The march of the wind farms
PUBLISHED: 12:24 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 17:06 22 February 2013
Fears for Kent countryside
Fears are growing that unspoilt parts of Kent could become covered with massive wind turbines as developers look to take advantage of Government incentives to construct renewable energy generators.
A pair of giant turbines have just started working on the Isle of Sheppey, while a controversial plan for Snave, Romney Marsh, could see a further six 125 metre structures added to the 26 115m tall ones already in operation a few miles away at Little Cheyne Court, near Lydd.
Three vast offshore installations are also in place with Vattenfall’s Kentish Flats off the coast of Herne Bay and Whitstable already having 30 turbines – with permission for a further 17 more and the Thanet Offshore Windfarm having 100. Also off the coast, 17 miles from North Foreland, London Array took on the title of the world’s largest wind farm in December, when the last of the 175 turbines went in as its first phase of construction was installed.
Further schemes have been put forward for Sheerness and Sellindge, while a single turbine has been operating since 1989 close to Richborough. And this month a plan for four turbines at Old Romney located at Angney Farm was submitted to Shepway District Council.
Thanks to its relatively shallow waters and strong winds, Britain has more offshore wind capacity than the rest of the world combined. And the flat landscape of Romney Marsh and North Kent is seen as ideal for their construction by companies who say they are committed to seeing Britain reach the goal of generating 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, as set by the European Union.
Wind farms are also seen as important to the Climate Change Act of 2008, which targets a cut of carbon emissions of 80 per cent by 2050. But opponents of the giant structures say they are a massive blight on the landscape, a hazard for birds and use up valuable agricultural land.
Developer Partnerships for Renewables unveiled its two turbine installation at Standford Hill Prison on the Isle of Sheppey earlier this month. The power generated is put into the National Grid while the operators also pay rent based on sale of electricity to the Ministry of Justice. Further plans are for the power to be used directly by the three nearby prisons.
They were officially switched on by local MP Gordon Henderson, who said: “I am a big supporter of renewable energy, not only from an environmental perspective, but because I believe it is vital to long term energy security in our country.
“Despite what the critics would have us believe, wind can become a cheap and clean energy source. Of course where wind turbines are located is important. I believe these two turbines are in an acceptable location.”
The developers say careful environmental monitoring will protect wildlife and plants and the project will provide power for 2,900 homes.
Chief executive Stephen Ainger said: “Personally I worry about climate change and no-one knows exactly what it will mean for the future.
“Renewables are, in my opinion, an essential part of the energy mix and, while they won’t solve all the problems of generating power and cutting carbon emissions, developments such as this will certainly help those goals.”
Construction of the new turbines at the Vattenfall site, six miles from the shore, looks set to begin in 2015 with power generation started at the end of 2015 or early 2016. The company say this will enable power for 96,000 homes to be generated.
Goran Loman, Vattenfall’s project manager, said: “Kentish Flats Extension will make a major contribution to generation from Vattenfall’s large fleet of offshore wind capacity in UK waters and help the delivery of UK climate change and renewable energy obligations.
“The decision is good news for businesses in and around Whitstable and Herne Bay. We have already engaged with well over 100 local companies and we hope many of them will win business from the £150 million plus investment.”
The London Array was originally going to consist of 258 turbines, but this was reduced to 175 in order to protect a colony of red-throated divers.
These turbines are intended to generate 630 megawatts of electricity – enough to power two-thirds of Kent’s homes.
Fishermen from Ramsgate are not permitted to enter the wind farms, but some have given up the trade and now work on boats supplying the turbines. It is estimated that 90 new jobs will be created when an operations and maintenance base in the town’s harbour is fully functioning.
North Thanet MP Laura Sandys has stated she wants the area to become “a focus of renewable energy expertise”.
But on Romney Marsh people are less enthusiastic, with those opposed to the plans for Snave pointing to the use of prime agricultural land and a blighted landscape with the turbines 15 times higher than the nearby village church. They say they fear the rush to obtain the cash incentives available from Government could blight the area forever.
Opponents also point to the fact that existing Little Cheyne Court turbines, clearly visible from hills around Folkestone on one side and Rye on the other, are very rarely all functioning at any one time.
SOMBRE – Save Our Marsh, Block Rural Exploitation – is a group dedicated to combating the development plans. Formed to fight against the Snave development it has now widened its scope.
Its campaign states: “This is not just about Snave, this is about the threat of turbine industrialisation of the whole Romney Marsh.
“With current proposals identified in Old Romney and Snave, we fear that soon the whole area will be overwhelmed. And the beauty of the area will be lost as prime agricultural land is destroyed.”
Peter Faulkner, from Greatstone, runs a website promoting the marsh.
He said: “The area is special with its history and its marvelous churches. Both the historic churches at Snave and Old Romney would be dwarfed by the proposed turbines. I don’t even think they are very efficient. They don’t generate power when the wind isn’t blowing and if it blows hard they have to be shut down.”
Developers Ecotricity say, however, that Snave is “an excellent site for wind energy with enough resource to provide clean green electricity to power the equivalent of 9,800 homes a year”. The company said its other proposal for Harringe Brooks, Sellindge, will provide power for 11,800 homes. Both plans are still in the consultation stage, however.
Protect Kent say while accepting wind farms as part of a future energy mix it objects to the Snave proposal.
A spokesman said: “This project would visually alter the characteristics of the landscape in a drastic way. A recent survey looking at tranquility – a concept I admit it is difficult to define – rated the marsh as one of the most tranquil places in the country. The flat landscape makes any turbines extremely visually disruptive.”
Sussex has just one wind farm operational – a turbine which powers the Glynebourne opera facilities – while in Surrey the only turbines are used to provide electricty to a TV studio.