All over the British Isles and Scotland in particular, big business is approaching small communities to encourage them to have wind power stations built in their community. They pick off small communities, one by one to get what they want: the industrialisation of the countryside.
The first chance the public get to air their views is usually at the community council meeting. At this meeting the developers typically send along four or five members of the development team which normally includes two people who never seem to have a job description apart from ‘Developer’ but who seem to pop up at similar meetings throughout Scotland, a Community Benefits Officer, a Community Consultation Consultant and a Planning Officer (from the developer)
The meeting is usually rammed with local folk who would never normally turn out for these meetings and they all want answers.
Of course, they don’t get any. That’s not the job of these five representatives from the developer. Their job is to smooth down any objection and gloss over any gritty details.
One such person who seems to crop up a quite a bit is Jennifer Gascoigne of nPower Renewables. She appeared recently on STV as the public face of the developer for Allt Duine Wind Power Station slap bang next to the Cairngorm National Park Boundary.
She also visited Kilninver and Kilmelford Community Council in February 2010 to represent the wind farm developer.
This is as good an example as any to show how the developer operates when attempting to pick off a small community.
At the meeting it was explained that the only planning issue they would be discussing was that of the wind turbines. Of course, the connection to the national grid (the chain of pylons required), the change of use of the local yacht harbour to industrial harbour to take delivery of the turbines and all the borrow pits required for the haul roads and foundations of the turbines were separate planning issues and so could not be discussed.
Of course this is ridiculous and that is what the developers like. They pick the communities off bit by bit and so decisions are asked to be made without all the facts being available.
The minutes from this particular meeting are enlightening; You can see how the developer works. The only fact that the developers team are clear about is the community benefit: They dangle a carrot of £2000 per year per megawatt generated. All others details are skimmed over.
I have pasted the relevant part of the minutes of the meeting below:
“6. Proposed Wind Farm at Raera:
Attending for this part of the meeting were representatives from NPower and associates as detailed:
Karen Fox- Developer.
Jennifer Gascoigne- Developer.
Katy Woodington- Community Benefits Officer.
Gary Parker- Community Consultation Consultant Gareth Mills- Planning Officer.
The application for the proposed wind farm is now in and the period for opinions to be lodged with the Council closes in 2 days time. From the telephone call survey (detailed below in Planning Applications) made a compilation of questions had been presented to NPower and they had produced a handout detailing the questions and answers.
Copies of this handout were distributed at the meeting with a copy being held with the Community Council for reference. Questions leading on from the discussion that followed the exploring of this handout and new questions were dealt with by the NPower team and also led on to lengthy discussion within the room. The main areas of concern were –
1. The application for the turbines is the application that has been lodged but this does not include the proposed jetty that will be required in Loch Melfort for the turbines to be transported to or the power lines that will be required to remove the generated electricity from the turbines. It was felt that it is difficult to consider the development when not all the information is present regarding all 3 facets because they will be proposed as 3 separate planning applications. Regarding the proposed jetty, Karen Fox pointed out that this is the subject of a Scoping Exercise happening at present so there is information within the public domain about this. Appendices to the application also detail alternative proposed routes to Taynuilt (likely point for introduction to the grid) on wooden poles carrying overhead lines.
2. Effects on Health.
3. Traffic and transportation.
4. Height of turbines and visual impact. It would appear that the proposed height is higher than those in the pictorial montages.
5. Effects on local tourist industry.
6. Felling of some ancient woodland and quantity commercial forestry removal.
7. Noise levels during construction period.
8. Community Benefits.
Karen Fox, on the issue of height of turbines suggested that if individuals care to supply her with the name or location of a wind farm they are familiar with she will ascertain the heights of those turbines for comparative purposes. She also left with the Community Council a copy of the Seil Community’s Question and Answer handout. Also issued was a leaflet re Community Benefits Packages. NPower broadly state they work along with Argyll and Bute Councils Policy of £2,000 per megawatt installation on an annual basis for the duration of the wind farm.
