Shropshire windfarms fight goes on
They are the future of energy – or a blight on the landscape. Andy Morris looks at the arguments for and against windfarms.
They have sparked furious campaigns from people in villages and towns who claim they are under siege.
But today those fighting to prevent windfarms becoming part of the Shropshire and Mid Wales landscape insisted they are winning the argument.
Applications for windfarms and turbines have flooded in over the past few years, with a nine-month public inquiry now under way in Powys into plans for five windfarms and a connection line.
If the plans get given the go ahead, it could be a boost to the National Grid's proposed Mid Wales Connection project, which would see a substation built at Cefn Coch, near Llanfair
Caereinion linked to a 30-mile long power line from the substation to Lower Frankton, near Oswestry, carrying power from 500 turbines.
The green lobby insist windfarms are part of the solution for a future when gas and coal run out – that wind power is environmentally friendly as it does not pump harmful substances into the atmosphere.
But campaigners say the giant turbines are an example of environmental vandalism that would ruin a beautiful landscape.
Those fighting plans from both sides of the border insist that people power and new government guidelines are winning the battle and say that wind power is being proven to be ineffective as well as ugly.
Campaigns have been launched across a large area, from Bridgnorth to Mid Wales, against separate applications submitted for windfarms.
Jonathan Wilkinson, chairman of Montgomeryshire Against Pylons, said he has been encouraged by developments in recent weeks.
He said he was heartened by the inquiry in Welshpool, where planning inspector Andrew Poulter conceded he would have to hear evidence about the National Grid's Mid Wales Connection project as part of the inquiry.
There has also been new guidance from the Government, saying that the views of residents should form a major part of the decision-making proces on proposed windfarms.
Mr Wilkinson said: "Windfarm developers think turning up at a village hall and holding consultations will work, but it won't. The inspector should be in no doubt how passionate we are.
"It is going to be a long slog, but it is vital that we stay interested for the next nine months and turn up at every session. We do not have the resources, but we have people power."
The inquiry currently under way is into plans to build windfarms in Llanbadarn Fynydd, near Llandrindod Wells; Llaithddu, near Newtown; Llandinam, near Llanidloes; Llanbrynmair, and Carnedd Wen, both near Machynlleth; and a 132kV overhead electric line connection from Llandinam to Welshpool substation.
One of the leading protestors is Russell George, Montgomeryshire AM, who says the strength of feeling in both Shropshire and Mid Wales was a force that needs listening to.
He said: "windfarm proposals will see the industrialisation of this very beautiful and very special landscape.
"We already have hundreds of turbines across the region, so to potentially have a further 800 more with all the associated infrastructure that comes with it will have a huge detrimental impact on our communities.
" Leaders of tomorrow will look back and wonder what on earth the decision makers of the day were thinking, if these proposals go ahead.
"We must continue the fight until this terrible threat to our futures is defeated."
During the inquiry, Simon Bird, QC, who is representing Powys County Council, said there is no justification for the scale of windfarms proposed for the area.
He said: "Despite the acknowledged urgent need for windfarm development, there is no public interest justification for allowing the scale of development that is before this inquiry, let alone the many other proposals due to be considered in the area.
"There is no justification for accepting windfarm or grid development that will exceed the environmental capacity or which has not taken reasonable steps to mitigate the harm it will cause."
However, Patrick Robinson, for Vattenfall, one of five applicants for the windfarms, told the inquiry that there was no evidence they would harm tourism. Marcus Trinick QC for firm RWE Renewables, added: "The windfarm represents a £200m investment, of which an estimated £31m will be spent with local suppliers during construction and a further £76m during construction elsewhere."
Campaigners hope that the recent ruling from the UK Government, telling councils that local people's concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy, will sound the death knell for turbines.
The changes are part of a package of measures that also increase the amount of money communities will receive for agreeing to host windfarms nearby, with householders set to get hundreds of pounds off energy bills.
But the guidance is only for applications of a certain size and will not impact on applications in Wales, the Welsh Assembly confirmed.
However, Ludlow MP Phillip Dunne welcomed the reforms and said local communities will be put back at the heart of the decision making process.
He said: "The top down strategies of the previous government meant that too often decisions on windfarms were made on appeal by distant planning inspectors, sidelining the concerns of local people. But this government's latest reforms, announced last week, are placing control firmly back in the hands of communities.
