeringly beautiful and unspoilt island owned by the National Trust.
According to RWE Npower Renewables’ planning application, the proposed development – bang in the middle of the Bristol Channel – “comprises the construction and operation of up to 240 wind turbine generators (WTGs) with a maximum tip height of up to 220 metres” and “up to four offshore substations” [my emphasis]. The project would be 92 square miles; Lundy is less than two sq mi.
It’s hard to envisage the colossal scale of this proposal, called the “Atlantic Array”, but just try to picture it: each turbine is 100 metres taller than Salisbury Cathedral. And because of the site’s proximity to Bristol airport, I’m told every one of them will be topped with a red light that will flash day and night. (NB: The artist’s impression above is far too kind to the developer, in my opinion.)
The Landmark Trust (which manages Lundy) notes that these turbines are taller than any in Europe and are 50 per cent taller than the island itself. The wind farm, they say, “will dwarf the island, dominating its outstanding seascape, and overwhelming precisely the sense of remote wildness that has made Lundy a place of refuge for wildlife and visitors for centuries, if not millennia”.
Many people in Britain will only have heard of Lundy (population: 28) via the shipping forecast. But thousands of locals and visitors to that part of the world will know it as a timeless and remote paradise. There are no pavements or street lights or roads there – the electricity is switched off at night. The wildlife is extraordinary: Lundy was the UK’s first Marine Nature Reserve, it’s a Special Area of Conservation, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Heritage Coast, home to puffins and thousands of migratory birds.
Clearly, this gigantic wind farm would have a dramatic impact. That’s why the National Trust is also campaigning against the development. “The Atlantic Array proposal was flawed from the start,” says Mark Harold, the National Trust’s South West Director. “The process to identify sites failed to take sufficient account of environmental factors or the sensitivity of a coastline that is recognised as nationally important. This development would fundamentally change the views from North Devon and Lundy and the proposal is truly alarming.” [My emphasis.] The small but dedicated Lundy Field Society – see letter below – is up in arms, too.
My own personal interest in this development is an unusual one. From 1836 to 1917 the island belonged to the Heaven family (a long story: it was bought by my great-great-great-great-great uncle and led, alas, to bankruptcy). So my ancestors played a crucial role in maintaining and preserving the island’s natural beauty for future generations.
The Atlantic Array wind farm would, in a few short years, spoil all that, not to mention the sea view from North Devon’s coast. This can’t be dismissed as offshore Nimbyism, because that coast – and Lundy – are the entire nation’s to enjoy.
So what can you do? Well, time is running out. But if you share any of the concerns above, you have until September 16 at the absolute latest to register as an “interested party” on the government’s planning portal website to have your say. The Landmark Trust gives helpful instructions here. If you value Britain’s coastline, I urge you to take part.