West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the category “Energy”

Rural Homes Set To Remain Disadvantaged After Heating Decarbonisation

Opinion: Home heating accounts for 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions — so natural gas has to be phased out. Hydrogen is a possible future replacement for properties connected to the gas grid, but rural properties currently relying on oil or liquefied petroleum gas are likely to remain heating Cinderellas.

Replacing 22.5 million gas central heating boilers across the UK well before 2050, as we need to do to meet current climate change commitments, has a huge price tag. Renewables-powered heating systems are currently much more expensive than boilers heated by natural gas (well, not so natural, but it sounded such a clean product). The Committee on Climate Change has forecast a switch-over cost of £28 billion a year by 2050.

Living off the gas grid means that here in rural Wales we could not have joined the 82% of UK households with mains gas central heating (although the Energy Performance Certificate for an off-grid house that I know of states that there is mains gas central heating, a mistaken or deliberately untrue ‘fact’ – it’s important to check those certificates!).

By early 2019 it was time to replace an ancient oil boiler, which sounded like an aeroplane taking off into a rumbling thunderstorm. As well as the need to slash fossil fuel use, there was the immediate practical problem that no one’s insurance – not the household policy, not the delivery firm’s policy – would cover taking the hose from the tanker through the house to the oil tank behind.

The garden was not large enough for a ground source heat pump system with pipes in horizontal trenches (you need at least half an acre, I am told) and even more to the point, was inaccessible to the equipment needed to excavate trenches, or to dig a borehole for a vertical installation. Ground source heat pump installations are super-expensive, from above £10,000 to over £20,000 for the pump and installation, plus thousands more for the groundworks. They qualify for the Westminster Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive, which in theory could pay the majority of costs over seven years, but the homeowner or landlord has to find the money upfront first.

In the end we settled on an air source heat pump. This is costing between £8,000 and £9,000 including new, larger radiators, and for which we might receive the Renewable Heat Incentive (if we can tick all the eligibility boxes). The garden is wide enough, fortunately, because in Wales the pump units have to be at least three metres from boundaries to qualify as permitted development (in England, it’s only one metre).

Bearing these costs in mind, it is unsettling to know that the Renewable Heat Incentive closes to new applicants on April 1st 2021, and no replacement scheme has been announced. The current scheme covers ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, biomass boilers and biomass pellet stoves, and flat plate and evacuated tube solar thermal panels.

Maybe the government is hoping that hydrogen fuel cell boilers will soon become available, and at lower cost than heat pumps. Manufacturers are developing such boilers: in June 2019, Dutch group BDR Thermea installed what it claimed as the world’s first hydrogen-powered domestic boiler in a trial project in Rozenburg, the Netherlands. In theory, hydrogen boilers could use much of the same infrastructure as gas boilers, and households would not have to change all their pipework and radiators. The Government’s decision to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2025 should, at the very least, boost interest in hydrogen systems.

But now that the UK has left the EU, it will be fascinating to see if British firms can compete with European enterprises to perfect hydrogen home heating.

Even if they can, a hydrogen system taking over gas infrastructure will not reach the rural areas where there is no gas grid. Hard-to-heat rural homes would be disadvantaged yet again.



Controversial Plan for Coal Mining Expansion at Llandybie


‘Leave it in the ground’ is the message from members of the public who are objecting to Bryn Bach Coal’s plans to mine 110,000 tonnes of anthracite from an extension to their existing opencast mine in Llandybie, between Ammanford and Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.

By January 3rd 2020, 26 people had contacted Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning department to oppose the plan for opencast mining on 10 hectares (25 acres), although in contrast Llandybie Community Council is strongly in favour, their clerk Stuart Griffith commenting that having “taken due regard of the current well run mining operation, local employment opportunities, the current and ongoing financial support to local organisations, and the eco-friendly use of the mined coal, the application is supported and the council recommends that planning permission is granted.”

Community councillor Anthony Davies wrote an individual note of support, pointing out that Bryn Bach had produced coal at Glan Lash, Llandybie since 2012 without any problems, and that “the public have not been aware that any work has gone on”.

Cllr Davies stated that 11 full-time jobs would be created, plus 40 spin-off jobs; that in addition the firm gives £5,000 a year to local causes; and that 75% of the coal will not be burnt. “I fully support this application,” he said.

