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West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Archive for the category “Energy”

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.

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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 

PDR

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.

PDR

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

PDR

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.

PDR

[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.

Wind Scheme to Foist Drawbacks on Community, Push Profits towards Private Investors

Wind power might be beneficial in the abstract but there are huge gaps between claimed ‘community benefit’ and actual ‘community benefit’.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), one of the successors to the Financial Services Authority, is making community action harder by refusing to register new co-operatives which aim to generate electricity.

The FCA claims that co-operatives must sell to their members, but this is not possible in the case of electricity because it enters the National Grid.

As the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees says: (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/creation-of-new-renewable-energy-co-ops-blocked-by-fca)

“Since the Spring 2014 a significant number of new Co-operative Societies (previously often known as members co-ops) have been refused registration. This is because the FCA has unilaterally decided that renewable energy co-ops in England, Wales and Scotland are not legitimate co-operatives as they do not directly trade with their members.”

A members’ co-op is a good way to ensure that the benefits of renewable energy are fairly shared between members, but the FCA’s resistance means that commercial companies now have the renewable energy industry much more to themselves.

Last night in Capel Newydd, Llandeilo, a lovely building but not ideal for an information evening which required people to circulate freely, representatives of Seren Energy Ltd were on hand to answer questions about the 74 metre, 500kW wind turbine they want to erect between Salem and Taliaris, north of Llandeilo (see ‘Wind’s Corrosive Power: Turbine Plan for Salem Generates Disharmony’ on this site.

‘What is the community benefit?’ I asked. The answer was an initial £15,000 when the scheme receives permission, and £2,000 a year for the 20-year ‘guaranteed’ life of the scheme. That seems trifling to me, given that the turbine will probably generate more than 1,500 MW hours a year and receive more than £270,000 annually in the government’s feed-in tariffs.

The Manordeilo and Salem Community Council, which would be a logical recipient of the income, voted unanimously on July 10th to object to the application.

The argument, I think, is not so much about electricity – our lives would be very difficult without it – but about the distribution of costs and benefits from generating it. At present the benefits go to the landowner who, by chance, has a desirable site, and to the company undertaking the scheme.

If the FCA would allow co-operative community energy schemes, the advantages as well as the drawbacks would flow to all members. At present, communities are lumbered with the drawbacks.

PDR

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.

PDR

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

Solar Co-op is Greener than Big Wind

Wind woes continue to spread over north Carmarthenshire. Public meetings to tell local people about the scale of turbines intended for Nantyrast, Rhandirmwyn and Tyllwyd, Cwrt y Cadno, are packed but quiet, as the seated rows take in the implications of masts 480 feet high.

The latest venue, yesterday March 17th, was in the village primary school at Cilycwm, some three miles down the Tywi valley from Rhandirmwyn. About 70 people jammed into a classroom to hear Sir David Lewis, former Lord Mayor of the City of London, outline the planning and environmental objections to a 36-turbine wind power ‘station’ above the upper Cothi and upper Tywi valleys..

While Sir David, who lives in Cwrt y Cadno, is strongly opposed to such an industrial-scale development, a second cousin with the same surname farms the land on which 26 of the 36 turbines would be constructed. Big money is at stake, perhaps £40,000 a year per turbine. This would almost certainly be split between the Crown Commissioners, who are the landowners, and three farmers who have said they may be willing to host the turbines and who have tenancies on the land.

The Cambrian Mountains Society, squarely against giant wind power installations, was represented at the meeting by their chair, Ann West, who stressed the community divisions which opened up when a few people were offered sums of lottery-win dimensions while most received no compensation at all for damage to their environment and way of life.

The story so far of the mooted wind turbines, on the quiet hills west of Llyn Brianne, is told here. It would be a story of money flowing out of the area, of 1,000 tonnes or more of concrete for each base, of new roads and of miles of pylons, in the case of Nantyrast and Tyllwyd all the way down to Swansea. There would be inescapable noise audible over some six miles, and the landscape would change from rural to industrial. The Welsh Government has not designated the area for wind turbines, but permission for wind-power generation on this scale would be given in London, not in Wales – unless energy policy becomes a devolved power in double-quick time.

As yet there is no planning application, and so nothing to object to, but the idea behind the public meetings is to tell people what to expect, and to advise on the actions that can be taken if and when an application is submitted. “Don’t do anything yet,” Sir David counselled.

We are in strange times, in need of energy, but government focuses on investment from mega businesses, and gives little encouragement to small-scale, sensitive community schemes. If there were more backing for  local energy schemes – hydro and solar as well as limited wind – public attitudes should be much more favourable.

Community schemes are beginning to emerge, Egni, the South Wales Valleys Solar Photovoltaic Co-operative, is one. Egni (Welsh for ‘energy’) is a co-operative which aims to put photovoltaic panels on community buildings in south Wales, including Brynaman Public Hall and Cinema. The co-op aims to raise £155,000 by April 3rd, and as at March 17th members had contributed £64,000. The anticipated rate of return is 4%. Lots more information on Egni’s website, http://egni.coop. This is energy for the community, not profits destined for elsewhere (notably tax havens), and seems an altogether more promising path to take.

Onshore Wind Blows Profits Offshore

Searching Cambrian Mountain Tops for New Wind Turbine Sites

by Pat Dodd Racher

We are going to need wind power.

We do not need wind farms imposed on communities by remote corporations or private equity funds.

Better to concentrate on community schemes, local energy for local use, but there are no signs yet that this approach is favoured by the UK’s Coalition government.

