MEMBERS of Northumberland County Council’s planning and environment committee have unanimously rejected an application by Energiekontor UK to build five wind turbines — each 126m tall — on farmland near the 14-home hamlet of Fenrother, north of Morpeth.
This outcome is particularly significant for communities fighting other proposed wind farm developments because planning officers advised councillors for the first time to refuse planning permission for the scheme on the basis of the cumulative impact of turbines in the area and the “significant and unacceptable impacts on the local landscape and residents”.
Dr James Lunn, who has led the Fenrother protest campaign, said: “We are relieved and very happy. It is a ground-breaking result for Northumberland. There has been a change in public opinion since we began our campaign and there is a growing tide of people realising that we are not just Nimbys, that reasons for rejecting wind farms are quite extensive and that wind turbines are not efficient, green providers of energy.”
The Fenrother action group fought the wind farm proposals for more than a year, spent £6,000 compiling expert reports and submitted a 71,000 word objection document to the county council which was supported by more than 1,600 letters of objection. Other objectors included two parish councils, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Northumberland National Park Authority, Morpeth Civic Society and the Northumberland Badger Group.
Councillor Paul Kelly said: “This is the first time that officers have recommended refusal on the basis of cumulative impact in Northumberland and it is very welcome. If the turbines are in danger of joining up, and they look as if they could, we are approaching a situation where there will be a swathe of wind developments across the county.” It is not yet known whether the developer will challenge the decision on appeal.
The same developer — Energiekontor UK — has been told by county planners that its intended planning application to build nine turbines at Belford Burn, a location near an internationally-important wildlife site, must meet detailed survey and assessment methodologies agreed in advance with the local planning authority, Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. If turbines are built at Belford Burn they would be just over one mile away from Holburn Lake and Moss, an important roost for greylag geese.
The developer has also been asked to provide photo-montages illustrating the impact on views from at least 10 areas including Holy Island and locations in the Northumberland National Park, and been directed to examine the effect on footpaths and bridleways in the area, especially regional trails such as St Cuthbert’s Way and the Castle and Coastal Trail.
A ‘community benefits’ scheme proposed by Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, which could see rural communities receiving millions of pounds in compensation from energy companies, has been branded “bribes for blight” by critics. The extra cost of the ‘community benefits’ scheme — which ministers hope will reduce planning objections from local people — would be passed on to customers through higher energy bills.
Under the proposals, wind farm developers would pay a minimum of £5,000 a year into a ‘community trust’ for each megawatt of generating capacity they install. Currently developers offer community benefits worth only about £1,000 per installed megawatt. Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate, Caroline Flint, said: “In Germany, 65 per cent of wind farms, solar farms and other renewable energy generation are owned by local communities who get to keep all the benefits, not just a small percentage. That would be a much sounder system for local people and for Britain.”
EDF Energy Renewables, which built the Green Rigg wind farm near Ridsdale, has agreed to make a £18,000 donation to Otterburn Parish Council as part of a compensation package after the village was left cut off for a week last year as a result of a long vehicle carrying a turbine shaft overturning on the A696 south of Otterburn. Several businesses made claims for compensation and three have received pay-outs. The 18 turbines at Green Rigg, which cost £27m to build, have been operational since late summer last year. EDF has agreed to pay £36,000 annually into a community fund for the Redesdale area for the next 25 years.
A new study produced by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) shows that the economic life of onshore wind turbines is only between 10 and 15 years: not the 20 to 25 years projected by the wind industry itself and used for government projections.
Statistical analysis of performance data from wind farms in the UK and Denmark by Professor Gordon Hughes of the University of Edinburgh reveals that probably due to wear and tear, by 10 years of age the contribution of an average wind farm to meeting electricity demand has declined by a third.
Dr John Constable, director of REF, said: “This study confirms suspicions that decades of generous subsidies to the wind industry have failed to encourage the innovation needed to make the sector competitive. Bluntly, wind turbines still cost too much and wear out far too quickly to offer the developing world a realistic alternative to coal.”