Local councillors’ approval is related to benefits they see for people in Llandybie, although objectors view coal mining as a health hazard, and burning coal as a big contributor to global warming. Carmarthenshire County Council has declared a climate emergency, which would appear to rule out new mining operations. Bryn Bach’s application, though, says that 75% of the coal will not be burnt, up from a figure of 50% previously suggested, because it will colour bricks and be incorporated in filter beds for water purification. Even so, 25% would be sold for domestic heating, and it would scarcely be possible for the council to insist on the exact quantity of coal to be sold into non-burning markets.

The proposed new mining area is slightly closer to Llandybie village than the existing field. Eight hectares would be mined, and two hectares used for storing earth removed from the coal seams. About 2.5 hectares of woodland would have to be felled.

The apocalyptic wildfires in a hotter and hotter Australia, where the current government want to expand coal mining, are a dramatic warning about the awful impacts of climate change. Dr Chris Vernon, from Whitland, calculated the amount of carbon dioxide that would be produced from burning 55,000 tonnes of coal, half the expected total from the new mine, as 185,000 tonnes. This would be about one tonne for each inhabitant of Carmarthenshire. More graphically, 185,000 tonnes of CO2 would be equivalent to driving more than 1.5 billion kilometres, or to the moon and back almost 1,950 times. Given that Bryn Bach Coal proposes that only 25% of the total would be burnt, according to Dr Vernon’s calculation there would be about 92,500 tonnes of CO2, representing emissions from driving 750 million kilometres, nearly a thousand times to and from the moon.

If 55,000 tonnes of coal were burnt, “this single planning decision would increase Carmarthenshire’s CO2 emissions per capita, likely by more than ALL climate mitigation actions undertaken by the local authority in recent years,” Dr Vernon commented.

Linda Screen from The Rhos, also opposing the application, told the council’s planning department that as a qualified landscape architect and environmentalist, she could confirm that “the environmental impact from this proposal which covers 10 hectares is devastating in terms of biodiversity, environmental sustainability, pollution and climate, and is impossible to remediate in any satisfactory way without long lasting and possibly catastrophic environmental impacts.”

Many other objectors cited climate change fears and proposed that coal should be left under the ground.

Ms Screen also criticised the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Bryn Bach Coal for failing to “measure or report on the carbon sequestration value of the coal if left in situ”. This value would provide “the baseline required to inform any calculations for the carbon offset requirements of this development and therefore the carbon mitigation requirement that the company must meet”.

Bryn Bach Coal Ltd, owned by Christopher James and Julian Morris, is a small, successful company with shareholders’ funds of £1.143 million at March 31st 2019, according to data at Companies House.

The application, reference number E/39917, was registered on December 5th 2019, and should come before the county council’s planning committee, but as yet no date has been set.



Opinion: For the Lack of 2.64 Inches of Insulation, £8,000 Evaporates

The prospect of receiving Renewable Heat Incentive payments from the UK Government, estimated at £8,000 over seven years, was enticing. It hasn’t worked out, though.

I inherited a Victorian terraced house, which is now let to a local couple. An ancient oil boiler powered the central heating, the oil supply coming from a tank in the back garden.  To fill the tank, the oil tanker driver had to lug the hose through the house, an action not covered by my buildings insurance or the oil delivery company’s liability cover.  It was time to change the heating for a more eco-friendly system.

The walls are stone

Main gas is not available, and of course is also a fossil fuel. The same applies to coal and to LPG, liquefied petroleum gas.  Wood or wood pellets would be cumbersome for an elderly occupant, and also need a big storage space. An electric boiler would cost the occupants a lot to run, typically between 40% and 50% more than a gas boiler. The garden is too small for a ground source heat pump. In the end I opted for an air source heat pump, an 8.5kW Vaillant Arotherm. All the existing radiators and pipework had to go, and the system cost £8,725, about twice as much as a replacement oil boiler would have done.

“But you will qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive,” I was told.

Actually, no.

Computer says no

It’s because of the ‘Standard Assessment Procedure’ software used by energy performance assessors. At least, that’s what I understand. You get different answers from different people in the information chain.

The method for creating an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is ‘standard’, in that it is a tick-box exercise using assumptions about construction based on the regulations (if any) applying when properties were built, unless there is validated evidence to the contrary.

