The renewable energy industry has hit back at a report claiming a “dramatic proliferation” of wind turbines is blighting the English countryside, warning “an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics” should not be allowed to derail public support for the technology.
Polls published during the past two weeks have highlighted the popularity of wind and other renewable energy sources as a means of cutting long-term energy bills and reducing the UK’s reliance on insecure energy imports.
As many as nine in 10 people want more green power sources according to one YouGov survey, while a separate Ipsos Mori questionnaire found 68 per cent of respondents in rural areas were in favour of more wind power, compared to 66 per cent in cities.
But while a major new report published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) acknowledges renewables must be part of a balanced energy mix, it says both landscapes and communities are threatened by up to 4,100 wind turbines of 30 metres or taller either operational, under construction, or in planning.
The wind industry says this figure is more than double the numbers actually proposed and accuses the CPRE of “scaremongering” by including offshore turbines in its list.
The CPRE is calling on the government to provide more clarity on the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects will be installed and wants the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines “without unacceptable damage” to be formally taken into account in planning decisions.
The report also recommends that the wind industry should be made responsible for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.
“CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations,” said Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive.
“Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.”
He reiterated that the group was not against all wind turbines, unlike the recently launched National Opposition to Windfarms body, arguing that “it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs”.
But he stressed that businesses and policymakers, “must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection”.
Trade body RenewableUK said the CPRE’s concerns were “misplaced”, arguing that only 1,826 turbines are planned for England at present, as part of a total of 8,581 for the entire UK. [Is this the number planned by theor members or include non-members]
Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s director of policy, agreed a balance between building renewable energy and maintaining visual aesthetics had to be struck, but argued the planning system’s environmental safeguards are already among the most stringent in the world.
“The biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change,” Edge added. “Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power, and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy.
“It’s clear that only some locations are suitable for wind – but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing.”
This view was echoed by Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, who pointed out the economic benefits arising from wind power.
“It’s time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money,” he said.
Tony Juniper, leading environmentalist and chair of Action for Renewables, a UK-wide campaign promoting renewable energy, added that the countryside had always been shaped by prevailing economic and social drivers and should not be “frozen” when it could help the UK deal with pressing environmental challenges.
“The vast majority of the people in this country, and especially those in rural areas, understand the need for sensibly-sited wind turbines to build the home-grown energy systems that will create jobs, attract investments, generate power and ultimately saves us money,” he said. “I don’t believe that an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics should be allowed to stop the country reaping these benefits.”
This is an easy dispute to resolve, both sides should publish their databases online and they can then be compared.