7. Planning Applications:
1. Proposed wind farm at Raera Forest comprising 15 turbines of height 125m.
The Community Council, as decided at the last Community Council meeting, have conducted a straw poll of the community. It was intended to obtain an up to date copy of the Electoral Register to do this, however, as a Community Council we are only entitled to a copy of the unabridged Electoral Register for election of Community Councillors. For our purpose we could only purchase the edited version that many people opt out of which would have been inaccurate for our task. It was decided to use the Kilninford Phone Directory as this was deemed to be the most accurate representation of our community. People were contacted by telephone, with messages left where possible and recalls done where no answer gained. It was acknowledged that this was not a standardised or all encompassing survey as only 55% of the community had been able to be made contact with by the 5 members of the Community Council completing the survey.
The intention was to try and gauge the general feeling of the community at large for the Community Council to see if there was a strong feeling for or against this proposed development. Of the 168 people whose opinion was gained the following results were obtained (the electorate as of 01.04.09 was 305)
For = 63
Against = 74
Don’t know = 31
Lengthy discussion ensued as to how best use this information accepting its limitations. Of those present in the hall the majority opinion was against the proposal, with 19 people stating they had not been contacted and of those 1 was for and 18 against the proposal. Again, discussion ensued as to how best to utilise this information in a valid way.
It was decided that AM would write to the Planning Department listing the areas of concern regarding the development as discussed in the previous part of the meeting.
Cllr MacDonald added it was useful to strenuously comment on the 3 elements of the development as separate planning applications causing difficulty in considering the overall proposal.
Cllr MacKay clarified that should more than 20 individual objections be received then an automatic public consultation process would begin. He added that, the exception of himself, due to Planning Committee obligations, the Local Councillors can be petitioned and asked for support and advice on planning issues.
Cllr Robertson commented she felt the Community Council had endeavoured to consult with the community and encouraged the community as individuals to write with their concerns.”
But Kilninver and Kilmelford Community Council have a pretty switched-on Planning Officer in Antoinette Mitchell. This is the letter she wrote to the Planning Office:
LETTER SENT TO THE PLANNING OFFICE BY THE COMMUNITY COUNCIL
PROPOSED WIND FARM, RAERA FOREST
Kilninver and Kilmelford Community Council
Kilninver, By Oban, Argyll PA34 4UT
February 10th. 2010
Application No. 09/01874/PP
RAERA WIND FARM
Dear Ms. Knox,
As the Planning Officer for the Kilninver and Kilmelford Community Council it is incumbent upon me to write on behalf of the community council to register the communities concerns/objections to the above application. I would like to thank you for extending that period of registration thus enabling me to present the views of the two village communities as fairly as possible.
In an attempt to alert everyone in our community and invite their comments, a flyer was put into the Kilninford Newsletter/Magazine before Christmas 09, (this is received freely by all households in the community), inviting people to contact their local councillors with their opinions as to the proposed erection of a wind farm in the Raera Forest. This met with a number of phone calls, but not a sufficient number to gain a good enough general feeling on which to base this letter. So those of the councillors who were able to took it upon themselves to contact members of the community either face to face or by phone. The result of this poll was that 166 people were contacted, over half the community, of which 31 had no opinion either way, 63 were for the wind farm and 74 were against.
On the evening of the 9th. February at the bi-monthly community council meeting, 5 representatives of 'RWE npower' attended and answered questions put to them by the community. I enclose a copy of some of those questions and their answers on which a number of our concerns/objections are based. Apart from the 5 npower representatives, 6 community councillors and 3 Argyll and Bute Councillors, there were 41 members of the community in attendance. The vast majority of those in attendance certainly over 80% were against the project and wished me to register their collective objections. It would also appear that those supporting the Wind Farm are understandably and mostly those least affected by it. However, I think it would be fair to say that some of the objectors would not necessarily object to all wind farms but are objecting to this one for the reasons I will be giving below. In a similar way there are supporters of the project that have some real concerns about this wind farm as described in it's present application.
The concerns/objections listed below are not in order of importance but just some of the many questions that the community generally feel have not been addressed satisfactorily by npower as yet.
1. The majority of land in Argyll and Bute suitable for the erection of wind farms has already been allocated. It would now appear that the renewable companies are trying to encroach upon the constrained areas. Raera Forest is a constrained area and one of Panoramic Quality. Should permission for Raera be granted it then lessens objections to other constrained areas being developed not only for WF's but other
projects, and has made a number of people question if anywhere is 'safe' from development? Guidelines for these areas were obviously put in place for good reason, it makes people nervous if they see 'major companies' being allowed to flout those guidelines.