The rules for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) state that if the property’s EPC requires cavity wall insulation or more loft insulation, this must be done before any RHI will be approved. The EPC for the old house in question did not insist on cavity wall insulation, because it is built of stone “and so requires further investigation to establish whether these walls are of cavity construction and to determine which type of cavity wall insulation is best suited”. Yet modern assumptions about the defects of traditional materials may not be correct. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) points out in its 2014 briefing ‘Energy Efficiency in Old Buildings’ that

“….standard U-value calculations, used across the construction industry to measure the rate of heat loss through materials, underestimate the thermal performance of traditional walls. In some instances, it now appears that actual heat loss through vernacular materials such as wattle and daub, cob, limestone, slate and granite can be up to three times less than previously calculated. These findings – and those from Historic Scotland and English Heritage which have looked at sandstone and brick construction – are significant. They tell us that we need to think very carefully before rushing in because they suggest that conventional industry practices are struggling to accurately represent the thermal performance of traditionally built walls. Ultimately, this could have negative consequences for historic buildings as calculated theoretical U-values, suggesting a poorer performance, may lead owners and professionals to adopt disproportionate energy saving interventions that may not only be unnecessary, but also invasive and potentially harmful to the fabric of a building and its occupants. U-values are not the complete story.” (p6, in the section ‘Understanding old buildings, by Jonathan Garlick)

The EPC for the Victorian house does stipulate increasing the loft insulation to 270mm, 10.63 inches. The problem here is the depth of the joists supporting the floor of the loft. They allow 8 inches (203mm) of insulation under the floor, 67mm (2.64 inches) less than amount required.

The loft, which has a window and a pull-down access ladder, is used for storage, so it did not seem a great idea to remove the floor to add 2.64 inches of insulation, or indeed to put 2.64 inches above the floor. A supportive adviser on the RHI helpline suggested contacting a chartered surveyor, which I did. He proposed insulating between the rafters. Before going ahead, I asked an EPC assessor if insulation between the rafters would be added to insulation between the joists, to give the required total.

The boarded loft 

The assessor asked the technical department of their EPC certification body, and returned with the answer “No. If there is insulation between the joists, only this can be counted, and insulation between the rafters will be ignored.” This is what the software mandates, apparently.

At first this seemed counter to common sense, but then I wondered if putting a rigid insulation board between the rafters would help or hinder the longevity of the building. Condensation and moisture retention could damage the timbers and create an unhealthy atmosphere. The SPAB briefing says:

“Achieving a coherent insulation strategy that actively deals with moisture is relatively difficult in many older buildings, particularly around openings and junctions and in complex structures. If it is too difficult to achieve, it is sometimes better (as far as moisture risks are concerned) to have no insulation and just ensure that the heating and ventilation systems are good.” (p.20, in the section ‘Ventilation and health’ by Neil May)

If you have a listed building, or one in a conservation area, you can claim an exemption from the insulation requirements. You can also claim exemption if a protected species, such as bats, lives in the property, or if there are adverse environmental conditions, verified by a chartered surveyor. If a chartered surveyor says the property is not structurally suitable for insulation, that might also count. Might.

Age discrimination against heritage homes

The CLA, Country Land and Business Association, calls the EPC requirements “age discrimination against our heritage homes”. The CLA says:

“Some of the energy efficiency improvements being recommended on the EPC are unsuited to properties built using traditional construction techniques. These buildings were designed to be ‘breathable’ and allow moisture to pass through the structure. The effect of modern insulation on these properties could be similar to wrapping fruit in impermeable plastic, the moisture cannot escape, moisture builds up and the contents start to rot. This is particularly worrying for listed buildings and those within conservation areas.” (press release from the CLA for ‘The Retro Fit-Up’, March 2017)

It seems that although insulation exemptions can be claimed for listed buildings, they may not be exempt from the requirement to have an EPC when sold or rented, unless it can be proven (probably by a local authority conservation officer) that work to improve energy efficiency would damage their character.

It would be better, but more expensive given that an EPC can cost under £100, to create a bespoke energy improvement plan for every building, taking the impacts on structure and character fully into account. That would require people to spend heavily, probably £500 and over, to obtain what is currently a compulsory document, and would surely be criticised as an unfair burden unless it had a long validity, say 10 to 20 years.

As for the standardised EPC, I rather wish it will go the way of the late and little-lamented Home Information Packs – into oblivion.


News: VAT Ruling Means Tax Rise for Many Renewable Energy Installations

The UK Government’s plans to raise VAT on renewable energy installations from 5% to 20% in October 2019 are due to a 2015 judgement from the European Court of Justice.

The judgment, in Case C-161/14, upheld the position of the European Commission, which had opposed the UK’s practice of applying a reduced rate of VAT (Value Added Tax) to renewable energy technologies installed in ‘residential accommodation’, mainly people’s homes.

The European Union has not yet revised the list of goods and services eligible for reduced rate VAT, which remain as they were in the 1990s before climate disruption became a widely accepted global challenge.

