CPRE Northumberland

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Wind power - bane or blessing?

Farmland turbines Farmland turbines © Shutterstock

CPRE Northumberland supports the idea of renewable energy as a way of reducing carbon emissions. We understand the need to develop efficient technologies for wave/tidal power, solar power, thermal energy and biomass.

Subsidised energy
Wind energy does have its place in the range of renewables Northumberland is able to contribute to the national demand for energy. However, the high level of inducements once offered to landowners and developers through the inflated subsidy (paid for by all electricity users through increased bills) quite distorted the sector (and may do so again if the subsidies return).

Many landowners naturally see such inducements as attractive. The result is a glut of wind farms, some acceptably placed in areas of low landscape value, but many on higher ground with widespread visibility, thus posing an intrusive threat to the beauty and tranquillity of our coasts and countryside.

Industrialised landscapes
In Northumberland, this means that wind energy is in danger of industrialising some of our finest landscapes and blighting the key assets of our emerging tourism industry. The old fell sandstone ridge above Eglingham, airy, heather-clad, prime walking country, is a case in point. 28 turbines, each of 125 metres, are currently in operation there at Middlemoor and Wandylaw. 9 more are being planned for the area. They are visible for hundreds of square miles.

Further more, the latest Policy Maps that accompany the Draft Local Plan show (under policy REN 2) extensive areas of the county deemed 'suitable' for wind-turbines of up to 130'.

Wind turbines, however, are not spread equally throughout the UK. One cannot help noticing that the total contribution to wind energy of all 7 of the Home Counties is less than a fifth that of Northumberland alone. This was highlighted in a letter sent by Professor Howard Elcock on behalf of CPRE and the Northumberland and Newcastle Society to a number of North East peers, who took up the issue and forced a debate on the subject in the House of Lords in 2015.

How good is wind energy?
Further study of the facts about wind energy reveals just how poor a resource in practice it actually is.

For all its high cost, wind energy creates few new jobs for the local community. Some turbines are made in the UK but many originate on the continent so a good part of the high subsidy we all pay swells profits for firms in Germany, Sweden or Denmark.

Developers applying for planning permission often state a figure for the number of homes the installation will power. They neglect to mention that this figure can only be achieved when the wind blows at optimum speed – about 25% of the time in practice.

Wind turbines, however many we erect, save much less on carbon emissions than is often claimed. This is because conventional power stations must be kept running at all times (called by the industry the ‘spinning reserve’) to cover for the uncertainty of supply from the fluctuating airstreams that cross the UK.

Finally, the issue of decommissioning is a time-bomb that will go off in 20 or 25 years’ time when turbines come to the end of their useful lives. It has not been included in any calculations of cost, nor has any provision been made for it. Are they to be left to rust? Or perhaps the costs of removal will be passed on to the local authority and paid for by all of us again through increased Council Taxes in Northumberland?

We ask Northumberland County Council to re-consider its policy on renewable wind power before our county's finest landscapes are blighted by their cumulative impact.   

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