Welsh turbine debate reignited over power line plan

Every morning, when livestock farmer Olwyn Lewis checks on his cattle and sheep, he is confronted by a horizon dotted with 113 wind turbines.

Far from being upset by their presence, Mr Lewis is working with a power company to site three turbines on his own farm to provide an additional source of income.

Forty miles away at Welshpool, Jonathan Wilkinson farms in some of the UK’s most idyllic countryside, an unbroken landscape of green fields and trees.

But that scenery could soon feature dozens of pylons, five of which would be erected on Mr Wilkinson’s dairy farm.

The farm lies in the picturesque Vyrnwy valley, where the National Grid plans to erect 100 pylons and a major new substation on a 7.6ha site at Cefn Coch to connect six proposed wind farms to a high-voltage electricity network.

Mr Wilkinson, who is also chairman of campaign group Montgomeryshire Against Pylons, said that he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the chosen route.

“If they wanted to choose a route to maximise opposition, they’ve chosen it. If they wanted a fight, they’ve certainly got one now,” he said.

The pylons would only be erected if the wind farms are given planning consent and a public inquiry next year will decide the outcome of at least some of these applications.

In 2005, the Welsh government created Technical Advice Note (TAN) 8 which established seven areas called Strategic Search Areas where energy companies were invited to submit planning applications to develop wind farms. It was this initiative that attracted wind farm development to mid-Wales.

Those who oppose wind energy and wind turbines in mid-Wales and beyond are calling on the first minister and his government to review TAN 8, but so far there is no hint that will happen.

Mr Wilkinson said that in sanctioning TAN 8 the Welsh government had sought to industrialise rural mid-Wales.

The pylons earmarked for his farm will impact not just on farm production but on what he described as the “incredible beauty” of the area.

“That beauty brings tourism to the area; people come to this part of Wales to get away from industrialisation,” said Mr Wilkinson, who farms 142ha at Dyffryn Farm, Meifod.

There is little Mr Wilkinson and the other farmers affected by the project can do to prevent it going ahead. With the Electricity Act behind it, National Grid can pursue compulsory powers of easement if necessary.

Farmer protest

Currently, farmers are using the only means available to them, they are refusing to co-operate by not allowing National Grid’s agents on to their land.

“Apart from protesting there is not much we can do,” admitted Mr Wilkinson.

Some people have suggested that laying the electricity cables underground would present a solution, but this alternative is not without its drawbacks. “The area required would be equivalent to the width of the M6 running through the countryside. It would be a massive task and as a landowner I am well aware of the difficulties this would present,” said Mr Wilkinson.

There would be a large area of land that he would not be able to farm and above-ground cable junctions would be needed every 70m. Therefore this alternative would not be completely unobtrusive.

“We realise that the focus now needs to be on stopping the wind farms,” he said.

Turbines, and indeed pylons, are a source of contention. No one can argue that they don’t change the countryside, but those who support their proliferation insist they are a necessary evil if Britain is to create a sustainable source of renewable energy.

The voices in favour of developing wind energy are few and far between, but they believe their argument is a strong one.

Mr Lewis is one of those who rejects the opposition to the wind farms proposals, insisting instead that they would also bring benefits to the community.

He is a community councillor and a member of a group that is negotiating with energy company RES to maximise its obligation to deliver community benefits.

The wind turbines that RES wants to erect on Mr Lewis’ land at Abergwenlas, Llanbadarn Fynydd, are not connected to the pylon project, but they too have divided the local community. Powys County Council has not given permission for its development, but Mr Lewis hopes the authority will change its mind in due course.

“We need a diversity of power and this area has been designated for turbines because we have a low population. One of the reasons why the application has been opposed is because of the suggestion that it will have a detrimental effect on tourism, but this area has never had any tourism,” he insisted. “We live on the side of the A483. We have tried tourism in the past and it doesn’t work.”

Mr Lewis said wind energy presents an opportunity for his business to diversify. The area is designated as disadvantaged and the nearest reliable three-phase electricity supply is 12 miles away.

“We can’t have industry or do any of the things we could do if we had three-phase electricity,” he said. “These turbines were going to be our income. I have a son who wants to farm and the turbines would have shored up the business for the future.”

The group is seeking £5,000 a year for each megawatt installed, with the aim of distributing this money between the communities affected. “We want to negotiate for the best deal we can get,” said Mr Lewis.


Farmers must assess pylon effects

Landowners affected by the wind and pylon projects have been urged to look carefully at the likely implications for their land and businesses.

Country Land and Business Association Wales director Ben Underwood said the development would have huge implications for farmland and could greatly affect the ability of landowners to carry on their businesses.

“There will be a substantial effect on the countryside along the route and every farmer and landowner will need to assess the effect on their own business, both on the construction work and other losses associated with the pylons, including environmental and other surveys,” he said.

But Jeremy Lee, lead project manager for National Grid, said: “We understand people have concerns about overhead lines, but where they are used, we will work hard to reduce any visual effects by routing the line carefully and using appropriate pylon designs, which could include the new T-pylon.”

It will take at least three years of planning before work begins on the substation and cables in Powys.