Permission to apply lower VAT than the general rate adopted by each member state is confined to:

  • Food
  • Water supplies
  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Medical equipment for disabled persons
  • Children’s car seats
  • Transport of passengers
  • Books, printed and in other media
  • Newspapers and periodicals
  • Admission to ‘cultural services’ such as films, plays, exhibitions, museums and amusement parks, and to sporting events
  • Use of sporting facilities
  • TV licences and subscriptions
  • The work of authors, artists, composers and others contributing to ‘culture’
  • Social housing
  • Renovation and repair of private dwellings, excluding materials which form a significant part of the cost of supply
  • Cleaning and window cleaning in private households
  • Specific waste collection and street cleaning services
  • Supplies for agriculture, such as animal feeds, seeds, plants, fertilisers
  • Hotel accommodation and restaurant and catering services
  • Minor repairing of bicycles, shoes and leather goods, clothes and household linen
  • Specific social services
  • Specific medical and dental services
  • Domestic care services for the young, elderly, sick and disabled
  • Hairdressing
  • Undertakers’ and cremation services

The list focuses on goods and services for personal health, welfare, cleanliness, leisure and cultural enrichment, but makes no mention at all of measures to help cope with either climate change or depletion of non-renewable resources.

The UK Government had argued that renewable energy installations in, on and serving people’s homes qualified for lower VAT under the category, numbered 10a by the EU, ‘Renovation and repair of private dwellings’ (highlighted in the list above).

The European Commission and the European Court of Justice disagreed with the UK. The ECJ ruled that the concession was not available across the board, “irrespective of the housing concerned and with no differentiation among people living in that housing, in particular with no regard to levels of income, age or other criteria designed to give an advantage to those who have more difficulty in meeting the energy needs of their accommodation”.

The EU’s VAT laws apply to UK law and will do so all the time the UK is within the EU or leaving under the terms of a withdrawal agreement.

A guidance document from HMRC, ‘VAT: guidance on changes to energy-saving materials’, says the 5% rate will no longer be available for the installation of wind or water turbines. For other renewable energy systems, called ‘Energy Saving Materials’, the 5% rate will be available only to

  • Occupants over 60 or receiving certain benefits, or to housing associations for buildings used solely for residential purposes, or
  • For installations where the open-market value of the Energy Saving Materials is no more than 60% of the total cost, including labour, to the customer. If the materials and equipment cost over 60% of the final bill, only the labour element will qualify for the lower rate of VAT.

VAT is a regressive tax, levied on the purchase of goods and services without any regard to ability to pay. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that in 2019-20 VAT is expected to bring in 16.8% of all UK Government income, or more than £1 in every £6. The importance of the tax in the national budget means that the Treasury would, in all probability, be reluctant to sanction an overall reduction from the current general rate of 20% to the 15% minimum permitted by the EU.


The EU’s VAT regulations need urgent updating to allow member governments to back climate policy objectives by helping the public to fund essential improvements to the energy efficiency of their homes. For many people the capital cost is the main barrier. A £10,000 cost with 5% VAT is £10,500, with 20% VAT it is £12,000.

The rule that equipment and materials used in renewable energy installations must not exceed 60% of the final cost to the customer is unhelpful to small businesses which lack negotiating power with major suppliers. One reaction would be to increase labour charges to at least 40% of the total, but there would be consumer resistance to this.

A petition currently doing the rounds online asks the Westminster government to abandon the VAT rise, but it is impossible for ministers to do so unless they openly rebel against the judgement in Case C-161/14.

If the UK left the EU, even without a ‘deal’, fiscal room for manoeuvre would be limited. The Westminster government could not cut taxation significantly without, at least in the short term, further reducing monies available to the austerity-hit public sector.


Pembrokeshire Council Burns Cash on Fuel for Under-Occupied ‘Innovation Centre’

The Bridge Innovation Centre in Pembroke Dock has modern workshops and offices but too few tenants, and that has landed Pembrokeshire County Council, the owner, with extremely high annual utility bills – around £50,000 for gas and £23,000 for electricity for this one centre, said independent councillor Tessa Hodgson (Lamphey).

“Perhaps we should turn the heating down,” she told Cabinet members on February 12th, reminding them that the workshop space had never been fully occupied.

Such high bills for empty space are hard to swallow when the county council is considering a 12.5% increase in council tax, which would take a Band D property from £883.15 to £993.54 – a rise of almost £110. And that excludes the police and crime precept, which in 2017-18 is £213.87 for Band D.