2. Originally we were told by npower at their exhibition in August 2009, that they proposed to 'keyhole' the turbines in Raera Forest. The application now states that 720 hectares of forest is to be removed, as well as some ancient woodland. Even some of those strongly in favour of this project are alarmed by this prospect. Whereas we appreciate that this is a mature forest and possibly ready for felling, to be removing this amount of forest so quickly, in less than 18 months, with no intentions of replanting is unacceptable for countless reasons, better addressed by SEPA, The Forestry Commission and the RSPB. We acknowledge that the Forestry Commission also object to this application in it's present form. Forests have a very significant role
when it comes to tackling climate change and we believe the Scottish Government's Forest strategy is to expand the woodland cover of Scotland from 17% to 25% over the 21st century. This felling of Raera without the routine re-planting does not address the Scottish Government's 'Policy on control of Woodland Removal' and the majority of us find this unacceptable.
3. Another Government Guideline which 'npower' seem happy to ignore is the Scottish Planning Policy PAN 45 which advices that all dwellings both multi-settlements and single dwellings should be outside a 2Km radius of the WF. This was suggested for a 20meggawatt wind farm. The proposed Raera WF is 45megawatts which one would naturally suppose would increase this distance.
However, there are 8 dwellings, possible more well within the 2Km radius of 8 of the 15 turbines, one only 1.1Km away from 2 of the turbines, and a whole village and Primary School within 3Km radius. This 2Km radius has obviously been ignored. This was an issue hotly debated at the meeting on the 9th, as presumably this distance is considered necessary for health reasons. It is interesting to note that a number of European countries now are only considering erecting off shore WF's not onshore for health reasons. When n'power was asked about the studies on Wind Farm Syndrome, and there is a lot of scientific and independent research being carried out by Universities both here at home and abroad, the answer we were given is that there was 'no real proof that wind farm's caused any health problems'. Surely it is not for the public to prove that WF's can adversely affect people's and animal's health, but for Wind Farm developers to prove that they don't. I know one cannot prove a negative but we need substantially more reassurances. So for those of us so close to these turbines health issues remains a very real concern.
4. At the exhibition in August 09. We were shown a number of photos of Wind Farms, but none of these showed any turbines of the height proposed at Raera Forest. At the time I personally asked that the community be given photos of 125m turbines, as many people find it difficult to imagine this size. This has not been done. We are told that these 125m or 360ft. turbines would be the biggest in the UK and are among some of the biggest in Europe. Twice the height of those at Beinn Ghlas, which most of us are familiar with and 4 times the height of Lismore Lighthouse. This is a real issue for a number of the objectors who may find the project more acceptable if the turbines were only the height of those at Beinn Ghlas. This could then, maybe, negate some of the problems, certainly some of the visual ones.
5. Question 5 on the enclosed sheet refers to the often vague semantics of the application, which to one who has read all the statements appears to rely upon a lot of 'guesstimation'. When this was discussed at the meeting we were told that of course the representatives there had not written the document but that it was given over to 'experts' in the field of composing such 'tomes'. As none of these were naturally available for comment it again left most of the audience feeling unhappy about many issues.
6. Whereas most of those interested in the proposed WF appreciate that the problem of transmitting the electricity to Taynuilt has to be a separate application, nonetheless we find it difficult to separate the two as one is dependent upon the other. There are some people who would be more inclined to support the wind farm but object because of the thought of hundreds more poles and wires stretched across our glorious
countryside, and particularly if the chosen route happens to be the iconic and as yet unspoilt Braes of Lorn.
Likewise while appreciating again that a separate application has to be made for the possible erection of a Pier at Loch Melfort, clearly a different site, again it is difficult to consider all the implications of the WF without considering this too. This would change a Yacht Haven into a commercial port, as it would be permanent, and a lot of other
people would find this unacceptable, even if they support the WF. Again I appreciate it is a separate application and should not be commented upon here, but you can understand the community's frustration and their even greater confusion on learning that separate applications will have to be made for the borrow pits?? Some people are inclined to feel that this is neither necessary and perhaps an 'unconventional' way of
n'power trying to manipulate the outcome of the project in their favour, as well as presumably involving the community in the study of yet more applications with requests to register opinions. It makes one lose the will to live!
