Single Spies They Come, The Wind Turbines Ravaging The Land.
A great friend has a house with lovely views over the Essex countryside. As he shaves in the morning he looks out over undulating fields and woods towards the sea. It is a landscape he has worked all his life to live in and of which he is rightly proud. Recently he heard that someone is proposing to erect a single 200ft wind turbine within that view. He is not a happy man.
The thing about a single big wind turbine is that it causes the maximum blight to the landscape with the minimum benefit to the planet. Its effect on the eye is greater than any number of subsequent turbines with which the wind farm industry may subsequently invade the view, using this as a Trojan horse. It turns a vista without visual intrusion into what the experts call a “wind turbine landscape”, less able to resist further proposals.
I began to wonder what had led to this proliferation of single giant turbines when a 425ft turbine was proposed at Wherstead, near Ipswich, on land that includes Jimmy’s Farm, run by Jimmy Doherty and made famous by his 2002 BBC television series. It is owned by the Aldous family, some of whom I know and who should know better.
For this enormous turbine, no less than five times taller than a small electricity pylon, will be seen from not one but two areas of outstanding natural beauty: the Dedham Vale, which protects Constable country, and the Suffolk coast and heaths, which includes the River Orwell. Indeed it will be visible from the birthplace of the painter John Constable in East Bergholt: a completely alien structure on an unprecedented scale for south Suffolk.
Soon each of the two picturesque peninsulas to the north and south of the Dedham Vale, where I live, are to be blighted by their own single giant turbine. Yet the tallest will generate only about 0.002% of UK electricity consumption.
Not that useful, especially after European Union ministers sensibly decided last week that we no longer need to adhere to a legally binding target for renewable energy. We will decide how to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions at the lowest cost. About time. We have already sacrificed the coasts of Cornwall, the Welsh hills and, in Scotland, the Lammermuirs, the southern uplands, Shetland and some of the Western Isles to wind farms.
Arguably sacrifices are needed where the wind blows strongest for our energy security. But what is the point of single turbines? Some are notoriously inefficient and are harvesting subsidies, rather than wind: you can see one by the M4 in Berkshire, and another by the M25. The one by the M4 produces only half as much electricity as the best-placed turbines — those on west-facing coasts and hills.
I discovered last week that there has been a veritable explosion in planning applications for single giant wind turbines in the past year. The Renewable Energy Foundation, which looked at the figures for me, discovered an extraordinary trend: that out of 535 small wind developments of between 0.5 and 2.3 megawatts built, awaiting construction or in the planning system, 291 appeared in the past year. That is 291 landscapes spoilt unnecessarily, instead of many fewer if the turbines had been included in actual wind farms.
What is going on? It seems the wind farm companies have spotted a loophole. Planning inspectors tend to handle single turbine applications by written representations, not a planning inquiry at which objectors give evidence in person. So single turbines are much more likely to be approved, despite their lack of efficiency.
A case in point is an area near Duddo Stones, a 4,000-year-old stone circle in Northumberland, where a large wind farm was turned down by an inspector at a public inquiry in 2010. Last week an inspector decided that a single turbine measuring 242ft could go ahead.
With that decision our energy policy reached the apogee of incoherence. It was already reaching the heights of absurdity because the Conservative party was claiming that it was reining in spending on onshore wind farms while Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, claimed that more onshore wind farms were needed.
We would need to build 20,000 single giant turbines to meet the renewable electricity targets. That would visually blight most of the country. The only winners are the landowners and wind energy firms, which pick up an average of £200,000 in annual subsidies for each big turbine.
Building single giant turbines everywhere annoys the greatest number for the least benefit — a suicidal policy for the Tories in the countryside, where they are under pressure from UKIP, which is critical of onshore wind turbines.
An approach that gives value for money should mean that we build wind farms only where the wind blows strongest. This should spell the end of inefficient single turbines. It is time this change of attitude was made absolutely clear to the planners — or thousands of people who live in the countryside, like my friend with the view, will be out to punish the government come the next election.