Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Wind turbine application rejected by parish council

The wind turbine application for Windmill school was turned down by the parish council last night, thanks in part to my objections but also thanks to a couple of other councillors who also saw how ridiculous the suggestion was and helped make the case against it.  The application will now go to Telford & Wrekin Council's plans board who get to make the final decision.

On reading the initial application I did some research.  Well, quite a lot actually and spoke to a couple of MEPs who know a lot about wind turbines.  I also got into protracted debates with people on Facebook, none of which live in Brookside but they were in favour of wind turbines in general.  The result of all this was a two page document detailing what is wrong with the application and why its educational value is virtually non-existent unless you were intending to teach people where you would never site a wind turbine.

It's worth noting that the person or persons with a professional understanding of the planning system and in particular with wind turbine applications that told the applicant what to put in the application and supporting letter anticipated objections and recognised how inappropriate the application was because there are false statements in the application and pre-emptive quoting of guidelines out of context to suggest that there are no reasonable grounds for objection.  My belief is that the application was made with the considerable assistance of an officer at Telford & Wrekin Council and the company who is trying to sell them the wind turbine.

I am not opposed to renewable energy production even though I don't believe in the man made global warming scam.  Clearly we can't continue to burn dead dinosaurs forever and a day.  However, where green activists are interested only in pushing their agenda regardless of the cost or impact on the rest of the population, I am firmly of the opinion that renewable energy production needs to be constrained by what is economically viable and good for society as a whole.

The last government purposely scheduled power stations - such as the one here in Buildwas - for decommissioning without planning new power stations to provide enough power to keep meet our needs.  There will be power shortages in the next few years - that's not an opinion, it's a fact admitted by the British government already!  Wind turbines can't produce anywhere like enough power to supply our needs and they aren't economically sustainable.  No company will build a wind farm without a subsidy from the taxpayer because they can't make a profit out of them - they produce hardly any electricity and they cost a fortune to build and run.  Without taxpayer subsidies, there wouldn't be any wind farms because they don't make good business sense.

Solar panels are more viable than wind turbines but still require taxpayers money to make them pay.  I do believe that solar power will become economically viable in the near future - most likely in the form of solar roof tiles - but it isn't now.  However, it is the least expensive way of producing renewable energy and if the school were to propose putting solar panels on the roof of the school and generating electricity that they would use then I would actively support that application.  That is a good educational tool.  In fact I suggested that at the meeting last night, as did other councillors and that suggestion will be going back with the parish council's rejection.

Rather than repeat myself any further, here is the two page objection I put together over the last week:

House of Commons Library
Wind Farms - Distance from housing
Standard Note: SN/SC/5221
Last updated: 5 July 2012
Author: Christopher Barclay
Section: Science and Environment

England has no separation distance, although noise limits suggest a minimum separation distance of 350 metres for a typical wind turbine.  Lincolnshire County Council has a minimum distance of 700m from residential premises. In Wales it is 500m and in wind farm obsessed Scotland it is 2km.

Planning Application
The application has been submitted by a member of staff at the school who is married to the Estates & Investments Team Leader for Development at Telford & Wrekin Council. In my opinion, the application has been prepared by a council officer with experience in steering through inappropriate and contentious planning applications.  In my view, the objectivity of the whole application can be called into question – a planning application is not a sales pitch.

Section 14: Existing use of where the turbine is intended to be built is specifically a nature reserve in the school grounds.

Section 15: There are many trees on the site but the application states there are none. The second question asking if there are trees adjacent to the site that could influence the development is unanswered and the answer is yes.

Block Plan & Location Plan
Both plans fail to mark out the nature reserve in the school grounds that the wind turbine would be built in.  There is no plan showing elevation of the surrounding properties, in particular the houses on Burnside which are raised in relation to the school itself and will have a clearer view from their upstairs windows.

Accompanying Letter
The accompanying letter claims that “the proposed wind turbine is considered small scale, being 10.2m (approx 30’) in height.  10.2m is 33 and a half foot, more than half the height of the Angel of the North statue.  It claims that the turbine won’t be visible from Bishopdale because of the line of mature trees, omitting to point out that the trees will provide next to no barrier in the winter when they have no leaves on them.  The letter goes on to say that a Jubilee orchard will be planted to further obscure the view but this isn’t in any plan so how much it will obscure the view is not known and more trees will reduce the efficiency of the wind turbine even further.