The county council is advertising workshops to let in The Bridge Innovation Centre, from £8,136 a year for 1,356 square feet to £17,616 for 2,936 square feet. The council says: “Occupiers are responsible for paying their own utilities and Business Rates and a basic rental of £6 a square foot. With the prior agreement of Pembrokeshire County Council, tenants may undertake interior alterations which can provide a full first floor which effectively doubles the floor area of the workshop. This effectively reduces rent to £3 a square foot and can create a large office space, computer rooms, clean rooms or other types of laboratory space.”

Paying for the utilities on top could be pricey, considering the burden they currently impose on the county council, but the rents appear reasonable. So why is the centre under-occupied? There is a gap between businesses which the council would like to see – high-margin digital enterprises and precision engineering firms, for example – and the businesses which do often prosper in West Wales, sole traders and micro firms in industries such as construction, food processing and vehicle repair, which have specific work and storage requirements.

Each workshop at The Bridge has an office, “generous” workspace and a plant room which houses a gas boiler, utility meters and the main power distribution board. Could it be that the space is too smart, and thus too expensive, for typical new businesses in Pembrokeshire?


Objections Blown Away on the Wind

Perspective on wind turbines from John of Pencader, Carmarthenshire, written in 2015 but just as relevant today. The turbine of which he writes received planning permission from Carmarthenshire County Council in January 2015. An attempt to have this reversed in the High Court failed in August 2015 when Mr Justice Cranston backed the permission.

The pros and cons of windpower are not straightforward at all…

“I am writing this letter regarding the acceptance and approval of more and more single wind turbine planning applications by Carmarthenshire County Council and my particular concerns about the ‘Wern’ turbine near my home at Pencader.

“My own ‘green’ credentials are deep and fundamental to our move to Blaencwm over 40 years ago. Inspired by E.F. Schumacher’s book, ‘Small is Beautiful’, I sold our town house in Brighton, Sussex, sold our car, resigned from a secure, well-paid job in telecommunications and borrowed money from relatives to buy a collapsing long-cottage and 8½ acres of Wales. This was to care for a small piece of the planet for its nature and wildlife, to grow our own food and reduce our impact on the earth’s resources.

“Why then would I not support a ‘green and clean’ source of alternative energy like a wind turbine? Like the vast majority of the population there was a time when I too briefly thought that they were probably a good idea. A few glimpses of clusters of huge swinging blades spied briefly in wild, empty landscapes while on holiday or a car journey permit the acceptance of them as rational and much needed technical solutions to the energy crisis. However, living in Pencader where the residents’ only local recreational upland spaces are being smothered with gigantic turbines, one begins to learn more about their adverse impact, especially on people. These people, by definition are in a tiny minority and yet, from the moment that they discover that they have been picked upon to have everything they value and appreciate about their environment destroyed for ever, they find themselves even more isolated and misunderstood. They feel lonely, abandoned and persecuted, but are generally regarded as stupid, self-interested ‘NIMBYs’.

“With a career background in electrical engineering and a lifelong interest in physics it didn’t take me long to realise that the attempt to catch the energy floating on the wind was not rational or reasonable, even disregarding the harmful effects on the environment, its ecology and human beings. Learning that someone is proposing to put up a large turbine in a small field close to your own house and land, accelerates massively the learning curve that confirms all your doubts and fears.

“Another book, John Etherington’s ‘The Wind Farm Scam’ has an obviously contentious title, but is an honest and balanced analysis of the problems of seeking wind energy to power the national grid. Dr Etherington is an ecologist, and although in Chapter 6 he covers the way in which we are squandering the other irreplaceable capital to which Schumacher refers, the ‘tolerance margins’ of nature, his book provides information on the science, engineering and to some degree the politics and financing of wind turbines.

“Without the understanding that reading a book like this brings, the vast majority will assume the validity of wind turbines on the sort of basis that, ‘well, the experts and the leaders must know what they are doing so they must be alright’. Our experience of the planning process for the Wern turbine has opened our eyes to another vast layer of complicity, duplicity, connivance and manipulation, all of being essential to perpetuate this delusion if a wind turbine is ever to be built. It is easy to tell a convincing story if you can say what you like, but a different matter if you want to be honest and truthful.

“The application documents contain dozens of ‘desktop surveys’ prepared using specialist template software from online databases by people with qualifications in the relevant field. They may also have actually come here, often from England to spend a few hours driving about taking unflattering photographs and recording some details to help their report look more convincing. Self evidently, because all these surveys are all commissioned by the applicant they are inevitably skewed to present all information in a form favourable to the application, — otherwise they wouldn’t get paid.

