Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wind turbine farmers deserve an answer.

I need to begin this post by declaring my scepticism about whether onshore wind farms are worthwhile. I do not believe that the energy benefit justifies the damage inflicted on our landscapes. That posted, I have to accept that the Assembly Government has decided to ignore my opinion, and others who share it. They published planning guidance which indicated to developers that permission would be granted in 7 designated areas of Wales. In Carno, a group of farmers entered into a collective, in order to do exactly what the Government asked them to do. They formed a company named Tir Gwynt and submitted a planning application to erect a few turbines on their farms almost two years ago. This has cost them a considerable sum of money. It looks increasingly as if they may have been hung out to dry.

The main issue is transporting the turbine components. The current position is thus. Because Powys County council has received 14 planning applications for wind farms, its been decided that none of them will be dealt with until a 'transport plan' is agreed. In principle - entirely sensible. But Tir Gwynt is not as the other wind farms. It already has an agreement to connect to the National Grid. It could go ahead now if given permission. All but one of the other 14 applications submitted would not have a connection until 2016 at the earliest - and that's not certain. And they have all been submitted by large international businesses, who will be in no rush to have a decision. This seems both ridiculous, and unfair. Its not as if the turbines cannot be transported. Several wind farms have already been constructed. It makes no sense to group Tir Gwynt with all the others.

My scepticism means that I'm not calling for the granting of planning permission. I'm just think that the farmers deserve a decision. Its unreasonable for these local farmers to have been led up the garden path, only to find that no-one will even answer the door. They are just left, waiting and festering - with their hard earned money tied up. And all the time, the authorities find new ways to avoid coming to a decision. Tir Gwynt should be disaggregated from all the other wind farms and decided on its own merits - soon.


ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

I'm sorry but I have no sympathy for Tir Gwynt. It is another example of greedy farmers seeing pound signs where the rest of us see unspoilt countryside. Perhaps they should think of our rural landscape before how many more Range Rovers they can buy. Yes, the Government has left them to be hung out to dry - but then its the same for the rest of the Country, abandoned by our leaders!

Anonymous said...

should be given the go ahead now

Vicky said...

I think that this illustrates the differences between the UK and other markets e.g. Denmark. In the UK only big business can afford the financial risks in terms of planning and unpredictable financial returns. In Denmark, easier planning and a fixed electricity tariff means small companies and even community groups can afford to develop renewable projects, which is ironically what the government are saying they want to happen

Anonymous said...

Very well said Roman Jones, you are so right, as the following article from the Western Mail proves, it's all about money!!

Farmers given go-ahead for one of the first privately owned wind farms in Wales
Aug 23 2006 David Williamson, Western Mail

WIND power means Sion Thomas does not have to abandon his family farm but instead can use the land and a limitless natural resource to generate a new source of income.

Wind farms across Wales have had many opponents, but Mr Thomas is a fan of the new technology which has unlocked a new source of livelihood.

He is now spearheading a £15m independent wind farm development near his home in Carno, Powys.

The family's 600-acre beef and sheep farm supports his parents and two brothers. Mr Thomas realised it could not economically sustain another member of the family and began looking for a new means to earn a living.

He said, "I had to look elsewhere and decided to diversify and worked in the wind farm sector which provides well-paid, skilled employment. The industry invests in its people and provides high quality jobs and employs about 100 people in Mid Wales.

"If it hadn't been for this then I would have had to leave Mid Wales to find work elsewhere."

He works in partnership with his father Gwyndaf and neighbour David Richards and they now have the go-ahead to construct a 12-turbine wind farm. It will be one of the first privately owned wind farms in Wales.

It will be a neighbour of the existing npower Renewables 56-turbine Carno wind farm, part of which is based on the Thomases' Bronhaul Farm.

Mr Thomas's new company is named Amgeni. It translates from the Welsh "for energy" and is supported by the Assembly Government's Energy office.

The office provided advice and funding for feasibility studies and the Mid Wales Energy Agency and Finance Wales provided a loan.

A milestone was reached last month when planning permission was unanimously approved by Powys County Council.

Mr Thomas said this was "a considerable relief" because they had already invested a significant amount of money securing grid capacity prior to obtaining planning consent.

The next stage is ensuring all the finance is secured before Amgeni embarks on actually building the wind farm. He expects it will create between 30 and 40 jobs during the construction phase.

The farm will provide 15.6 megawatts of power which will be fed into the local distribution network, meeting the electricity needs of approximately 9,500 homes.

An Assembly Government spokeswoman said, "What differentiates this wind farm development from most others is that it is a locally owned project, developed by local families and fully supported by the local communities."

Mr Thomas said, "The support from the community has been incredible. Local people are familiar with wind farms - they can see the direct benefits they bring and know that the myths that the turbines are noisy or can cause property prices to plummet are untrue."

He added, "I think a lot of people are afraid of the unknown. But there are already 56 turbines on Carno wind farm so another 12 turbines is not a big issue.

It's not that people are afraid of the unknown Mr Thomas, it's that they know only too well that you farmers and the developers are the only people that are really going to benefit from the total destruction of our beautiful lanscape. As for this stupid Government, they have ruined the whole country, so they're not going to worry about the wonderful mountains of Mid-Wales, doubt whether some of them even know they exist!

ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

Dear Anonymous, I guess you are implying that I am wrong buy saying I am right - but I don't see that covering our natural landscape in unproductive turbine generators is worth it to save a tiny handful of farmers from having to find other jobs. A sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

Stephen McKeown said...

I do sympathise to an extent with farmers of Upland Powys where the challenges to making living are greater. However I doubt the wisdom or judgement in this case. The whole global economy has changed and has this been on the cards for some years. This is a case of jumping on a golden bandwagon. Windpower is one of the good examples of bad investment. The canny investors are looking for more long term slower yielding returns not quick -pardon the pun - windfalls. Farmers whether they realise it or not have been steadily squeezed by government and by definition big business who are now consolidating and cleaning up. No longer will we see the smaller farmer as we are used to, but large corporations who have control. I fear that the farmers foray into dealing with the large foreign based companies behind "wind farms" will undoubtedly result in huge loss to them personally. Even if the farmers instruct the better lawyers, some will find a few nasty surprises arising out of those contracts. I speak with experience. Once these things are signed, the farmers and their children will find that the gold at the end of the rainbow isn't there. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is! When in 4-10 years time we need all the land we can get for producing food, what will the corporations decide. It won't be the farmers. Who pays for the decommisioning? I do genuinely fear for the children who may well be more forgiving than the rest of us but will likely not thank the current farmers for being seduced by peter piper promisese.

Posted by Stephen Mckeown

Stephen Mckeown said...

A warning from the past that points to the immediate near future for farmers. To us all wind energy is a case of the 'emperor's new cloths.'
The glittering gold that appears to be falling at the end of the farmers rainbow perhaps has clouded their normal judgement and earth-bound canny nature. Of course to the serious student of history, us Welsh particularly the landed, have never learned from our forebears. In our provincial blinkers and in-fighting, the endless looking over our shoulder has resulted in a pitifull divide and conquer tactic to cleave us from our lands and incomes. Watch as large corporations (now energy companies) do the same. Whilst those exclusivity payments are SO appealing, beware the contracts in which you have signed away your childrens choices and inheritance. Look at the global creep, of big agri-business and big buisness generally into farming. They have got the farmer where they wanted. The Halcyon days just after the war where govt. supported the farmer and forestry and such like - that is dead and buried. A very wealthy investor I was speaking to just over a week ago said to me "the farmers have shot themselves in the foot" over the land acquisition and dealing with the developers. It is too short term an outlook in what has been a rapidly changing global market. This is not the full story however. This man should know, he is a big investor in property and land development throughout Europe mainly. If you want to play the game with the big boys, be sure you understand the risks and the real rules of the game. Diversification is one thing, speculation entirely another. I have learned to stick with what I'm best at and not get into bed with big business. Smart investors are those who see the risks and also look to the very long term, particularly in this new economic age. Sadly I fear many landowners have not really seen either. By smoke and mirrors, the govts have appeared to have avoided a global economic collapse this autumn. It is coming and those who survive will have been wise in where they put their money and crucially how much of their assets they have traded away!

Anonymous said...

Dear Roman Jones Esq
I'm most certainly not implying that youare wrong, quite the opposite, I'm with you 100% on this. My intention was to show by the interview given, that these farmers were just thinking about their greedy selves, and couldn't care less about the environment or the beautiful landscape. I thought that my last paragraph made my feelings quite clear,the last thing I'd want to do is agree with this selfish,greedy mis-guided lot!!

ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

Sorry, Anonymous, my mistake.


andyb said...

It appears to me that Powys County Council are entirely sensible and protecting the very interests that we hope they would do by placing a 'hold' on all wind farm applications until a clear strategy has been formulated for the moving of turbine components.

There is wisedom in this decision that deserves considerable respect. Wind farm companies are profit-making businesses. They have no obligation to protect the welfare of the public or their property besides loose 'guidance' from WAG. PCC have recognised this and I gather that they are keen to find a solution to the cumulative impact of an amazing number of wind farm planning applications for the area. This will address the welfare of road-side property, ease of business and public movement while major road improvements are made and the quality of life for those who will live near a wind turbine. This may also avoid collapsed sections of roads by making improvements in advance and provide the much needed time to consider many issues that WAG has not thought about (TAN8, what a load of rubbish).

To allow individual wind farms to start development before a solution has been found would be unfair for those developers who must wait.(fairness being an irony in itself for the business world!).

We are facing a time where the business world has realised that obligations to be socially responsible will not make them a profit and as this negates their very existance, the authorities are our last call for sanity in many situations. Please consider the recent banking crisis as an example.

It is therefore a shame for Tir Gwynt but I would suggest that if they had picked a means of making money that did not carry the percieved baggage of 'anti-social behaviour', a label that the wind industry seems so loath to address and can be seen so clearly on countless websites from around the world, they only have themselves to blame.

When the wind industry starts to play by the rules of social concience they will be more able to build windfarms quickly and in places previously considered impossible because most of the public will no longer fear their often child-like manner of getting what they want, when they want it and for as little effort as possible.

Good on you Powys County Council.