Wind power is a clean and renewable energy source that is widely seen as better for the environment than nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Yet in Turkey, the pursuit of low costs has led companies to build wind turbines close to populated areas, angering those living nearby and leading some locals to attempt to block the construction of new wind farms.
Ten years ago, when turbines were built in the Aknehir area of Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay, the chosen site encroached on protected areas, olive groves and farmland.
The wind farm is also set close to the Christian monastery of St. Simon and the tomb of Al-Arabi, a place of great significance to Arabs of the Alawite sect, and the area is particularly rich in plant life and lies on one of the world’s most important bird migration routes.
“The mayor and village headman have sold Aknehir. A lot of money is being made out of this,” said Aknehir resident Mevlüt Oruç.
Many villagers had accepted bids for their land to build the wind farms on, Oruç added, but the mayor used his clout to convince locals who had initially rejected the offers. “In Europe they build the wind farms in areas without human inhabitants, but here they’ve been built right where we live,” he said.
Erdem Soğan, a local farmer, said he has watched his olive harvest steadily decline, and that his olive oil production has fallen 90 percent since before the presence of the wind farm.
Soğan blames the nearby turbines, linking their construction to a decrease in soil fertility. This first became apparent three years after the turbines were built, but the crop yields have lessened every year since, and the soil is now almost completely unproductive, he said.
Environmental engineering scholar and activist Emine Beyza Üstün said the damage done to the environment around wind farms did not come from the turbines alone.
Producing 1 megawatt of wind energy can damage the productivity of 1,000 square metres of land, Üstün said, thanks both to the turbines themselves and the cables and roads that must be built around them.
“All this ruins soil structure. The destruction happens not just during the production of energy, it continues when that energy is transmitted,” said Üstün.
The turbines also emit sound at a frequency that is inaudible to humans but can still cause harm, Üstün said, noting that this causes some wildlife to abandon the area and can even be fatal to animals such as bats that rely on sound to navigate.
Research has shown that the presence of wind turbines causes goats to stop breeding, and Üstün said that wind farms impact all life in their vicinity, including people. Migrating birds are at particular risk from the turbines, she added.
One villager, Sami Mum, described questionable methods employed by the local mayor and energy company to secure locals’ assent for the wind farm project back in 2008.
The mayor approached villagers individually, promising them they would profit from the wind farms. Meetings to discuss the environmental impact of the project with locals were attended by directors from Ziyaret RES, the company responsible for the wind farm project, Mum said.
Mum went on to describe how the villagers gradually noticed a rising number of new problems since the wind farm was built. The soil, he said, had become almost completely barren, a new fungal infection had stricken crops, livestock had become sick, and villagers are almost unable to sit outside due to the constant noise from the turbines.
“If we’d known they would cause this much harm, we never would have agreed,” said Mum.
After plans for the wind farms were drawn up, the Aknehir villagers set up a platform to lobby against the construction of turbines in their area. As platform member Orhan Cabir said, they are not against wind farms in principle, but they should be built far from residential areas, places of worship and farmland.
While they were too late to prevent the first round of turbines being built, they have taken heart from the experiences of nearby villages, who reportedly managed to stop previous attempts to build wind farms in the area through stiff resistance. The Aknehir villagers hope they can do the same to stop the construction of more turbines.
But Behzat Can, a founding member of the anti-wind power platform, is less optimistic. “Even if the public reacts (against the wind farms), it won’t do any good,” he said. “They’ll either coerce (villagers into agreeing) or rob them.”
Can said the city plans to extend the wind farm further into neighborhoods. “I’ve seen the project map. Forget about building the turbines close to inhabited areas, for this project our settlements will be demolished,” he said.
Mehmet Horus, a lawyer working on the Aknehir villagers’ case, said the area was protected and permission should never have been granted to build the wind farm. Horus cited the presence of the Christian and Alevi holy places, places of importance for worshippers of those religions and for archaeologists.
The villagers’ case has gone before an administrative court and the Turkish Council of State, and was rejected both times. It is now on its way to Turkey’s highest judicial body: the Constitutional Court.
Horus believes they have a chance not only to prevent the construction of new turbines, but also to remove those already in the area.
“You can’t just say that the wind farms have already been set up so they’re hard to remove,” he said. “Environmental law is directly tied to the right to life. And when it comes to the right to life, the company has no right to say it has already won the case.”
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