Welcoming wind farms?

Are wind farms an imposition on communities? We asked two insiders who disagree, polarised by aesthetics and house prices versus the need for clean energy and new jobs

Welcoming wind farms?

 

Thomas Pursglove, Conservative candidate for Corby and director of campaign group Together Against Wind, is vehemently opposed to turbines 

Wind farms are indeed an imposition upon communities. The fact that the membership of Together Against Wind and its campaign response rate rises daily is evidence of this. We also receive a huge number of emails each time a new campaign is launched on the site, stressing people’s anger at the most recent planning application to impose a monolithic wind turbine – or more often than not, turbines – with little regard for local opinion. 

One only has to look past the Watford Gap – that well-known location often referred to sardonically by the London ‘set’ to distinguish between the north and south – to see the impact that turbines are having on our national scenery: a sea of them, semi-industrialising our beautiful countryside. Actually, I don’t think that people in cities have much of an idea of the scale of these things; many of them are nearly as tall as the London Eye.

But local concerns go much deeper than that and should not be dismissed as mere NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). I regularly speak to people who have worked hard over many years to buy a house. Then, a wind farm application comes forward, which is rejected by the local council, then referred to the Planning Inspectorate by the developer. And the end result? Renewable energy targets are cited, and the turbines are erected. The nightmare continues once construction begins and your property drops dramatically in value, in some cases by hundreds of thousands of pounds – a huge financial loss, impacting in a very real way upon people’s lives. This is a cruel karate-kick in the teeth, and it is for this reason that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has written to the government to say it needs to provide evidence that house prices are not directly affected by nearby wind turbines.

Some evidence also suggests that wind turbines have an adverse impact upon human health and that ETSU-R-97 (which regulates the noise produced by turbines) is not fit for purpose. Health and noise pollution concerns are regularly cited in objections to individual applications. These issues are all too often cavalierly dismissed.

The consequence of all this? Resentment in many rural communities is growing. Turbines often don’t work, or need carbon back-up, and wind farms are driving up household and small business energy bills, pushing many into fuel poverty. Meanwhile, the energy companies rake in enormous public subsidies. All in all, it’s a recipe for misery in affected areas. 


Be in no doubt: local communities lose all round. There was an announcement made recently by ministers about wind farms and the planning system, and associated practice guidance has since been formalised and published. This guidance clarifies that the need for renewable energy ‘does not automatically override’ local concerns and environmental protections. It also stresses that officials should take into account topography, views, the effect on historic sites and the cumulative impact of wind turbines. However, concerns have been raised that this new guidance does not live up to initial expectations, particularly around ‘separation distances’. Together Against Wind will therefore be keeping a close eye on how it all shakes out, and campaign accordingly.

In short, no really should mean no. We need true localism in action, which is arguably the best remedy for the common complaint of wind farm imposition.

 

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, Britain’s trade body for natural energy, points out that rural communities have embraced wind farms and the potential they offer

Let’s start by agreeing on one point: we all want wind farms to be sited in the right locations, with community consent. It’s how this can be best achieved that provokes impassioned discussion. If you get your news from certain fossilised sections of the press, your views are likely to be fairly hard-line. In fact, it could be said that in some parts of the media there is no debate, simply a campaign to resist change by opposing all infrastructure projects, however vital to the UK. We all welcome passionate debate, but it needs to be based on facts and not myths. 

So let’s look at the facts. First, wind farms are extremely popular. Across a wide range of opinion polls, commissioned over 
an extended period, positivity towards onshore wind is around 67 to 70 per cent – a comfortable two-thirds majority. What’s even more interesting is that when you break support down by region, you find that it’s highest in areas that actually have wind farms. The highest levels of support are seen in rural Scotland and the lowest levels in central London. It’s very much a case of ‘familiarity breeds content’, and this is regularly backed up by independent research. Of course, there are critics of wind farms in some rural areas, but they do not represent the majority. 

Wind developers take their responsibility to engage with host communities very seriously. Applications for developments go through extremely stringent planning processes, including rigorous environmental impact assessments; the wind energy sector’s record in engaging with the planning authorities is second to none. Our members enjoy an unprecedented reputation for consideration, especially when compared with other infrastructure developers.

