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Reap the wild wind

Nick Watson
Nick Watson
Politics Show West Midlands

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When the wind blows, the West Midlands generates precisely no electricity for the national grid because there is not a single wind farm in the region - but could that all be about to change?

If you take a look at a map of the locations of the UK wind farms, then there is a huge black hole (or a white hole actually on my map) in the middle of the country where, currently, there are no operational wind farms at all.

Part of this is due to the fact that there are better locations - on the coasts, the Welsh mountains and places like Northern Ireland and Scotland - where they simply have more better conditions for them.

Lady using a megaphone

Imposing turbines

But it is also partly due to opposition to on-shore wind farm projects from people who may have to live by the increasingly large and imposing turbines.

There are currently six schemes at various stages of the planning process across the region.

Two in Worcestershire, at Upper Stensham and Lenchwick, one at Stonewall Hill in Herefordshire, two in Staffordshire at Abbots Bromley and Bleakhouse, near Burtonwood and one near Market Drayton in Shropshire.

Taking soundings

The largest is a project from Scottish Power Renewables for 10 new turbines at Lenchwick, overlooking the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire, which would generate enough power for around 10,000 homes.

The power company is keen to point out that the plans are at a very early stage and they are currently taking soundings from local residents before deciding if they will go ahead with a full planning application.

"This is not a done deal, it is still in the planning stages and could take a year just to do the study," said a company spokesman.

"We are pleased to be considering our first project in the West Midlands and we believe that the Lenchwick site has the potential to be an excellent windfarm.

"It is located in an area with good wind resources, it's near to a grid connection and it has good access," he added.

Renewable energy

Peter Luff MP
The government's policy supports onshore wind farms
Peter Luff

The plans have been met with a mixed response and a protest group called Vale Villages Against Scottish Power (VVASP) has been set up.

Spokesperson Erica Page said that while she is not against the principle of renewable energy she thinks the plan would be "completely inappropriate" for the area and would "stand out like a sore thumb".

New generation

Mid Worcestershire MP, Peter Luff, is keeping an open mind on the issue at this early stage, but in a letter to Erica Page, he pointed out that "the government's policy supports onshore wind farms" and that "this is unlikely to change".

Protest groups have also sprung up opposing each of the other five applications and all are dominated by worries about the impact on the landscape, problems with noise, worries about the impact on local birdlife, not to mention already tumbling local house prices.

There are also concerns that the new generation of wind turbines are much larger than those used in the first wave and can tower up to 120 metres high.

Emissions targets

Previously, they had been less than half this size - although, because they were smaller, far more of them were needed to generate the same amount of power.

So why all these schemes now?

Mike O'Brien MP
Offshore wind is hugely important to help realise the government's ambition to dramatically increase the amount of energy from renewable sources
Mike O'Brien

The driver is the pressing need to reduce the UK's CO2 emissions and to hit the European target of producing 20% of energy requirements from renewables by 2020.

Largest wind farm

Energy & Climate Change Minister, Mike O'Brien, who is also MP for North Warwickshire, recently pointed out that the UK now leads the world in the amount of energy generated by off-shore wind farms - enough to power 300,000 homes.

"Offshore wind is hugely important to help realise the government's ambition to dramatically increase the amount of energy from renewable sources. Overtaking Denmark is just the start," he said.

But what of the future for on-shore wind power, particularly in this part of the world, which until now has not got involved at all?

Our reporter Colin Pemberton has taken sceptics and supporters of the Vale of Evesham project to what is currently the UK's largest wind farm in Powys to get their views.

Also in the programme...

We look at another European-driven growth industry which could be coming to a town near you soon.

We are talking rubbish incinerators.

There are already three schemes in the pipeline - two in Shropshire and one in South Staffordshire.

It is all part of a strategy from some local authorities to reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill tips.

Mark Pritchard MP
The location of the proposed site is completely unacceptable
Mark Pritchard

Burning rubbish has become an increasingly attractive option as councils look to do their bit to to meet the European target to cut dumping stuff in holes in the ground by 35% by 2020.

Online petition

Sita UK has put in a application for a waste to energy-to-waste plant at Redhill, near Telford in Shropshire.

Wrekin MP, Mark Pritchard (Con), has launched an online petition to oppose the plans and has lodged a formal objection with Telford & Wrekin Council.

"Irrespective of the benefits of turning waste into energy the location of the proposed site is completely unacceptable given the proximity of the site to homes and local schools in Priorslee, Muxton, and Sheriffhales.

"I will be opposing this incinerator all the way and call on the whole community to back my 'Bin The Incinerator' campaign," said Mr Pritchard.

Ideal location

A briefing paper from Sita UK on the project says: "The Granville site has been chosen after extensive research.

"It has been used for many years for waste management purposes and prior to that, it was a colliery which subsequently used landfill as a means of restoration."

As such, they think it is the ideal location for what they call an EfW (Energy from Waste) plant.

With plans also in the pipeline for incinerators in South Staffordshire and Shrewsbury our reporter Susana Mendonša has been finding out if these kind of schemes, like wind farms, could be mushrooming.

The Politics Show for the West Midlands, with Jon Sopel and Michael Collie, Sundays at 12:00 GMT on BBC One

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