Areas like this, in the hills west of Llyn Brianne, are potential sites for big new wind farms — but any economic benefits are unlikely to be felt by local residents. Photo from Geograph.org

Here in Wales, decisions on the siting of wind farms with capacity exceeding 100 megawatts are not devolved, but are taken by the UK government, via the Infrastructure Planning Unit in the Planning Inspectorate, which operates within the Department for Communities and Local Government. Tracking the lines of responsibility is complicated, but as far as I can see, the lead civil servant for big infrastructure applications is Mr Mark Southgate, a chartered town planner, who is Director of Major Applications and Plans in the Planning Inspectorate, a post graded SCS1, a grade with a pay scale of £58,200 to £117,800 a year, according to information published by the Cabinet Office.

Wind energy is generously subsidised by us, through the Renewables Obligation component of our electricity bills. This system is due to last only until March 31st 2017, when Contracts for Difference should replace Renewables Obligation Certificates. The user will still pay, but rather than a fixed levy, the amount on the bill will reflect the difference between the price when the contract was signed and the price at the time of use. If the price has gone up, the user pays the difference. Should the price go down, the seller would refund the difference.

The Treasury intends to reduce contract prices. For onshore wind, the 2015-16 price would be £95 per MW hour, and in 2017-18, £90, which would be £50 per MW/hr less than for offshore wind, £20 less than for large-scale solar, and £15 less than for biomass.

Given the Treasury’s intentions to cut support for renewable energy (except biomass), it’s no surprise that generating companies are super-keen to get projects on stream before the end of March 2017, when the Renewables Obligation scheme is scheduled to end.

This dash for wind brings us to the upper Cothi valley in Carmarthenshire and to rumours of a large wind farm for the generating company Infinis Energy plc. It is known that some farmers in the upper reaches of the valley, where the bare Cambrian Mountains dominate the landscape west of Llyn Brianne, have been asked if they are interested in having turbines on the land they farm. The land itself is owned by the Crown Estates, which holds it on behalf of the Queen, and pays its revenue surplus to the Treasury.

Sir David Lewis former Lord Mayor of the City of London, who lives at Cwrt y Cadno, speaking to a full hall in Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire, on February 5th 2014

Some 100 people from the upper Cothi area sat quietly in Pumsaint’s Coronation Hall on Wednesday February 5th to hear Sir David Lewis outline the likelihood of a wind farm on the Cambrian hill tops. Sir David, a corporate finance lawyer  with the firm Norton Rose, formerly chair and senior partner, now consultant, and Lord Mayor of the City of London in 2007-08, lives at Cwrt y Cadno and so is very well placed to know about wind farm possibilities in the surrounding hills. He wants to protect, for future generations, the landscape integrity of the upper Cothi, and that means to protect from pylons as well as from turbines.

Infinis Energy is seeking sites for 36 turbines, Sir David told the meeting. The power cables from the wind farm would stretch from pylon to pylon down to Pumsaint and onwards to Llansawel, then to connect with the power transmission network from the wind farms in Brechfa Forest.

High-voltage cables could go underground, but research suggests that the cost could be in the range £10.2 million to £24.1 million per kilometre, according to data from the Institution of Engineering and Technology that was included in a notice from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.* Overhead high-voltage lines, according to the same notice, typically cost £2.2 million to £4.2 million per kilometre.

Electricity is best generated close to its consumers, to minimise transmission costs and problems, but the upper Cothi is remote and sparsely populated. With wind power, the transmission grid will be unused when there is no wind.  The longer the transmission lines, the greater the ‘wasted’ costs of under-utilisation.

The Welsh Government identified, in Technical Advice Note 8, ‘strategic areas’ for wind farms. Brechfa is one of these, Strategic Area G, but the upper Cothi is not in an identified strategic area. However, as the decision whether or not to allow a wind farm here would be taken by the UK government, and not in Cardiff, the ‘strategic area’ designations might not carry much weight.

Infinis Energy plc, the company apparently seeking sites in the upper Cothi valley, is currently 68.56% owned by Monterey Capital II S.a.r.L, based in Luxembourg. Monterey Capital II is controlled by a chain of companies, in turn controlled by Mr Guy Hands, who lives in Guernsey. Until flotation on the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, Mr Hands’ control of the company was even more emphatic.

Profit and loss figures mean little when a company is controlled by a private equity entity, but when members of the public can buy and sell shares, they should be fairly confident that the company is aiming to be profitable.  Will Infinis Energy plc be consistently profitable? The business made a pre-tax loss of £7.60 million in the year to end-March 2013, and another pre-tax loss, £4.91 million, in the six months to end-September 2013.

Yet Infinis Energy plc’s predecessor, Infinis Holdings, made a £44.3 million dividend payment to Monterey Capital II S.a.r.L at the end of the March-September reporting period. Infinis Holdings’ share capital was then acquired in its entirety by Infinis Energy Ltd, which re-registered as Infinis Energy plc on October 28th 2013, prior to flotation.

If Infinis does apply to build a wind farm in the upper Cothi, and at present it is ‘if’ and not ‘when’, a sizeable chunk of any profits would, it appears from the ownership structure, be destined for tax havens — Luxembourg, via Monterey Capital II, and then quite possibly Guernsey. The small communities of the upper Cothi would, meanwhile, be left with property blight and landscape degradation.

* ‘Little ambition to underground power lines’, notice from the CPRE, July 16th 2012

Windy future? Photo by Johan Swanepoel, from Shutterstock

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