Living in the shadow of a wind farm: The people surrounded by turbines which promised to lower bills, now terrified they could fall like trees
Straddling the border of Bridgend County and Rhondda Cynon Taf is a community with a rich history of harnessing energy.
Back as far as the late 19th Century, Gilfach Goch and Evanstown – like much of the Welsh valleys – was known as a mining community.
The Gilfach Goch Coillery employed boys and men through the village. Though the work was difficult and dangerous, residents recall a sense of pride in their past.
But as we know, the mines would eventually close and the land reclaimed. Until the wind farms were built.
The community sits right at the top of the valley, providing beautiful views, but also making it a great location for wind turbines.
Even those who have lived in the community their whole lives are unsure of the number surrounding their homes.
“Every time you look up you count another,” a local states.
Members of the community fought against the wind farms initially, but they eventually lost and the renewable energy farms were established.
There are new concerns however regarding the longevity of the wind turbines after one at the Pant Y Wal wind farm came crashing to the ground on February 14.
John Edwards, 80, has lived in Gilfach Goch his entire life.
“I woke up in the morning, there was a big gust of wind and then I heard a bang.
“I thought it was the door of my next-door neighbour’s gully slamming, but it was the turbine falling to the ground.”
Having lived in the area his whole life, he has seen massive changes over the years.
“If you look at it now, you wouldn’t think there’s been mining activity in Gilfach,” he explained.
“It’s a beautiful valley to what it was when I when I was born.”
Given how the village used to look, John is content with the wind turbines, however, he rejects the idea of any more.
“The only concern I have is when they said they were building them ‘you’ll have cheaper electricity’, but my electric bill is going up every year.”
Locals from the community protested the wind farms initially and managed to overturn the plans twice before the turbines were built.
Kay Leek, now 80, was a member of the protest group.
“We’ve suffered,” she explained. “We’ve had the land reclaimed from the colliery, to make our land look beautiful, and then you get these monstrosities surrounding us.”
Kay, much like John, has got used to some of the smaller turbines, but feels the community is being taken advantage of by big energy firms.
“I can see some from my conservatory, they’ve been there quite a few years and I’m not opposed to them, but we’ve done our part.”
She explained that the falling turbine was a concern of the protest group from the start.
“We fought so hard and we had such a passionate group.
“A lot of people go walking up there, I would think a lot of people may be afraid to go walking close to them.”
Gilfach Goch residents estimate that the turbines have been up for around 15 years, about five years less than the average lifespan of a turbine.
They worry this may be the start of more failures, particularly after Storm Eunice, and more could be erected in their place.
Marian Watts, 77, moved to the village in 1972 after she married her husband.
“I originate from Llanharry,” she said, “and I can honestly say I wouldn’t go back, because this is a wonderful place to live.”
Marian slept through the turbine falling and was very surprised to hear of the incident.
“I thought they were very strong turbines, I wouldn’t think that would happen.
“I think we have got enough [turbines], because it can spoil the view.”
Sixty-three-year-old Russell Palmer owns a shop in the village, Jeans hardware, and has lived there his entire life.
Despite only hearing about the falling turbine online the following day, he was concerned about the vulnerability of locals.
“Somebody could have been killed easily, a group of ramblers or something, it could have been really nasty.”
Much like the rest of the community, Russell is keen to see new wind turbines be spaced out away from his village.
“I think we’ve been targeted to put them all up here, we’re out of the way and nobody moans.
“They did have a few meetings trying to stop it but it didn’t work.
“I think we’ve got our share definitely, I think it’s somebody else’s turn.”
One of the most contentious issues for another valley currently is the Y Bryn wind farm, which could potentially home the UK’s tallest wind turbines.
If approved, Y Bryn would be situated on land between the Llynfi and Afan valleys and would be home to turbines measuring 250m in height – Only the Shard (310m), The Helter-Skelter, TwentyTwo and The Pinnacle (278m) are taller in the UK.
Members of the ‘STOP Y Bryn Onshore Wind Farm’ group are now more concerned than ever after the turbine collapse in Gilfach.
Rhodri Williams, who is part of the community action group, said safety is a “huge concern” for residents in relation to the proposed project, which will straddle Bridgend County Borough and Neath Port Talbot County Borough.
He said: “You can imagine if one of those comes crashing down that it is not going to be too far away from peoples’ homes.
“We are pushing for the whole proposal to be scrapped if not suspended until a full independent investigation has taken place so [that] we know the causes of this [collapse at Pant Y Wal].
“Residents are going to be very worried now about the dangers of these turbines.”
Cwmavon resident Andrew Thomas said he was “absolutely horrified” when he heard about the collapsed wind turbine at Pant Y Wal.
“These are very small turbines [in comparison] that came down in Gilfach.”
On Y Bryn wind farm, Andrew added: “These are the first [turbines] of their size to be [brought] to the UK.
“These things are going to be colossal.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Since the incident at Pant-y-Wal, we have been in contact with the wind farm operator to seek assurances that public safety is being prioritised, particularly in relation to maintenance and the condition of the turbines on site.
“Incidents of this kind are extremely rare.
“We cannot comment on the Y Bryn proposal. To do so may pre-judge or prejudice any decision which Welsh Ministers may make in relation to it.
“We would encourage people to engage with the ongoing pre-application process as the developer will be required to set out how it addresses any concerns received when making the application.”
After the incident at Pant Y Wal on Monday, a spokesperson from the wind turbine manufacturers, Nordex, said that no persons were injured and that the “only material damage that has occured as a result of the incident is to the turbine itself”.
The spokesperson added that all necessary safety measures were implemented immediately after the incident and that a team of local Nordex specialists with experts from Nordex main office were investigating the cause of the incident together with the wind farm owner.
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