7. Another very heated debate has been the noise implications for which there is very little evidence that the general public can understand to assure them that they will not be affected. A number of people including myself have stood under turbines and had a conversation, but this has been a brief interlude during the day. At night, when most of our world in this area is silent the constant thrum of these enormous turbines has
been likened to a Jumbo jet taking off at source, this based upon the decibels and tables produced by n'power themselves. Whereas this may be alarmist it remains evident that for this size turbine the nontechnical/scientific amongst us have no real assurances that for those living within a few kilometres of them noise and subsonic noise won't be a real issue.
8. The sheer size of these turbines poses a very real concern for all the objectors and some of the supporters when they consider the visual implications upon this glorious county of Argyll. The A816 is a scenic route and a much used tourist route down to Kilmartin Glen, especially Glen Gallian and the Oude dam area where in the applicants own statement 8.88 of the Technical Report the turbines 'would cause a prominent
change in the character and quality of the view.' For many of those living and visiting Argyll for the scenery this is unacceptable.
9. However, altruistic renewable companies would like to appear to be, they are businesses and into renewables to make money and to gain their government certificate which allows them to operate. Their prime concern is not the planet or CO2 emissions and the answer to Q8, in the light of other independent studies is vastly different.
The fact that none of the electricity produced would benefit the communities of K and K, that the WF affects, but is being sold on to England, does little to add to it's support. If the local community was to receive 'green' or 'free electricity from this project then doubtless it would have many more supporters. The so called 'monetary' enhancement that the communities could be offered will always fall far short of the
enormous profits the developers and the landowners would receive from such a project, and a number of locals object to the scarring of their landscape to provide England with electricity and to the lining of the pockets of non local investors.
As the Turbines are produced outside the UK and the Towers in England the local economy will receive very little boost from local employment and that only over the construction period. Many feel this will not compensate for the loss of income that could be felt from the possible decline in tourists. Little was said to re-assure us that the tourist industry won't be affected even if only marginally by the WF. Many supporters of WF's don't choose to holiday near or in site of them and this area is very dependent on Tourism. It is interesting to note that none of the Council's promotional videos that show the wonderful views of Argyll shows a wind farm!
10. As yet n'power cannot tell us whether they are extracting north or south. So which village will have the 44-52 HGV movements a day for the 18 month construction period and the noise and C02 pollution accompanying those movements. Whatever they decide I think all the community both for and against this project have very, very real concerns as to how the A816 is ever going to cope with this additional traffic movement, clearly it won't. Although at the meeting they have said that they would make the Kilmelford Village Bridge suitable to take the width, weight and length of the enormous turbine lorries they are not prepared to do anything to the bridge at Oude dam. At the moment we fail to see how this can possibly be negotiated and apparently n'power are waiting for the council to re-locate this bridge, a project I believe has now been put off until 2013 for financial reasons? The whole torturous route of the A816 from Loch Feochan through to Kilmelford is a dangerous road at the best of times with all these additional HGV movements, the community is gravely concerned about the number of serious/ fatal accidents that could happen.
From the last 3 pages you can see that there are a number of 'real' concerns that the community of Kilninver and Kilmelford have about this proposed Wind Farm in Raera Forest. In general the feeling seems to be that there are still so many unanswered questions and uncertainties that as it stands at the moment the application should be rejected. However, if there is a public meeting at sometime a number of other questions may be raised and hopefully answered, as the above are just a few of the questions that I have been asked most often and that I feel are of predominant importance to our communities. Again I reiterate that there are a number of people who support the general idea of Wind Farms but not this one mainly because of the site, the size of the towers and their proximity to the community of Kilninver.
I thank you again for extending the period of time to allow us to register these concerns and objections with you and thank you for your patience in considering them.
Antoinette N.M. Mitchell, BA, ACP, TEFL.
(Planning Officer for Kilninver and Kilmelford Community Council)
BUT: However good the local planning officer is, if it is a large windfarm and the locals say “NO,” it is then referred up to The Scottish Government and invariably, they say “Yes”
So, the planning system is totally discredited. And the local communities’ lives are trashed. Jenny Gascoigne continues onto her next target and the developers will make millions in profit.
All this is paid for by the chap paying his electricity bill. That’s you and me, that is.