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Wind farms stir up rural fury
Demonstrations against a vast farm at Cefn Croes in Mid-Wales could rival anger over Newbury bypass

Mark Townsend

Wind farms, hailed as the solution to Britain's clean energy crisis, face a storm of protest. A campaign aims to stop the creation of dozens of new ones - a central plank of government energy strategy. 

The farms would provide power for 1.5 million homes, but a campaign was launched last week after a contentious decision to approve Britain's biggest onshore wind farm in the Cambrian mountains of Mid-Wales - without a public inquiry. 

Cefn Croes may become a cause célèbre similar to the Newbury bypass protest in the 1990s, and could spoil the Department of Trade and Industry's vision of a wind-based renewable energy sector. 

Another 36 projects - half the total number so far - are passing through the planning system. Seven are in Wales, 15 in England and 14 in Scotland.

Angela Kelly, chairwoman of Country Guardian, which promotes energy efficiency, said applications for wind farms were flooding in so 'thick and fast' her organisation was struggling to monitor them.

At a confidential meeting at Welshpool in Powys last week, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales discussed moves to thwart construction of the Cefn Croes wind farm through legal action. It is supported by a disparate, but determined, network of groups, including the Open Spaces Society, whose spokeswoman Kate Ashbrook warned: 'A national tragedy is unfolding. The Government has to reconsider its wind strategy.' 

Merfyn Williams, director of the campaign, said: 'Legal action would constitute a declaration of war against the inadequacies of our planning system.' 

Consultant Geoff Sinclair, who has represented environmentalists in 27 public inquiries, is 'confident' they have a winnable case. 

Not only could the decision halt this summer's planned construction of 39 turbines the height of Salisbury Cathedral in an area of nat ural beauty, it could also act as a legal precedent to curb what critics call Tony Blair's 'craze for wind'. 

Further opposition to wind energy emerged last week when two of three large wind farms destined for sites in Montgomeryshire - 18 miles east of Cefn Croes - were rejected on the grounds that their effect must be considered 'cumulatively'. 

Ten miles south of Cefn Croes, there are plans for 165 turbines 400ft high. The campaign has indicated that legal action could be taken to stop this. 

Such opposition will dismay the Government, which views wind power as a means of meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets, as well as keeping promises that 10 per cent of UK power will be from renewable sources by 2010. 

The hostility to the technology in Wales is such that the British Wind Energy Association admitted to The Observer it had begun targeting Scotland. Eighty per cent of the wind farms on the drawing board are destined for Scotland, where political support can get them pushed through the planning process in four months. 

The Country Guardian says it has details of 100 applications in Scotland. Alison Hill, spokeswoman for the British Wind Energy Association, which represents 201 companies, said: 'We will go where we are welcome. At the moment Scotland is very welcoming.' 

However, plans for the Isle of Skye are opposed by residents who fear the island's beauty will be tarnished with the building of a £330m farm with 28 turbines up to 300ft high at Edinbane, overlooking Loch Greshornish. 

John Hodgson, of Skye Wind Farm Action Group, said it might take legal action if Energy Minister Brian Wilson ignored opposition. Wilson has claimed in a Skye journal that a quarter of the anti-wind farm letters in the British press are the work of 16 people. 

The firm involved in the Skye proposals, Amec, also plans a 250-turbine plant on the Hebridean island of Lewis that will sprawl across 28,000 acres. 

In England, campaign groups have been formed in Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Northamptonshire to obstruct developments. 

Six weeks ago Britain's biggest offshore wind farm, two miles off Great Yarmouth, was approved by the Government. It should be capable of generating 76MW, double that of any existing wind energy plant. 

Offshore farms could prevent what critics believe will see up to 3,000 square miles of land carpeted with wind farms. Advocates of wind power maintain the electricity produced is as cheap as, if not cheaper than, that from conven tional means. Unlike fossil fuels, they argue, it offers no harmful emissions and is far safer than nuclear power. 

Hoever, critics claim that even generating power from the breeze can be dangerous, pointing to cases across Europe involving turbine fires and the ejection of ice or broken blades. 

There is concern, too, about the economics. Denmark, which produces 13 per cent of electricity from wind power, has halted a programme that has produced the most expensive energy in Europe. 

Mikael Jakobsen of the Danish pressure group Neighbours to Windmills said: 'Wind power in Denmark is a big mistake. The greatest economical and environmental disaster ever.'

Sunday  June 2nd 2002