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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 15:33 GMT
West: In whose back yard?
Tess Holland
Tess Holland
Politics Show BBC West

Britain is committed to generating more power from renewable sources like wind and water, but it is much harder to agree where these eco-friendly power plants should go.

The Politics Show West looks at the controversy over building wind farms in the West country.

wind turbine
Suitably windy locations are often places of great beauty

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is the three blades of a wind turbine on the horizon at Nympsfield, in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire.

In this setting the structure looks almost majestic, but it is comparatively small, and also a one off.

Throughout Cornwall wind turbines are a common sight, but in places like Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire they're more of a rarity, and residents are anxious to keep it that way.

In South Somerset in particular, a leading 'green energy' company, Ecotricity, is causing more than just a stir in the wind.

Two 100 metre tall turbines are proposed for the historic, hilltop village of Cucklington, near Wincanton, in the beautiful Blackmore Vale.

Local residents are so opposed to the over-sized wind turbines that they have set up an action group; they come out in force at every opportunity to make their views heard.

Not your average NIMBYs

Campbell Dunford, Chairman of the Save the Vale Action Group, is keen to emphasise that it is not just the huge visual impact that they oppose, they argue that onshore wind energy is both intermittent and unreliable, and that alternative local sources of renewable energy have not been properly considered.

Of course we need more renewable energy, but there is absolutely no point in raping your own countryside for this tiny, tiny gain, turbines onshore are wrong ... what happens when the wind doesn't blow?

Do we tell the hospitals to stop operating, the trains to stop running? They'll be blackouts if we rely on wind... it's a useful additional source, but it's not the answer.

Are they fighting a losing battle?

The government has targets and is not going to let them drop. The country needs to be producing 10% of its energy in a renewable form by 2010, and 20% by 2020, and regulations have recently been tightened.

Ministers want to make it far harder for councils to reject planning applications for wind turbines on a visual basis alone; it puts South Somerset District Council in an extremely difficult position.

Tim Carroll, leader of South Somerset District Council, is torn both ways:

We are well aware of the concerns and also the feelings in the vicinity ... we are not pursuing a policy that's exclusively based on wind turbines ... we have got hydro projects and methane wood gasification projects all in the pipeline.

What is the solution?

The problem seems to lie with the fact that suitably windy locations are often places of great beauty.

Could the solution be to find enough 'ugly' and windy places to site a large number of wind turbines, thereby keeping both residents and politicians happy?

Bristol City Council it seems have already had this idea. A feasibility study is being conducted at an industrial site at Avonmouth Docks, comprising of a 50 metre mast measuring wind speeds.

If the location proves windy enough then it solves both problems: increasing supplies of renewable energy as well as leaving beautiful countryside untouched.

Stephen Ward of the Centre for Sustainable Energy, agrees that this is a nice idea in theory, but in practice not realistic.

The case with wind is that you need to put wind turbines where there's plenty of wind, so that means either putting them on the coast or in open country... about 40% of Europe's wind power is in the UK, so it would be crazy not to use it.

With the development of other renewable energy technologies being a long way off, for now it seems, we'll be relying on the wind.

And this inevitably means that more wind turbines, whether 'alien structures' or 'graceful architecture', will be appearing across the landscape of the West.

What do you think?

Have your say. E-mail us, and watch the debate on the Politics Show.

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Politics from around the UK...

Meet presenter David Garmston
21 Feb 03  |  Politics Show
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18 Dec 03  |  England
Park against wind farm idea
26 Dec 03  |  Devon
Turbine test for Cornwall
02 Jan 04  |  Cornwall

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