The letter claims that the same row of trees that would obscure the view of the turbine from Bishopdale would also obscure the view from Briarwood and Burnside.  There are no trees obscuring the view of the proposed site from Briarwood or Birchmore (which isn’t mentioned) and the trees across the boundary with Burnside are much smaller than along the boundary with Bishopdale.

The letter claims that the turbine will be very quiet but doesn’t back this up with actual noise levels, nor does the accompanying manufacturers’ fact sheet.  Guidelines say that wind turbines should be located at least 350m from residential properties for noise reasons.  This is a small scale wind turbine so wouldn't be as noisy as those the guideline is intended for but it will still produce noise by the nature of what it does - this is a matter of simple physics.

The letter points out that national planning guidelines shouldn’t require the applicant to prove that that there is a need for the turbine and that it should be recognised that even small scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions but this is a point that is very relevant to this application, particularly when taxpayers money is being spent.  The site is surrounded by houses and trees with trees in close proximity to where the turbine would be built.  There is also a plan to plant an orchard nearby which would further reduce the amount of wind that would actually reach the turbine.  The lack of wind, coupled with the fact that the turbine only has a maximum generation capacity of 0.3kw means it will, in reality, produce very little electricity. Whilst the mediocre efficiency of the wind turbine may be good enough for the school’s requirements (although I very much doubt it will), it’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be effectively zero.  The average wind turbine has an environmental payback ratio of 0.29 which means it takes almost 3 and a half years for the savings in harmful emissions produced in the manufacture of the turbine to be negated by what is offset by the "clean" electricity that it produces.  This is with a conventional wind turbine sited for maximum effectiveness which is not the case with this proposed wind turbine, which is being located to reduce its visual impact in a location that isn’t particularly windy anyway and as a result will produce a fraction of its maximum capacity.  It would therefore take many years to save enough harmful emissions to offset what has been produced in constructing and maintaining this proposed wind turbine, if it ever does.  The turbine isn't being connected to the school or the grid and the building it will be connected to (a shed) doesn't have power now so it won't reduce the school's consumption at all and the small amount of power it produces won't be enough to power (for example) electrical equipment in the aforementioned shed.  As one of the stated aims of the wind turbine is to educate children on renewable energy, this would be a terrible example to use unless the lesson was where you would never put a wind turbine if you want it to be useful (which it clearly won't) or how to waste taxpayers money.

The letter quotes what would appear to be a very old policy on renewable energy developments, judging by the use of the word “district” in place of “borough”.  The policy states that the council will support the production of renewable energy to reduce local dependence on fossil fuels, “moving the district towards a position of self sufficiency in terms of energy production”.  Clearly this cannot be construed as applying to this application as the turbine will contribute nothing to “local self sufficiency in terms of energy production” unless “local” is to be defined as the wooden shed it will supply power to which would clearly be a ridiculous interpretation.

The pictures included in the letter as evidence that the turbine would be obstructed from view by trees have been taken in the summer when the trees are heavy with leaves.  In the winter, the trees will provide barely any obstruction of the view of the turbine.  The view from the western site boundary has been taken form a low level over a hedge, giving the impression that the bushes will obscure the view from the houses.  The view from the northern site boundary has been taken roughly at head height, ignoring the fact that the properties behind the photographer are flats and their living rooms face onto the field.

The school has applied for a grant to buy the wind turbine but the taxpayers will still contribute to the cost of building it.  It will be maintained at the taxpayers expense for the next 20 years when it will be decommissioned at the taxpayers expense.  It won’t be connected to the grid so there will be no revenue from it and it won’t be connected to the school’s supply so it won’t save the school money. It will be a drain on public finances for the next 20 years and its main educational value lies in demonstrating where not to build a wind turbine.  This is not good value for money.

Thin end of the wedge
Telford & Wrekin Council's draft sustainability plan highlights the green edge of Telford near Brookside as a possible location for wind turbines.  The area highlighted extends from the Wrekin, all the way round south Telford and up to Priorslee.  We already have large wind turbines at Madley Academy visible from as far away as Aqueduct and the more wind turbines that are built in this area, the more likely we are to see a large wind farm built nearby.