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.
“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.”