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countryside, where wind turbines are multiplying with such speed that coherent analysis of their impacts is always out of date.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