WALES: Wind farm approval lends hope to farm-based renewable energy

A bid to operate three wind turbines on farms in North Wales has been approved. Friends of the Earth (FoE) Wales says renewable energy should be considered by cash-strapped farmers looking to diversify.

“We see renewable energy in general as an alternative source of income for some farmers,” Gordon James, head of campaigns for FoE Wales told edie.

James doesn’t believe that all farmers can develop wind, small-scale hydro or energy crop schemes, but that the opportunities offered by renewable energy shouldn’t be overlooked. In particular, FoE Wales would like to see some upland farmers receive income from renewable energy and, as a result, to reduce their dependence on headage subsidies. This has the potential to reduce overgrazing on terrain vulnerable to soil erosion, according to FoE Wales.

Farmers across the UK are considering a range of ‘green’ schemes to survive the current farming crisis and a decision by Conwy Council, north Wales, late last year to allow a farmer-owned wind farm to go ahead is being seen as a step in the right direction. The decision is groundbreaking because anti-wind pressure groups worried about the visual impact of wind farms have been successful in recent years in arguing against planning approval.

In an effort to show that wind farms can be integrated without damaging the aesthetic beauty of the UK countryside, FoE has drafted a set of guidelines called Developing Wind Power: A developers’ and planners’ check-list of minimum development practice. The guidelines clearly state that wind farms should not be sited on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

“We have to be careful with the siting of wind energy,” agrees James. “Every application needs to be looked at.” What James does know is that most people don’t mind wind farms once they’re built. “When they’re up and running people are generally happy with them,” he says. This was most certainly the case in Delabole, Cornwall. In 1990, prior to construction of a wind farm, only 17% of the public (responding to an independent public opinion survey) was in favour of wind energy. Only three years later, and after the wind farm had been built, opinion had reversed with 85% of the public in favour.

In addition to wind and small-scale hydro, there is a proposal in Wales to establish a wood-burning power station near Builth Wells. The power station would burn forestry-industry waste (wood debris). FoE Wales has not yet given its opinion on the controversial proposal – debate surrounds the increased lorry traffic that would result.

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