Western Daily Press , 04 July 2006

The great wind farm debate looks set to enter a new phase as a council prepares to launch a project that could mean dozens more turbines springing up across the landscape. In a bid to meet Government demands for authorities to produce more renewable energy, Somerset County Council is putting the finishing touches to a Wind Energy Initiative.

Being discussed by its executive next month, it would see the authority joining forces with an as yet unnamed wind energy firm to site turbines on council land throughout the county.

A list of potential sites is already being drawn up and, once plans are submitted, the county council will write to the appropriate district planners in support of the application.

The authority would not reveal how many turbines it hoped to erect under the initiative, but based on previously stated targets for wind power generation it is likely to be at least two dozen.

As well as helping to fulfil it's own renewables quota, the council hopes that the pro-wind policy will blaze a trail and encourage others to follow suit.

This policy will be warmly applauded by many in the green lobby who think wind is the most viable way of halting the march of global warming.

But there are others, even some within the green movement, who remain unconvinced by wind farm technology and believe the turbines, which can be more than 330ft tall, are ruining the countryside.

Almost every wind farm application has been greeted with opposition from some local residents and produced a hugely protracted and costly planning battle.

Despite this troubled climate, a spokesman for Somerset County Council said it was proud to be pushing for wind power.

"Just because the climate is not right in terms of difficult decisions still needing to be made on other sites, that is not an excuse for us to stand on our heels," he said.

"We need to take a lead and are hoping to do that sooner rather than later. It's always a challenge, people don't want to rely on nuclear energy and want sustainable sources.

BUT we have a community leadership role and if that means sometimes taking difficult decisions then we have to do it.

"We are not alone, every authority in the UK will have to do it. We realise there will always be objectors and supporters, it's about finding the right locations with the least impact."

In May the county's first wind turbine was given the go ahead near Chewton Mendip, but only after a three-year battle and a planning inquiry which overturned the unanimous objection of Mendip District Council.

Two major applications are under way in the county.

Your Energy, the company behind plans for a 12-turbine farm at West Hinkley, was refused permission by West Somerset District Council in the face of significant local opposition, but is appealing against the decision with an inquiry due to take place in January. Plans for a five-unit farm Brent Knoll, submitted by Gloucestershire-based Ecotricity, are currently in the hands of Sedgemoor District Council, but have already been the subject of vociferous opposition.

Last month green guru Sir David Bellamy visited the site and launched a scathing attack on the race for wind energy, labelling it stupid and accusing the wind farm lobby of being part of a money- making gravy train.

Sue Jones, part of the West Hinkley Action Group which has opposed that development, is also far from impressed by the Somerset's approach. "My view is that wind energy is not the solution," she said. "It's just too intermittent compared to say tidal energy.

"Most of the wind turbines that are proposed are slap bang in the middle of the countryside.

"This island is just too small to have thousands of turbines.

"This area has done its bit for the country's energy, we have two nuclear power stations on our doorstep and may get a third.

"The council is doing it because they it is given targets by the Government and it will probably be punished of it doesn't meet one. I think it's the Government trying to be seen to be green."

To dedicated wind farmers, however, those fighting the developments are jeopardising efforts to fight against climate change.

"There are a lot of pressure groups which feed off myths and misinformation," said a Your Energy managing director Richard Mardon.

Most opinion polls show well over three-quarters of the population in favour of wind farms. At West Hinkley we have easily that level of support. It does tend to divide communities but not to the extent that some might think, the vocal minority get heard above the silent majority."

HE praised Somerset for being bold enough to throw its weight behind the race for wind power.

"I welcome the initiative," he said. "One of the biggest problems of getting these programmes through is the planning system, anything that makes that easier has to be a good thing."

It is understood that the county council aims to produce more than 80MegaWatts of energy by renewable means by 2010. More than half of this is likely to come from wind farms as other sources, such as tidal, are still being developed.

With the Government expected to reveal the conclusions of its energy review in the coming weeks, Andrew Manning, who heads the kNOll to wind farm group opposing the Brent Knoll plans has many reservations.

He said: "There is a reasonable amount of evidence now that wind isn't the best way to meet renewable energy targets."
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