“This can be achieved by omissions, either deliberate, or caused by the briefness or superficiality of their investigations. The ecology survey to detect bats is a glaring example in this application where the failure to meet the Natural England recommended distance from hedgerows by 50% is deliberately obfuscated.

Reasons to oppose the Wern turbine

“The 3 fields now called ‘land at Wern’ were subject to opportunistic acquisition in which a high price was paid denying the land from any of the adjacent farmers who were outbid. The owner was in collusion with a director of Seren Energy who lives near him about 5 miles away. So this proposal is purely commercial with no involvement of, or benefits to anyone who is affected adversely by it. This means that it is the antithesis of government on-shore wind energy policy which seeks community involvement and support and benefits to those affected.

“The developers were aggressively indifferent to the small group of rural neighbours who are being seriously affected by the proposal. Strongly supported by Welsh Planning law and the County Planning Authority the applications are virtually kept secret. The system assumes that no-one affected will find out about it, or if they do, be able to do anything about it. Many residents in the Welsh hills have disabilities, health and transport problems and do not have IT or good literacy skills. Because of this, the system does not expect to have to deal with valid objections and does not tolerate them. In our case a few residents had literacy, professional skills and qualifications and the vital internet access which enabled them to examine, analyse and interpret the claims in the documentation against their own knowledge and understanding of this location and its environment.

“This has resulted in an even more unbalanced and dismissive treatment of the critical issues that make this development totally unacceptable that have been raised repeatedly by, amongst many others, a retired Planning Inspector and two Environmental Health officers.

“It is this background story that makes this development (I believe) exceptional. The irrational and unreasonable behaviour of the Council in approving turbine after turbine across Carmarthenshire is creating a high level of opposition from the wider public. It is an abnegation of democratic principles and an assault on the Welsh heritage, landscape and the people who love and care about it.

“I hope and believe that the Wern turbine story could be a tipping point for Carmarthenshire County Council, resulting in greater awareness of the balance of issues for and against wind energy projects and higher standards in their treatment of the Welsh countryside and the people who live in it, who they are paid to support and protect.

Grounds for objections

“This turbine may have been instigated by two ‘local’ people, but its commercially exploitative methodology exposes all of Carmarthenshire to similar developments from agencies and investors who have no thoughts of Wales other than to abuse it for their own gain.

“The Council have duties and responsibilities of care for elderly people, for their health, mobility and physical and mental wellbeing. The pursuit of this application has already caused high levels of anxiety, depression, distress, anger and fear for at least three couples in their later years – 60s and 70s. We all have health issues. My wife had several emergency admissions to hospital in 2013.

“The erection of the turbine close to these homes will dramatically worsen their situation from the noise, visual intrusiveness and the way it would always represent the abuse of their rights and values for the remainder of their lives. The reduction in the market value their properties will certainly harm their chances of selling when the time comes for them to move into care homes or to a less demanding residential environment.

Local amenity

“The Pencader district is poor, and deficient in amenities. Its only asset is its surrounding countryside. It has no public or commercial amenity areas such as a village green, parks, gardens or parking areas. It lacks pavements along the main road, and has just had some rural grant funding turned down by the Council for an extension to its pavements in favour of Whitland. Very few footpaths (Rights of Way) in the area are usable or even open for use.

“The B4459 right through the village carries heavy traffic especially in commuting hours. The lane leaving the village to the west through the historic part known as Pentre Draw, past the Hen Gapel, over Nant Gwen, past the Pencader Castle, old primary school, and St Mary’s church represents the only direction in which residents can go to escape the creeping urbanisation, enjoy the peace and views of the countryside. As they climb the hill the view is dominated by the 10 Altwalis turbines, with another 28 to be added shortly. To have another large turbine confronting them at the top of the hill would be an insult.

“Not enough people take enough exercise these days, but the three lanes that meet at this point are used by Pencader residents walking their dogs, by visitors, riders from the kennels and half a dozen other properties, a local fitness club for jogging, tractor runs, pony carting etc. This is a vital amenity which incurs no special expenditure by the Council (and receives little maintenance) but to which this turbine would a significant detriment.”



Public airings for Awel wind co-op venture

Wind power project owned by small investors: see the Carmarthenshire Herald, October 21

Wind energy co-op Awel has three public open evenings next week. The first is on Monday October 24 at Cwmllynfell  Millennium Hall, the second on Wednesday October 26 in Pontardawe Arts Centre, and the third on Thursday October 27 in the Aelwyd yr Urdd building, Hall Street, Brynamman. All three sessions are from 7.30pm to 9pm.

