Wind’s Corrosive Power: Turbine Plan for Salem Generates Disharmony
A single wind turbine has the power to generate discord even within a group in favour of renewable energy. The ongoing story of a proposed turbine in Salem, north of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, illustrates the difficulty of creating renewables policies which are widely accepted. Each turbine presents a complex mix of advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, which every individual is likely to rank differently.
Seren Energy Ltd has applied to build a 500kW turbine above Taliaris Park, on land at Rhydygwydd Farm. A turbine of this capacity could generate enough electricity for about 450 homes. Question 1: are the costs and benefits fairly shared?
The turbine would have a hub shaft 50 metres high and rotor blades 24 metres long, giving a maximum height of 74 metres, 240 feet 6 inches. That’s a very significant elevation. Question 2: why put such a tall turbine here, outside any of the ‘Strategic Search Areas’ identified by the Welsh Government, and within a mile of the Grade II listed mansion, Taliaris?
The electricity would have to be fed into the National Grid. Question 3: what line would the power lines take, and would they be over-ground or underground?
The requested turbine is a German-made Enercon E48, which was designed to generate 800kW, not 500kW. Question 4: why apply for a 500kW capacity when the turbine could generate a lot more?
Starting with question 4, the answer is that the UK government pays almost double the rate for electricity from turbines up to 500kW than from more powerful models. Therefore it is a common practice to down-rate the turbine – to make it less efficient – to capture the higher payment rate. In the half year October 2014-March 2015, for new installations the ‘feed in tariff’ for 100kW to 500kW is 13.34p per kW hour, but between 500kW and 1.5MW it is only 7.24p. In addition, for all power not used on the site – and in this case most of it – an ‘export tariff’ of 4.77p per kW hour is paid, raising the total to 18.11p per kW hour. The steep fall in payments above 500kW makes it worthwhile to nobble – downgrade — the turbine. If the payments regime should change and it became more lucrative to generate above 500kW, the turbine could be re-engineered back to full efficiency.
Question 3, about the power lines, is not possible to answer because, in line with what has become normal practice, planning applications to transmit the energy are not submitted until after the turbine has planning approval.
Question 2, why propose such a tall turbine outside a ‘wind farm area’? For Seren Energy, the tariff payments, uprated with inflation and lasting for 20 years, are the business benefit. For the landowner, the financial attraction for a 500kW turbine is rent for 20 years. Landowners elsewhere with a similar turbine receive annual rent of up to about £45,000. This rate of payment leads to question 1, the distribution of costs and benefits.
The UK government has created a wind bonanza for landowners, paid for by electricity users who in the main are not landowners. A site suitable for a turbine is a big winning lottery ticket, paying out for 20 years, maybe more. Neighbouring householders, in the case of Rhydygwydd living as close as 420 metres, have the sight and the sound of the turbine but not the thousands of £s of income. The arrangement is not very communal.
For Rhydygwydd, Seren Energy is offering money to a community fund. I hope to find out how much would go into the fund when I go to an information evening this coming Wednesday, November 26th, at 7.30pm. Staff from Seren Energy should then be in Capel Newydd, Crescent Road, Llandeilo, to present the scheme. A community fund would spread the benefits, but would that outweigh the deliberate downgrading of the turbine to increase the payments levied on electricity bills?
The project cost, based on comparable schemes, could be about £1.4 million, or over £3,010 for each of the 450 homes which could be supplied with electricty. If the turbine provided 1,500 MW hours a year, towards the lower end of expectations, the feed-in tariffs for that year could amount to £271,650 at the current rate and if all the electricity were exported to the National Grid. That works out at almost £604 for each of the theoretical 450 homes supplied.
Seren Energy, which is based in Clydach, Swansea, had a similar application rejected last month. The plan was to erect a 500kW turbine on Gilcombe Farm, near Bruton in Somerset. South Somerset District Council turned down the application because it would cause substantial harm to the character and landscape setting of “historic assets”, principally three historic houses, and for other reasons including unsuitable access.
The Gilcombe Farm location is not too different from Rhydygwydd, which is also in an area of great landscape quality.
The information session in Capel Newyd is organised by Transition Tywi Trawsnewid, a group to which I belong. Some members regard any renewable energy as desirable, others favour small domestic schemes over large commercial ones, and others again think the subsidies are a waste of money, which would be better spent in assisting communities to become more energy-aware and to cut their consumption drastically.
What the planning authority thinks we do not yet know. Carmarthenshire County Council, the relevant authority for Rhydygwydd, has not yet made a decision on the application, which was submitted in June.