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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Windfarms, energy and politics

By Caroline Wyatt
On the BBC election bus in Windermere

On the green wind-swept hills of Cumbria loom several new landmarks: their long, tall frames silhouetted against the darkening skies.

Whinash
Locals fear the Whinash landscape will be transformed

Close-up, you can hear a high-pitched whistle and a loud whoosh as their huge blades scythe through the wind.

These five gunmetal-grey turbines are part of an existing wind-farm at Lambrigg, aimed at providing the area's energy needs in a sustainable way.

Below, the lambs frisking across the fields graze on, oblivious to the controversy raging over these strange new beasts in the hills above.

Opposition

Kyle Blue has brought me here to look at the impact of even a small wind farm on the stunning, craggy landscape of the fells.

BUS STOPS

The 53-year-old chartered surveyor, born and bred in the nearby village of Orton, speaks with a calm passion about why many locals are bitterly opposed to plans for a much larger wind farm on the crest of Whinash fell.

"It would be the largest wind farm in England, in some of the loveliest landscape outside the national park," says Kyle Blue.

"What worries us is that once a development occurs, it encourages others.

"They spread from hill to hill, and we fear that a big wind farm like this could be the precursor to many, many more.

Caroline Wyatt and Kyle Blue
Kyle Blue believes a windfarm will encourage further development

"These are known as the Klondike days - but instead of finding gold on every hill, it's the 'wind rush'."

Cumbria is already home to 11 wind farms, but Whinash would be the largest by far.

Its 27 turbines would provide enough power for 47,000 homes. The turbines would be 115 metres high to the tip of each blade, the same height as St Paul's Cathedral, at a site bordering the Lake District National Park.

We drive there to take a look across the valley.

Even from several miles away, it is clear that a major wind farm on the ridge of the fell would change the wild landscape irrevocably, something the 'No Whinash Wind Farm" group is determined to prevent.

QUICK GUIDE

"If I were certain wind power were going to deliver what people hope, the sacrifices might be worth it - but I don't believe it is," says Kyle.

"Many see this as the gateway to the lakes.

"Tourism employs some 40,000 people in Cumbria, and putting that at risk is really putting the county at risk."

Perfect site

Views on wind power

But Whinash is the perfect site, counters Steve Molloy, project manager for West Coast Energy, agents for the wind farm developers Falck.

"The wind resource here is excellent, and this is a very remote site," he insists.

"The wind farm would have no ecological impact. The land here does have its merits, but it's hardly of the same value as the Lake District National Park. It basically consists of acid grassland and some blanket bog."

Local chocolate maker David Kennedy vehemently disagrees.

He runs Kennedy's Fine Chocolates in Orton. In this village of just 300, his cosy shop employs 20 - making this a vital local business.

"Tourists are not just the icing on the cake for us - they are our bread and butter.

"Even a small fall in numbers could really affect our business," he worries.

"If the wind farm was put up and fewer tourists came, that would have a big impact.

"We might have to move and not all our staff could move with us. I am all in favour of renewable energy, but if the area became carpeted with wind turbines, I wouldn't want to work here."

Chocolate factory worker
Chocolate factory owner David Kennedy opposes the plan

Similar struggles are being waged across the country in the increasingly heated debate over how to fulfil Britain's Kyoto commitments to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

Britain has committed itself to getting 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, and twice that at by 2020. But these ambitious targets may not be reached if opposition to wind-farms continues, says Steve Molloy.

"If sites like Whinash are not deemed suitable for wind farms," he warns, "the government can kiss goodbye to any targets it has.

"At the moment, wind power is the only renewable energy able to meet those short-term targets."

Other solution

The Whinash planning inquiry begins on 11 April. But if permission for wind farms at sites such as Whinash is rejected, there is another solution.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The quality of life people associated with living in the country has gone
Andy D, Oxford, UK

Not far away is the Sellafield nuclear plant.

Nuclear power may be equally controversial, but energy experts say Britain will have to start making some difficult decisions on replacing fossil fuels.

"There is a political choice to be made about the way we move forward," says Professor Jim Skea, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre.

"Do you chase nuclear power, or make renewable energy sources acceptable to a wider public?

There is a political choice to be made about the way we move forward
Professor Jim Skea

"And is there the political will to deal with the kind of acceptability issues associated with all the alternatives to fossil fuels?"

The clear answer from this part of Cumbria is that large wind farms are not the answer.

As he contemplates the undulating hills outlined against the stormy sky, Kyle Blue hopes their majestic beauty will stay exactly as it is.

"We've got a lot of support against the wind farm, including the mountaineer Chris Bonnington," he says.

"He wrote us a letter saying he regards these fells as some of the finest hills in the world. And he should know."





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