"The new package of reforms will contain guidance for councils and planning inspectors, meaning communities will be consulted much earlier, and will state four key areas on which local communities can overrule the national planning framework. "The unspoiled natural beauty of South Shropshire, half of which is Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, means that windfarm proposals, if allowed to proliferate, could have an irreversible impact on our local environment and landscape.
"These new proposals from government will give communities more say in the planning process, restoring decision making to Shropshire Council which will now have the power to preserve the beauty of Shropshire if they so decide."
A further tilt against windfarms came this week when it was claimed domestic energy bills are helping prop up every job in the sector, costing £100,000 in subsidies for each post.
Wind turbine owners received £1.2 billion in consumer subsidies last year.
Supporting 12,000 jobs, the subsidy – paid by a supplement on electricity bills – equates to around £100,000 per post.
The figure was seen as yet another blow to the wind industry, which already faces fierce opposition from residents in coastal areas ripe for hosting the technology.
Mr Wilkinson said: "This figure is bad enough as it is and I have heard it could be even more than £100,000 in reality, but the bigger problem again is that windfarms cost other jobs.
"Certainly in this area, the impact of windfarms on the tourism industry would be massive and so as well as everyone subsidising these jobs, people are also losing theirs locally.
"How do you begin to even contemplate the affect these proposals will have?"
In Ellesmere, the fight is just beginning after plans were submitted for a 150ft-high wind turbine at Kenwick Lodge Farm, Cockshutt.
If approved, the turbine would be just three miles away from another one at Shade Oak Stud, Bagley, granted planning permission last month.
It will also be five miles from a 119ft-high turbine which has been in operation at Winston Farm in Tetchill for the past 12 months.
Shropshire Councillor Brian Williams said he feared the area was slowly being converted into a windfarm.
He said: "This latest application is completely inappropriate for the area and I will be asking the planning committee to seriously look at the amount of these applications that are coming forward.
"This isn't about the environment, farmers are promised they will make a lot of money by putting up these turbines.
"If we keep accepting applications for single turbines then we are soon going to have an actual windfarm.
"That is not acceptable for this rural community. If this goes ahead we will have three in my ward and three just over the boundary. It is too many."
Meanwhile, last month in Bridgnorth plans to build two 240ft-high wind turbines were submitted to Shropshire Council.
Sharenergy, which is behind the proposals, is backing a new co-operative to move the scheme forward, with plans to build in Meadowley, Morville.
Bob Ensum, chairman of Sustainable Bridgnorth, a local green group, said the co-operative, called Crida Wind, could be the first of its kind in the West Midlands to see such a scheme approved.
But the plans have brought about strong opposition from The Stop Bridgnorth Windfarm group.
The group has more than 250 members and has instructed law firm Sharpe Pritchard to represent them legally.
The group has raised concerns about protection of local heritage, with nearby tourist attraction Upton Cressett Hall having recently received Grade I listed status.
Mr Ensum said the project had been developed by volunteers and the turbines were owned by the Crida Wind co-operative, with local investors being given preference over share offers.
He said a local community fund would benefit from £20,000 generated each year by selling electricity to the National Grid.
Ten per cent of that would be ring-fenced for the exclusive use of Chetton and Morville parishes.
"The turbines, on average, would produce enough power to satisfy the electricity demand of 750 households," he said.
In Telford, when Madeley Academy was built in Telford in 2007 it included three freestanding turbines and six further smaller ones on the school roof.
In 2011 an application for a 29.6m tall turbine at Stockton Grange Farm, Newport, was withdrawn following concerns from the MoD that it would interfere with radar.
An application for two 20m high turbines at North Lynn Manor, Newport, was quashed in 2011 before being approved the following year after further noise assessment was carried out.
But last year permission was given for Windmill Primary School in Brookside, Telford, to erect a 10m tall turbine in its grounds to demonstrate renewable energy to its pupils.
At the time, Harj Rayet from Sustainability Environmental Projects at Telford & Wrekin Council, said: "We should actively support and help drive the delivery of renewable energy.
Obviously, any adverse impacts should be addressed satisfactorily, but we should not preclude the development of specific renewable technologies other than in the most exceptional circumstances.
"Planning permission should only be refused where the concern relates to a heritage asset protected by an international or national designation and the impact would cause material harm, or removal of significance in relation, to the asset and this is not outweighed by the proposal's wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
"We should give significant weight to the wider environmental, social and economic benefits of renewable projects whatever their scale."