West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Local Energy Plans Should Help Prevent Wind Wars

Eight groups opposed to wind farms in Carmarthenshire sent representatives to Llansawel Village Hall yesterday to talk about setting up a united steering group to campaign for compensation to be paid to owners of properties devalued by nearby wind turbines. It was a very polite meeting, but after two hours of discussion there was still no steering group, a decision deferred to a future meeting.

Wind has blown uncertainty into the Carmarthenshire countryside, where wind turbines are multiplying with such speed that coherent analysis of their impacts is always out of date. There is no ‘plan’ as such — the generating companies search for landowners willing to work with them, and then apply for planning permissions. Residents never know if a wind farm may be coming to them. In theory, wind farms should be confined to ‘TAN 8’ areas, allocated for energy production by the Welsh Government in Technical Advice Note 8, Renewable Energy, dated 2005. But increasingly, planning applications are for turbines on sites well out of TAN 8 zones. Most of these applications can be determined in Wales, but for really big wind farms, producing at least 50MW of electricity, the yay or nay comes from London.

The anti-turbine action groups include many diligent people arguing points of view that conflict with government priorities. They are vulnerable to being called NIMBYs, because people whose environments are unaffected by masts hundreds of feet high think ‘they’ve got to go somewhere’. There is no getting away from our need for renewable energy, both to trim emissions of greenhouse gases and to maintain electricity supplies as the era of cheap fossil fuels draws to a close. This latter point was not considered by anyone at yesterday’s meeting.

If local communities benefited directly from wind turbines, and if the generators were social enterprises rather than multinational corporations which distribute profits elsewhere in the UK, or outside the UK completely, often in tax havens, there would probably be more support for wind farms. If small wind farms supplied power directly to the communities in which they are located, they could in time be accepted as indispensable.

The issue of using power close to its source is important because new transmission lines are disruptive, costly, and they leak. Wind farms located in hilly rural areas tend to be distant from large population centres, and thus transmission power losses add further to the cost of the electricity produced.

The cultural divisions created by wind farms in rural Wales are real but under-reported. Landowners who receive payments for turbines on their land are often Welsh-speaking farmers. With £40,000 and more a year per turbine common, if they have 15 turbines that’s a good £600,000 a year, akin to winning the lottery over and over again. Objectors are often – not always – retirees from England, whose long-dreamed rural idyll is rudely shattered. While their farmer neighbours scoop the financial jackpot, they receive nothing to compensate for the loss of their tranquil retirement. That does not foster good community relations. The opposite, in fact.

If local communities had real ownership of energy plans, we could soon be moving forward with less antagonism, less anger, than now. It’s tough for the action groups trying to protect their local hill tops, groups like Mynydd Llansadwrn Action Group (MLAG); Residents Against Turbines (RATs) from Five Roads; Villages Against Supersize Turbines (VAST), in and around Llansawel and Rhydcymerau; Brechfa Forest Energy Action Group (BFEAG); Grwp Blaengwen at Gwyddgrug; Llandovery Anti Turbine Action Group (LATAG); Caio Against Wind Turbines (CAWT); and more. They are separate small groups facing large corporations and big government, and the odds are stacked against them. All the time that huge payments are offered to landowners, the communities they are part of will fragment, and the losers will press for financial compensation.

As the old saying goes, money is a good servant but a bad master, and at present money is in absolute control.

Pat Dodd Racher


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10 thoughts on “Local Energy Plans Should Help Prevent Wind Wars

  1. D>E>P>Welch on said:

    I cannot understand why the existing wind farms situated off the north wales coast
    cannot be used for tidal electrcity the as the intigration to the main grid is already in existamce.
    I also recall that around 1957 their was a proposal passed (?) to put a resevour
    somewhere inthe brechfa abergorlech region ,
    Following this thought mini hydroschemes should be more closely looked at.
    A second thought is how much electricity is produced by welsh water,are all the current dams being used for energy production? I think that these questions
    should be raised before new turbines are allowed to be installed,partically as the
    life of wind turbid I believe to be in the region of 20 years

    • Emyr George on said:

      Hydro? have a read of these figures for the output of Llyn Briane

      4600KW capacity producing 43%age of it’s output on average, say 2000kw.

      big wind turbines of say 2000kw will average close to 30% so some 600kw, so 4 turbines will produce more than Llyn Briane. So do you suggest we put a dam in Brechfa, loose Abergorlech and a few other places + a lot of farm land? or put a few turbines on top of some bleak wind swept hills?

      • Yesterday between Llansawel and Bristol I saw plenty of wind turbines not turning at all, not generating any power. Winds change, weather changes, but it is hardly practical to change the position of a giant wind turbine. Much easier to shift small turbines. But then in the words of Dr E F Schumacher’s famous book title: “Small is Beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered”. The book is really worth re-reading, 40 years after it was first published.

    • Interesting questions: I have asked Welsh Water for any relevant information they have.

    • Mr Mike Pedley of Welsh Water has told me that there are hydro turbines at Brianne, Celyn and the Elan Valley, which are leased to Infinis and which generate about 40 million kWh a year. This is enough to power up to 10,000 homes, but Mr Pedley said the same output could come from just six large onshore wind turbines. There are small hydro power installations which supply electricity for Welsh Water’s own operations. Anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge yields around 40 million kWh. Welsh Water also has solar panels and this year is installing a wind turbine at Nash, near Newport. In total, from anaerobic digestion, solar and small hydro, Welsh Water generates 11% of the electricity it needs for its own operations.
      Interesting that Welsh Water is installing a wind turbine this year, rather than a hydro turbine.

      • Emyr George on said:

        No Welsh Water have the sense to know that wind turbines with a very little enviromental impact produce a lot more energy for less infrastructure and investment.Simple!

      • The energy return on energy invested in hydro power is a good 33% more than from wind power, typically, so hydro is usually a better choice.

  2. Emyr George on said:

    There is no getting away from our need for renewable energy, both to trim emissions of greenhouse gases and to maintain electricity supplies as the era of cheap fossil fuels draws to a close. This latter point was not considered by anyone at yesterday’s meeting.

    This part of your Report on the meeting says it all Pat. But how can anyone possibly estimate if there is any loss in property values due to there being turbines in an area? With property values increasing at various %ages around the country,and now the spending habits of potential buyers being assesed more carefully.and a glut of property coming on the market ( quite a few of the NIMBY’s selling up).Let’s hope that there is a big devaluation in rural property’s so the young people,born and bred here can afford to buy.

    • Unfortunately I do think that large wind turbines divide communities and when owned by multinationals bring no economic benefit because the profits are syphoned out of the area. Community owned smaller scale energy schemes are a different matter, and keep the profits in the area.

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