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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March, 2005, 08:11 GMT
South: Wind farm worries
Peter Henley
Peter Henley
Politics Editor, BBC South

Wind farm
Is the answer blowing in the wind?

It sounded so attractive, so clean, so natural. But has the government underestimated the cost of wind farms, and the scale of opposition? Could power from wind end up as an expensive pipe dream?

Tony Blair has set ambitious targets for Britain to lead the world in developing wind power, with an aim of 20% from renewable sources by 2020.

It should be possible. Britain is one of the windiest parts of the world. Forty percent of the wind that blows across Europe crosses our shores.

In theory, it could provide three times our current energy needs.

Taking wind power seriously would set a real example as all governments begin to wake up to the threat of global warming.

Hang on a bit ...

But worrying reports are coming across the North Sea from the country who, up until now has taken the lead in wind power.

Germany has built 15,000 wind turbines in the last 15 years, half in the last five years.

For every turbine, 800 miles of cable have to be laid, roads have to be built and the electricity grid has to be adapted to cope with the sudden fluctuations in power.

The Germans estimate that wind energy is three times more expensive than conventional power. To avoid emitting one tonne of carbon dioxide costs up to 77 Euros.

They suggest that being more energy efficient might be the more immediate goal.

As the questions of cost grow, there is growing discontent at the environmental impact of massive wind power schemes.

Protest poster
Protesters claim the wind farm would be an environmental disaster

Environmental damage?

The Romney Marshes in Kent are a haven for birds. But the planned new arrivals would transform these flatlands for ever.

The wind farm would provide electricity for 75% of homes in the Shepway area providing electricity for nearly 50,000 homes.

But at the site there would be 27 turbines covering 1,000 acres of Romney Marsh.

Each turbine would be 370 ft tall, with concrete foundations sunk 110 ft into the earth.

More than six miles of new roads would be built across the marshland, requiring 50,000 tons of road stone.

The height of the wind farms would be the same as a 30-story block of flats.

Local opposition

The proposal has been unanimously opposed by every elected authority in the area, including 12 parish councils, two district councils and two county councils.

But as our energy use continues to grow, power generation has to keep up.

To avoid the disastrous consequences of global warming it is essential that a growing proportion comes from renewable sources.

Wind power may be expensive, it may provoke anger in the communities where farms are located. But what other option is there if we want to save the planet?

Politics Show

Join Peter Henley on the Romney Marshes in Politics Show, BBC One on Sunday, 06 March, 2005 at 12.30pm.

Let us know what you think.

Your comments on the show

'Electricity for 50,000 homes' means less than 500 watts per home on a good day (5 x 100 watt light bulbs and that's all) and nothing at all when the wind isn't blowing. You call this a good idea??

Around 12 years age, mobile phone masts were targeted for complaints. Wind farms, will, I'm sure, provide us with reliable energy. People must accept changes and not be selfish thinking that coal, gas, and oil will still be around for our grandchildren
Malcolm Rye

The amounts of carbon emissions saved seem trivial- the costs simply outweigh the benefits. It would be far better to offer to insulate every home in the county than impose this unethical money-making machine.
There is a need for a full and proper review of the renewable energy policy. It is wrong that it should be left to market forces. There should be a national strategy by a Government with the integrity to tackle the issues head on, with full disclosure of all information and an acknowledgement of where the other 80% of our energy requirements will be coming from- fossil fuel or nuclear. That is the real choice that has to be made and the wind debate is merely a diversion, but nevertheless a very costly one.
Catherine Newcombe, Tillingham

The government is emphasising electricity rather than energy. Far greater carbon savings can be made by promoting solar water heating on a local, house by house scale where individuals can make a personal contribution and save money in the long term. By promoting personal initiatives rather than big business we have a better chance of large scale shift to local energy production, including small scale house mounted windmills such as the windsave or swift designs.
The only thing that seems to be holding this more effective introduction of green energy is the pressure from the big power generators that don't want to lose their effective monopoly on power generation.
Simon Mallett, Maidstone

As time passes, the shortcomings of wind power are beginning to appear. It will soon become evident that this form of energy will fail to reduce CO2 emissions (the intermittency/backup problem) It will ruin the European economies, through much higher electricity prices than, say, China or India. ruin that growing part of the tourism industry which relies on rural and/or wilderness settings. And it will kill millions of birds (and bats), eradicating emblematic species such as eagles, red kites, storks, swans and geese (and gannets offshore). But also it will delay the efficient tackling of our emission problems through real solutions.
Mark Duchamp

In Caithness we currently have over 520 wind turbines (mostly 460 feet high) proposed for a 35 mile stretch of open, beautiful countryside, which also is the most populated part of our county. We live without all the amenities people in the south of England take for granted, but our way of life here makes up for it - why do we have to provide expensive, wasteful wind-powered energy to people 600 miles away and, by doing so, destroy everything we hold dear? If only our osprey, hen harriers, whooper swans and greylag geese could join this debate. Why aren't we planting trees, producing crops for biomass, getting grants for solar panels and mini-turbines, building eco-friendly new housing!, taxing air travel - sorry, I'll stop there. A list of simple energy conservation measures runs for pages. I wish the opponents to the Romney Marshes wind farm all the best in their endeavours.
Diane Craven, Scotland

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