The open evenings coincide with the arrival of turbine parts from Germany, through the port of Swansea. Awel, a community benefit society, is building two 2.35MW Enercon turbines on Mynydd y Gwrhyd south of Brynamman and between the Amman and Swansea valleys. The work is on schedule and should be finished by December.

The project is funded by share subscribers, who so far have contributed £1,354,236. The aim is to raise a total of £1,965,000, and a share offer is open until November 7. “Members can subscribe from £50,” said Awel director Carl Richards, “and it is one member, one vote”.

Subscription is for 20 years, but a request for the return of an investment can be made after three years. The projected rate of return is 5% a year, which is high in today’s environment of low interest rates.

Awel has made the final of the next Cynnal Cymru Awards, representing sustainable social enterprises. The Awel team, headed by project manager Dan McCallum, is also behind the solar panel co-op Egni, which puts solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of public and community buildings, most recently in Carmarthenshire on Trimsaran Community Centre.


Turbine tower sections on the way to Mynydd y Gwrhyd, where community benefit society Awel will shortly be producing clean energy from the wind. There are public presentations in the area next week 


Plan for 125 metre wind turbines at Rhydcymerau  

Could this be a trend? Receive planning permission for a project and quickly seek to make it much bigger? 

Carmarthenshire Herald, September 9th 2016, p.2

From supersize to megasize

Six months after winning a battle for planning permission, the firm proposing two wind turbines 100 metres (325 feet) high to the blade tip, sited north of Rhydcymerau on Mynydd Pencarreg, is asking to ditch those for even larger turbines, measuring 125 metres (406 feet) from ground to blade tip.

The structures would be taller than the 111-metre dome of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and the blade tips would be some 475 metres (1,544 feet) above sea level.

The site is above 350 metres, about half a mile north of Esgairliving and a smaller distance south-west of Pantycrwys.   The Allt y Mynydd care home is about a mile distant.

The turbine owners, EnergieKontor UK Ltd of Leeds, a subsidiary of the German parent company, argue that the taller turbines could yield 37.7% more energy, from 10,417 to 14,347 MW hours per year.  The location map indicates that one of the higher structures would have to be moved from the current approved position because if it toppled, it could fall across a public road.

A deluge of objections, as well as expressions of support, greeted the original planning application. Llanybydder Community Council, which objected strongly, is likely to consider the application for even taller turbines when it meets on September 27.

VAST opposition

The group Villages Against Wind Turbines (VAST) also opposed the original application on grounds including damage to the landscape and ecology, noise, traffic, and distance to the National Grid.

VAST commented that construction of the 100-metre turbines “would require over 2,500 vehicle movements. This includes over 1,300 HGV trips and 50 turbine loads. The applicants anticipate an eight-month construction period ahead of becoming operational in 2017 – and this coincides with the construction timetable for Brechfa West”.

Connection to the National Grid was also an issue for VAST, which said it would require more than six kilometres of overhead or underground lines.  “Members of the public were told at the developer’s exhibition that the connection would be underground. If this was truthful, then there will be a sizeable environmental impact from six kilometres of trenching. This should have been factored in to the developer’s assessment of the site’s suitability and consideration of better alternatives, with a closer grid connection,” VAST argued before the turbines were given planning permission.

In response to the new application to increase the turbines’ height, VAST secretary Caroline Hill said: “VAST is seeking professional advice before responding to a planning application for a variation in height on this scale.  EnergieKontor has not as yet submitted sufficient information for the full impact to be assessed.”

The latest application will be determined by Carmarthenshire County Council.


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.


Wind turbine protestors demonstrate in Salem during Carmarthenshire Energy’s open day to mark the installation of a 500kW turbine between Salem and Taliaris

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 turbine, visited by people attending the open day 

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.


Democratic credentials

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.


Contrary visions: Carmarthenshire Energy’s purpose is to promote renewables, but campaigner Tim Shaw objects to large turbines 

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.”


Beverley and Emyr Griffiths. Beverley has moved away to avoid the infrasound — very low frequency sound — from the turbine, which she feared was damaging her health 

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.


Caio Residents Object to Wind Turbine Greenwash

Sighs of relief in and around Caio, Carmarthenshire in February, when a 500 kW wind turbine application was rejected, have changed to anger. The application  has been resubmitted, with slight amendments and a new number, E/32181. At short notice, local people streamed into Neuadd y Coroniad, Pumsaint, on Wednesday evening (July 8th), to hear campaigners Eifion Evans and Ed Percy ask for objection letters to reach the planning authority, Carmarthenshire County Council, before July 16th.