Our developments have brought a host of benefits up and down the country. Community benefit funds have supported a long list of public amenities – everything from building sports facilities to improving childcare venues and working with local colleges to back professional training programmes. Our members recently agreed to a five-fold increase in community benefit payments; for the largest onshore wind farm in the UK, currently under construction in Wales, our protocol will provide more than £50m over the project’s 25-year lifespan. 

I’d also like to clear up another myth – that the economic benefits all go abroad. In fact, over half of the development expenditure and over 90 per cent of the operational and maintenance expenditure for domestic onshore wind occurs in the UK. Renewable energy, especially wind, is about people. It’s about jobs – with the possibility of employing 76,000 by 2020 – and making sure that we are less reliant on the expensive imported fossil fuels responsible for the increases we have all seen in our fuel bills. 

The best people to answer the question of how they feel about wind farms are those across the UK who have, in large numbers, embraced wind technology – for economic reasons, as well as environmental ones. They know which way the wind is blowing.

Head to the Points of Contention page for more Ethos debates – should choice and competition be a feature of the UK NHS? What role should the private sector play in delivering community justice services?

 

Turbine trauma: an emotive, not a rational, response. Keelan Meade from the WindNet Research Group explains about human reactions to seeing wind turbines

As part of its renewable energy strategy, the UK government has committed to more than double its wind energy capacity by 2020, which will result in a significant rise in the number of turbines. As they become an increasingly common feature of our landscapes, understanding the human reaction to them will become ever more important, particularly with respect to opposition during 
the planning process. 

Although some suggest this opposition is simply down to NIMBYism, others have argued that it is a multi-faceted issue, or a reaction to problems with the planning process rather than to the turbines themselves.

My research with WindNet seeks to provide greater insight into the factors that affect the cumulative landscape and visual impact (CLVI). I have looked at differences in physiological reactions and visual focus between those who like and dislike turbines, measured as they view videos of a landscape that includes turbines. Initial findings indicate that those who dislike turbines focus on them more often and for longer periods than those who say they like them. 

By pairing this visual response data with feedback on the participants’ physiological reactions (gauged by skin conductance response, 
a measure of emotional reaction), I hope to shed light on potential differences in subconscious responses to viewing turbines. 

This work will provide insight into the emotive roots of wind farm opposition or acceptance, to better understand the various positions of the NIMBYs – or, indeed, the PIMBYs (Please, In My Back Yard) or even the BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

My intention is to use the findings to inform the creation of 3D computer simulations to assess how different landscapes and turbine characteristics (size, number, distance from viewer) affect perceived CLVI. By analysing responses to different scenarios in a virtual environment, I hope to help planners minimise the potential visual impact of wind 
farm proposals.

Read about Keelan Meade's work at windnet.org.uk 

 

Serco case study: Wind turbines and radar defences

The construction of wind farms off the UK’s east coast is crucial to achieving carbon reduction goals and ensuring energy security. Work began on the Sheringham Shoal farm in 2009, located 23km off the north Norfolk coast. However, plans were jeopardised by the risk of turbines interfering with vital radar defences, and the Ministry of Defence objected on security grounds.

Serco’s technology experts knew that Lockheed Martin had developed a radar that was not affected by wind farms, and proposed 
to install the radar on the MoD’s behalf. 


A successful trial was undertaken in Denmark before Serco secured the collaboration of various energy companies, which jointly agreed to 
fund three new radars. Two were installed in late 2011, with the third due on stream by autumn 2013. The radars retain the MoD’s air defence capability over more than 750,000 square miles of airspace, now inclusive of multiple wind farms.

This solution has facilitated the construction of other crucial wind farms, providing up to 7GW of renewable electricity – enough to power five million homes. Simon Bailey, director of Project Solutions at Serco, says: “Our expertise across sectors, our impartiality and our public service ethos enabled us to devise a highly innovative, cost-effective solution that met the needs of all stakeholders. We will certainly look to use a  similarly integrated approach in the future.”

 

Thomas Pursglove

Thomas Pursglove is the Conservative candidate for Corby and director of campaign group Together Against Wind.

Maria McCaffery

Maria McCaffery is chief executive of RenewableUK, Britain’s trade body for natural energy.

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