The true scale of the spread of wind turbines and solar farms across the Westcountry has been laid bare for the first time following an investigation by the Western Morning News.
We have produced two maps detailing the location of wind and solar sites in Devon and Cornwall – a first for the region.
The first map details the true extent of the dispersion of wind sites in the Westcountry, showing more than 330 operational locations are in existence.
The second map details the spread of solar farms in the region, two years since the first one was installed near Truro.
The startling figures have been labelled as proof the situation has gone “beyond ridiculous” by critics. On the other hand, an industry expert said while it was “common sense” to make the most of the region’s natural resources, careful consideration should be given to each development.
However, Westcountry MP and Government adviser on energy and climate change, George Eustice, said it was evidence the region was reaching “saturation point”.
“Renewable energy does have a role but will only provide a small amount of our total energy needs,” he said.
“The proliferation of random wind turbines and field scale solar farms is having a detrimental effect on the Cornish countryside and we need tougher planning rules to ensure they are only allowed when they have the support of the local community.”
Reporter Toby Meyjes talks to those on both sides of the debate.
Wind turbines are operational at more than 330 locations across the Westcountry, according to figures which show more than 100 developments have planning permission but are not yet built.
Fears are growing that the current assortment of wind turbines across Devon and Cornwall could be just the tip of the iceberg, with planning consent in existence for at least another 100 sites.
The map below produced by the Western Morning News shows for the first time the location of hundreds of wind farms and single turbines across the two counties.
Over 20 years since the first commercial wind farm in the country was erected at Delabole in Cornwall, it shows the extent of the scale of what some call the “industrialisation” of the Cornwall and Devon landscape.
Although accurate for the Duchy up until the beginning of September, the statistics are only broadly representative for Devon with many local authorities unable to provide a full account of the true picture of the amount of turbines.
They also don’t include the massive off-shore Atlantic Array development, outlined on the map, which if approved, would see up to 240 wind turbines erected 9.6 miles off the North Devon coast.
Penny Mills, chairman of the Torridge group of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said a screening request for a wind farm at Clawton would be the tenth already approved or under consideration in Torridge and West Devon alone.
“The situation has gone beyond ridiculous now in this part of Devon,” she said.
“I think the trouble is that many turbines which have been approved over the last year have not yet been constructed, so people just cannot imagine the true size of them or the impact.
“But when those already permitted all start to get built, which sooner or later they will, there will be a dramatic effect.
“The facts cannot be argued with – the electricity produced by them is far more expensive than that produced by conventional power stations, the rush to build them is driven by the huge Government subsidies which continue to be paid to developers and landowners for installations, and all these costs are added onto all of our energy bills, forcing more and more people into fuel poverty.
“Wind is variable, so therefore conventional power stations will always be needed anyway; Ruining Devon’s countryside by them is therefore pointless.”
A Government report commissioned by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, currently being compiled, will set out to determine the impact of wind farms on the countryside. A recent study by an opponent to the possible erection of 11 wind turbines at Week St Mary in Cornwall estimates that house prices would be reduced by up to 50% in locations near turbines.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen South West,
an independent sustainable energy centre, said the group was in favour of projects that benefit their local communities.
He said: “In an uncertain world, where we increasingly reliant on energy from volatile parts of the world, it’s common sense to make the most of the excellent renewable energy resources we have on our doorstep. But each project needs to be carefully scrutinised and put in the right place. We also need to make sure that developers, local authorities and local communities, work together to ensure that renewable energy brings local jobs and benefits to local communities.”
This second map shows the true extent of the proliferation of solar development in both Devon and Cornwall.
Four years ago Cornwall Council predicted that it was “preparing for a solar power gold rush”.
With companies eager to benefit from the guarantees of the Government’s Feed in Tariff (TIF), as predicted, the following years saw a large amount of planning applications put before the local authority and its counterparts in Devon.
And the eagerness of the solar companies to take advantage of the region’s vast longer hours of sunshine was reflected in the acceptance of the first application for a solar farm in the UK in Truro in 2010.
Since then the solar park at the former Wheal Jane mine site has been matched by countless others in Devon and Cornwall.
In Cornwall alone there are 33 solar farms already operational producing 137MW of electricity.
In South Hams there have been 36 applications approved, in Teignbridge at least another eight, as well as countless others across the rest of Devon.
The expansion has been welcomed by developers and industry experts, with the counties leading the way in the development of the technology and the thousands of jobs it supports.
However, it has not been welcomed with open arms by everyone, Somerset Liberal Democrat MP and Government minister Jeremy Browne labelling them a ‘monstrous desecration’ last month.
For many communities on the front line that feeling is shared.
In Luxylan and Bugle in Cornwall there are plans in existence for 219 acres worth of solar farms, with 42 acres already erected.
Roger Smith, from campaign group Luxylan Against Needless Development (LAND), which are strongly opposed to the proliferation, said the solar farms carry more than just a visual impact.
“It is also the fact that people need to be able to take pleasure from their environment, it contributes to people’s wellbeing,” he said. “It’s not measured in planning but perhaps it should be.
“It’s a low wage area but the fact that it is so considerably attractive acts as a compensation for that and makes it more attractive for people to stay and probably make their home.
“People are proud of their natural environment but if the solar sites are given approval it’s going to have an impact on that.
“The greatest fear is that we will have an industrialised landscape. I think that another fear we have is the disservice it is doing to green energy, and it’s dramatic.
“This is a rapid visual change. It’s I think about an area that people love and cherish and the feeling of helplessness that nobody really wants.”
Conservative MP George Eustice warned in this paper on Saturday that the region was reaching “saturation point” for renewable technologies.
Yet, his fear is matched by the reassurance of those involved in the industry.
Merlin Hyman, the chief executive of independent sustainable energy centre Regen SW, said each project needs to be carefully scrutinised.
He said: “We need to make sure that developers, local authorities and local communities, work together to make sure the benefits for the community, such as local jobs, the right schemes, are there.
“The South West Renewable Energy Manifesto published this year sets out a commitment from local MPs, Local Enterprise Partnerships and businesses to make the south west a leader in renewable energy, creating 34,000 jobs by 2020.”