The 77-metre (250-feet) turbine, for Jonathan Kearsley’s Mi-Grid Ltd, would dominate the landscape from Mr Douglas Davies’ land at Maescadog, Caio, and would be visible as far as Llangadog, Llandovery, Llansawel and beyond.

Objections that the turbine would damage the landscape, and the area’s popularity for country holidays, are important but not the topic of this post. Instead, this asks about the environmental costs.

Wind is a renewable resource, yes. But generating electricity from a single turbine requires the energy-intensive manufacture and transport of infrastructure and components, and expensive decommissioning at the end of a turbine’s expected life of 25 years or so. Looking at a specification sheet for a 500 kW turbine, I see that the hub weighs 8 tonnes, the nacelle (casing for working parts) is 22 tonnes, and three blades, 7.2 tonnes. The blades slice through the air at up to 63 metres a second at full speed. The noise level is 99.5 dBA, which is like being three feet from a petrol-engined lawnmower.

Transporting turbine components to Maescadog presents a severe logistical challenge. For a start, the roads are too narrow for the generator to travel horizontally. It would have to be lifted to vertical – the applicants suggest doing this in the layby on the A40 at Llanwrda – but the vertical height is 6.02 metres, the Pumsaint meeting was told. This is more than a metre above the standard height of cables above the carriageway, and the objectors say they have counted more than 70 overhead lines crossing the route between Llanwrda and Maescadog. They also argue that the blades are too long for sharp bends, especially one at Aberbowlan, just before the proposed site. Hauling massive components along narrow lanes is far from beneficial for the road surface, or the land on either side. And a crane has to reach the hilltop site, to lift the parts into place.

Once the turbine is operating, generation stops if there is too much wind, or not enough – so there always has to be a more reliable source of electricity in reserve. But leaving all this aside, we have the resource costs of manufacturing the parts and transporting them long, long distances.

“The consumption of fossil fuels and water during construction and decommissioning can be significant,” notes a report by the US Department of the Interior and the US Geological Survey,[i] adding that “Transportation of oversized equipment can be expensive and hazardous.” This report is fairly even-handed, drawing attention to similar numbers of advantages and disadvantages from the perspective of national electricity supply, but the drawbacks listed become very serious when allied with a remote, difficult-to-access site in an area of high landscape value.

Making a wind turbine emits TONS of carbon dioxide. I found some estimates on an anti-turbine website called ‘Stop these Things’, in a piece called ‘How much CO2 gets emitted to build a wind turbine’.[ii] Each turbine has its own carbon footprint, but the hypothetical one in the article requires 45 tons of steel reinforcing bars and 481 cubic metres of concrete (excluding access roads). Its carbon footprint is calculated at 241.85 tons.

Here we go. “To create 1,000 kg (1 tonne) of pig iron, you start with 1,800 kg of iron ore, 900 kg of coking coal, 450 kg of limestone. The blast furnace consumes 4,500 kg of air. The temperature at the core of the blast furnace reaches nearly 1,600 degrees C…..

“1,350 kg of CO2 is emitted per 1,000 kg of pig iron produced. A further 1,460 kg of CO2 is emitted per 1,000 kg of steel produced, so all up 2,810 kg of CO2 is emitted.” And lots more figures, although they exclude the emissions from mining the raw materials, or from transporting fabricated materials to the site.

Then there is neodymium, a magnetic rare earth mineral, yielding the top-quality magnets demanded in wind turbines. Nearly all of it is mined and processed in China. Processing is a filthy endeavour, using hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide and other noxious substances. The residues poison the air and leak into the ground and into water courses, damaging people and the environment.[iii]

All in all, giant wind turbines are not ‘green’ at all, because of their colossal carbon footprint and the pollution emitted in their manufacture. Sadly, these are not ‘planning issues’ and so in our planning system are relegated to zero importance.

But don’t we in Wales now have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? Yes, we do, and it has a Sustainable Development Principle:

“Improving well-being in accordance with the sustainable development principle means seeking to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Surely that means we must phase out the use of climate-changing, polluting technologies?

If it doesn’t, the Act will not be worth the paper it is written on.


[i] ‘Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land Based Wind Turbine Industry from 2010 through 2030’, by David R Wilburn, Scientific Investigations Report 5036, US Department of the Interior and US Geological Survey.

[ii] August 16th 2014, by ‘Andy’.

[iii] ‘The real cost of using neodymium in wind turbines’, MEI Blog, February 11th 2013.

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