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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 16:37 GMT
Windfarm faces assembly inquiry
The proposed wind turbines

Controversial plans to build a huge windfarm off the south Wales coast will be decided on by a Welsh Assembly inquiry.

Energy firm United Utilities wants to build 30, 400-feet-high turbines at Scarweather Sands off Porthcawl in a 120m project to generate enough electricity for 82,000 homes.

Local opponents have feared they will blight the coastline and ruin its tourist trade.

Now, after 3,100 objections were made to the Welsh Assembly Government and an 8,000-signature petition was produced, ministers have ordered a fresh look at the project.

Green

United Utilities had claimed its plan was in line with UK Government and Welsh Assembly aims to increase cleaner energy and could create 130 jobs.

horses
Windfarms must balance competing nature concerns
Built at nearby Port Talbot, wind turbines - like the 1,000-plus which already grace many UK hills - will be fixed four to six miles out at sea under the plan.

The company submitted its application to the assembly in January. But a pressure group, SOS Porthcawl, has claimed they will be ugly and noisy, turning away tourists.

Bridgend councillors recommended the assembly government hold an inquiry.

Ecstatic

After talks with the UK's Department for Trade and Industry, Welsh Environment Minister Sue Essex confirmed on Wednesday the review will go ahead.

We are confident that the project will ultimately stand
United Utilities
"The issues raised can only properly be considered by way of inquiry, to allow public scrutiny of the proposals," she said.

The inquiry will be held later this year after which an assembly committee will have the final say, a spokesperson added.

The inquiry's inspector has not yet been unveiled.

SOS Porthcawl campaign leader Chris Pugh Bevan said he was "ecstatic" at the news, calling it "a major step forward".

Confidence

United Utilities said it was "a little surprised" by the decision, arguing the assembly had not yet received the firm's response to the objections.

A spokeswoman said it had a strong case and is "confident that the project will ultimately stand whatever scrutiny it is put under and will be developed as currently proposed".

Earlier, the firm said an independent assessment showed campaigners' fears would not materialise.

The Welsh Assembly Government has already committed itself to switching 10% of all electricity production to sustainable sources by 2010.

Backing

Its inquiry move on Wednesday came as the UK Government gave its support to offshore windfarms.

The issues raised can only properly be considered by way of inquiry, to allow public scrutiny of the proposals
Sue Essex, Environment Minister for Wales
Energy Minister Brian Wilson said: "We need a much bigger contribution from renewable energy.

"And there is ample evidence that the biggest new contributor to our renewables target is going to be offshore wind."

He told the British Wind Energy Association's Offshore Wind 2003 conference that such projects would make a "crucial contribution" to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050.

Environmental pressure group Friends Of The Earth Cymru is fully behind the windfarm plan.

The UK Government has pledged 42m in grants for offshore energy, including 4m to National Wind Power for a 30-turbine plan off Rhyl Flats, Denbighshire, Mr Wilson said.

That project followed approval in October of a windfarm at North Hoyle off the coast at Prestatyn.




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