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Wales has love/hate relationship with wind power

Chris Scott

Wind farms such as the one pictured above could provide Wales with £2.5 billion over the next forty years and 2,000 jobs per annum during that time.

Wind farms such as the one pictured above could provide Wales with £2.5 billion over the next forty years and 2,000 jobs per annum during that time.

The world has changed. It used to be that those advocating for cleaner energy and campaigning against fossil fuels would be dismissed as tree-hugging hippies and business and the general public would carry on driving their SUVs and even threw their plastic, glass and general waste out altogether! Not today. People take much more pride in their hybrid vehicles and how much they recycle.

The business world is similar. Once seen as the enemy of the environmental movement, the business world has embraced the new green movement as there seems there is a lot of their type of green in that market too.

All around the globe renewable energy markets are exploding and the nations hoping to stay at the forefront of the world markets need to be investing in renewable and sustainable energy as fossil fuel supplies dwindle and the damage that human impact has caused on the globe becomes ever more apparent.

Wales is no different, earlier this month Regeneris Consulting and Cardiff Business School released a report demonstrating the potential impact wind energy can have on the Welsh economy.

Professor Calvin Jones of Cardiff business school and one of the authors of the report, explained to The Archer, “If we reach the Welsh government’s own targets you’d be looking at almost £2.5 billion in the value added over the next forty years and about 2,000 jobs per annum during that time. So it would have a reasonably good economic impact.”

The proposed onshore wind farm would be placed in the rural area of mid-Wales and has caused some concern from a number of environmental groups.

“We’re totally opposed to (the plans),” Peter Ogden, director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), said. “We can’t see that the advantages of having it from a renewable energy point of view, in any way outweighs the damage that will be done to the landscapes and the environments of that area.”

One of the biggest concerns seems to revolve around the impact the wind farms could have on the tourism economy of rural Wales.

“The tourist economy of mid-Wales depends on the quality of the landscapes and these turbines are probably going to kill a lot of the tourism in that area,” Mr Ogden stated. “It’s killing the goose that laid the golden egg as far as we’re concerned in Wales. When you consider that the environment of Wales is worth £9 billion a year to the economy of Wales and rural areas account for one in six jobs… The economic equation doesn’t stack up. The renewable energy equation doesn’t stack up.”

Prof. Jones disagrees, “When we think of tourism, anti-wind advocates would say that excessive wind farm construction negatively impacts tourism when the evidence, in fact, shows that tourists aren’t particularly put off by wind farms,” he said. “In fact tourists quite like to see them because tourists, particularly environmental orientated, rural tourists understand the challenges that we face. So, while obviously a number of individual tourists may be put off, I suspect the problem is that quite a lot of the residents don’t like them and they look for excuses why they don’t want to see them and one of those is the negative impact on tourism.”

The residents and those already employed in rural Wales have been another sticking point between the pro-wind and anti-wind supporters, with the latter claiming the wind farms will destroy more jobs than they create.

Again, Prof. Jones isn’t so sure, “What I think you will find is that many of the people who are already employed in rural areas, farmers for example, are amongst the strongest proponents for wind-farms because they get the rents,” he said. “When you think of the forestry commission and the farming sector, these industries understand that the land is already industrialised and wind farms are just a new way of pushing that industrialisation further. There’s no reason why you can’t farm under a wind turbine.”

Prof. Jones does, however, concede that more can be done to make the relationship between environmentalists and industrialists more harmonious.

“Of course there’s tensions. Especially in our big developments, when tourists want to use a particular path which gets blocked off because of wind farm development,” he added. “I think what I would say is that at the moment we don’t have a very well structured policy to understand those trade-offs and that’s what we need.”

A further hot topic between the two camps comes from the fact that, as well as the wind farms, a new transportation system will have to be built to connect the farms to the UK’s national power grid.

“The major concern is the damage that is being caused to Wales as a result of the need to have to get electricity from a remote part of Wales into the national grid,” Mr Ogden said. “The nearest link-up is 45 kilometres away. It’s not just the damage to the site where the turbines are, it’s that corridor of land that new transmission line will have to go through.”

Mr Ogden also advocated for more offshore wind facilities as well as marine power to be development, something Prof. Jones says just isn’t fiscally possible.

“The difficulty is that, technically, offshore is better,” Jones explained. “Certainly in terms of visual impact offshore is better. But offshore is also a hell of a lot more expensive. Offshore wind is easily double the cost, per megawatt, of onshore wind. When developers come in the first thing they want to do is push the onshore opportunities and when that can go no further we will move of course to marine power. I think onshore will have that cost advantage for some time yet.

“Any renewables, whether that’s offshore wind, onshore wind, marine, tidal, etc., will require new connections. The problem is for onshore wind is that those connections are across very pretty parts of the countryside and people don’t like to see those pylons. There are technical issues with any new power that we replace our declining fossil fuels with and again it’s about finding the policy scenario that allows us to balance those different costs and benefits.”

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