Tilting at windmills – Times Online

By stoplenchwickwindfarm | March 9, 2009

Tilting at windmills – Times Online

Are we throwing caution and common sense to the wind in the rush to meet renewable energy targets?

Wendy Holden, From The Sunday Times;  March 8, 2009

Moving to the country is the dream of many, and it was for us. Having lived for more than a decade in King’s Cross, central London, five years ago we found a beautiful castellated Victorian lodge in a protected landscape in Derbyshire.

We settled happily. The summerhouse was the perfect place for me to go about my business as a novelist, while my husband, Jon, spent every spare minute (and most of our money) engaged in the never-ending task of lovingly restoring our garden to its 19th-century glory.

The estate our house is on once belonged to the family of Charles Darwin, and the great naturalist is described as listening with interest to the wild boars in the woods across the valley. But what, I wonder, would he have thought of plans that will ruin the views he once enjoyed and compromise a protected landscape?

Recently, we discovered that a company called West Coast Energy was seeking permission to install wind turbines on Matlock Moor, not much more than a mile from our home. Our first reaction was positive. Like everyone with a sense of social responsibility, we believe in the importance of acting and thinking green, and the importance of renewable energy. We recycle fervently. Every compostable kitchen scrap ends up in those Dalek-shaped bins, while the back of our estate car is a holding pen for vast bags of plastic, glass and clothes intended for the recycling centre, along with heaps of those jute shopping bags we never remember to take into the supermarket, so end up buying even more of.

So the idea of a wind farm was fine, even if the site seemed a little close. Only when we saw the application and realised how close, and how enormous, inappropriate, landscape- and wildlife-endangering and, ultimately, ineffective it would probably be did the alarm bells start to ring.

Five turbines, each more than 400ft tall – almost the height of Blackpool Tower – would march along the sky-line, disfiguring not only our protected view, but that of anyone living locally or looking in our direction from within the Peak District National Park, which begins a few fields away. The colossal size of the turbines – at the absolute top end of the scale – is surely an indicator that any wind there might be in our area requires more effort than most to gather.

The East Midlands is set to meet its 2020 targets for renewable energy without Matlock Moor, if you take into account other schemes for which the green light has already been given. Which makes the irony of wind turbines liquidising rare bird and bat species right next door to the Darwin-connected estate, as wildlife enthusiasts fear, even more marked. Not only that: wind farms, particularly of the size planned, are noisy. Whatever their apologists tell you, they create a drone at a decibel level that has driven many unfortunates living close to them to distraction. And how green are they, anyway? What many people also don’t realise is that that wind energy needs other generation capacity – often coal-fired power stations – to back it up when, as is often the case, the wind drops.

In our case, the adverse impact on the local landscape must also be taken into account. The planned mega-turbines are close to the Chatsworth estate and the Peak District National Park.

Anything that undermines the appeal of either is a financial as well as an aesthetic threat to the district.

So, last year, together with a group of similarly concerned locals, we began the long process of opposition. The business of stopping wind-farm developments is, however, not an easy one. An already complicated bureaucratic procedure is further hampered by the fact that nobody wants to be seen, however erroneously, as “anti-green”.

Time is of the essence – not just in terms of the speed with which the development process can move, but the hours required of the individuals involved in stopping it. The organisers of our local action group have all given up enormous amounts of both time and energy to meetings, research, lobbying, PR and running a website (nowindfarminmatlock.co.uk).

You need money, too. In the interests of gathering as much accurate and relevant evidence as possible, Jon and I consulted, at some personal cost, a barrister who specialises in wind farms. We have also called in expert noise- and land-scape-impact advice. So goodbye, new car – appropriate, perhaps.

Not everyone will be prepared to go to these lengths, but anyone planning opposition should bear in mind the need to pay for professional advice that can cost thousands of pounds.

As things stand today, the Matlock Moor wind-farm application has been filed with the relevant local authorities, who will prepare their reports on the proposal for local councillors to consider this spring. While they may reject it outright, a planning appeal before an inspector seems likely – which would add at least another year to the process.

Similar applications to the one at Matlock Moor are being filed all over the country, causing similar controversy. Especially now, because, with the main-stream property market slumping, developers are spotting new and green-looking shoots of opportunity.

The rush for answers to environmental challenges has added to the panic, as regions stampede to fill renewable energy targets. My fear is that this will lead to a new breed of climate-change cowboys, who will use the environment as an excuse to obtain permission to develop a wind farm that they will build and sell on – aided in such speculations by government sweeteners and the willingness of landowners to do a deal.

West Coast Energy has acknowledged local concerns about its project, but says it “represents a viable and suitable site for a wind-farm development on this scale”. The company also claims to have considered in some detail issues such as noise, visual effects and the effect on ecology and birds.

We are not convinced. Maybe you’ll be the next to discover it’s not fairies at the bottom of your garden, but a planned Blackpool Tower-sized turbine or five.

HOW TO GET THE WIND UP THE TURBINE PUSHERS

- Work with local people, and with wildlife groups, ramblers, cyclists and other interested parties. Set up an action group and a website. Contact local media and your MP.

- Ask the developer for all relevant information, especially on noise and environmental effects.

- Determine how the application fits planning policy at national, regional and local levels. Object in writing to the relevant authorities.

- Have an expert take noise measurements: developers will claim your quiet corner is as noisy as Heathrow, so you won’t notice the drone.

- Find out what “landscape character” assessments the local authority has made.

- Ask an expert in planning law to look at the application.

Why does the British Wind Energy Association never tell us about the amazing results obtained from Germany’s 23,000MW of installed wind turbine capacity (we have 2,387MW).
Might it be because Germany is having to build 26 new coal-fired power stations and remains the leading EU CO2 emitter?

D. Gordon, Coldstream, UK

People should ask their MP; under the freedom of information act where the proposed wind turbines were made,where the raw materials were sourced,the total carbon footprint of each turbine (from conception to errection ),including mining of raw materials and connection to the national grid.

J.Pinney, Chelmsford., Essex.

Click here to contact your local VVASP rep to find out how you can help Stop Lenchwick Windfarm

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