Salem Turbine Powers Protest
See the Carmarthenshire Herald, August 5th, pps 1 and 3
Protestors against wind power tried to blow Carmarthenshire Energy’s first open day off course last week (Jul 29). They were objecting to the community benefit society’s turbine on a hilltop north of Llandeilo between Salem and Taliaris, alleging health impacts, road damage, and lack of consultation with people living nearby. Some believed the turbine is a ‘big money’ intrusion into the countryside.
Yet Carmarthenshire Energy, chaired by Neil Lewis and with a voluntary board of six, is a home-grown society with 152 members, almost half of whom live in Carmarthenshire, and most of the remainder in Wales. Members each have one vote, regardless of their shareholding, and elect the board. The Salem turbine, on Rhydygwydd Farm, is the society’s first major project, and started supplying the National Grid this summer.
“The big news is that this is Carmarthenshire’s first community owned wind turbine,” emphasised Roxanne Treacy, Carmarthenshire Energy’s secretary and a board member.
The turbine can generate enough electricity for about 450 households. Built by the German firm Enercon, it had an original capacity of 800kW but was down-engineered to 500kW, to accord with grid capacity and coincidentally to take advantage of higher feed-in tariffs at the lower rating. The shaft is 50 metres and the rotor blades add 24 metres to the maximum height, so the distance from the base to the top of a rotor blade is 74 metres. Underground cabling from an electricity sub-station on-site takes the power to the National Grid.
Profits to combat climate change
Chair Neil Lewis told The Herald: “Carmarthenshire Energy Ltd’s 152 members are passionate about combating climate change and keeping profits within Carmarthenshire to provide future generations with a more optimistic view of our energy future. Money made will be reinvested to create jobs in energy efficiency and eradicating fuel poverty in our county.
“The community-owned installation will be used to educate schoolchildren that they can help tackle what all world leaders and faith leaders agree is the greatest threat we face. As a community owned co-operative we are eager to work with others in dealing with the major challenges that our future generations are inheriting from the fossil fuel age.”
The wind turbine would have been owned by a foreign investment fund, if Carmarthenshire Energy had not captured it, he said.
Two share offers have raised about half of the £1.488 million construction cost, with the balance from short-term loans, including more than £350,000 from Seren Energy, a renewable energy consultancy which initially intended to own the turbine itself and in conjunction with Transition Tywi Trawsnewid in November 2014 held a public meeting in Llandeilo, at which strong opposition was noisily apparent.
The plan now is for Carmarthenshire Energy to pay off the loans with the proceeds of a third share offer, which opened on July 29 and will last until the end of September.
The democratic credentials have not yet convinced protestors to back the scheme. Tim Shaw of Llansadwrn, one of the demonstration organisers, told The Herald: “Ideally we would like the turbine removed. It should not have been allowed in the first place. There is a hideous red light on top which disfigures our dark skies. The roadway has been smashed up and verges dug up. Green projects should not cause this degree of distress.”
Tim Shaw was also concerned that financial benefits would not be coming to the people of Salem. “The Rhydygwydd industrial turbine is not a ‘community’ turbine, it is not a Salem community initiative, and does not benefit the community of Salem,” he said.
Carmarthenshire Energy secretary Roxanne Treacy said that a grant scheme will be set up now that the first income from electricity is being received, and priority will be given to applicants living within 10 kilometres of the turbine. The grant fund is likely to total some £1.3 million, out of the total expected operating income of £7 million over the planned 25-year life of the turbine.
Roxanne pointed out that “any Salem or other nearby residents who feel the electricity is not yet benefiting them in any way will be able to apply to our fund for money to improve community life”.
In addition, they can buy in to the third share offer, investing anything between £100 and £100,000.
The damaged road verges will soon be reinstated, Carmarthenshire Energy promised. Turning off the red light on top of the turbine is not so straightforward. The light is a condition of the planning permission, and required by the Ministry of Defence and the Aviation Authority.
Residents’ health concerns
Beverley and Emyr Griffiths have been living at Cwmdu three kilometres from the turbine. Beverley says she is sensitive to infrasound from wind turbines, the very low frequency sound below the lower limit of human audibility, and reports suffering from dizziness and chest pains. She felt she had no option but to leave home and move away from the area. She returned for the demonstration but is living in Bath. Evidence about maladies caused by infrasound is currently scant, and Emyr believes the only legal recourse at present is a private prosecution for noise nuisance.
To ordinary ears, the turbine is virtually noiseless, and so conventional noise measurement would not register a nuisance. Caroline Evans, at the demonstration from near Brechfa, said that machines to measure infrasound are available and there are plans to obtain one, to be shared among groups opposing wind turbines.
Back in 1987, a report titled ‘A Proposed Metric for Assessing the Potential of Community Annoyance from Wind Turbine Low-Frequency Noise Emissions’, by ND Kelley for the US Department of Energy, said that “Experience with wind turbines has shown that it is possible, under the right circumstances, for low-frequency (LF) acoustic noise radiated from the turbine rotor to interact with residential structures of nearby communities and annoy the occupants.”
In July 2016 more than 120 scientists, health professionals and worried individuals, including Emyr Griffiths, sent an open letter to the panel developing the World Health Organisation Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European region. Noise from wind turbines has not been covered in the guidelines before, but the issue is now being investigated by the panel. Signatories include Dr Mariana Alves-Pereira, researcher in Portugal on biological response to infrasound and low-frequency noise exposure; Dr Alun Evans, professor emeritus, Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University, Belfast; John Madigan, 2015 chair of the Senate Select Committee into Wind Turbine Regulation, Australian Federal Parliament; Dr Bruce Rapley, principal consultant in environmental health, acoustics and human cognition, Atkinson & Rapley Consulting Ltd in New Zealand; Dr Alec N Salt, professor of otolaryngology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, USA; and Dr John Yelland, consulting physicist and acoustician in the UK.
The writer is a member of Carmarthenshire Energy and an enthusiast for renewables, but recognises that many opponents of wind power have sincerely held concerns about the health impacts of infrasound, requiring research to continue.
Before publication in The Herald, I sent a copy of the article to Carmarthenshire Energy to check that the technical facts were correct. I received a long email in reply, including criticism that I was giving too much space to the protest.
The reply email was also sent to the editor at The Herald, and included these words: “our organisation feels it is of utmost importance the Herald reports accurate information, not just the hearsay of a small group, both for the sake of our reputation and yours.”
I appreciate that Carmarthenshire Energy has worked very hard to obtain the money to put the turbine up, but believe that objectors have a right to be heard.