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Opponents force Wales wind farm hearings

June 29, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

WELSHPOOL, Wales, June 29 (UPI) -- Determined local opposition has prompted British officials to launch a planning inquiry over RWE npower renewables' proposal for a major Wales wind farm.

Britain's Department for Energy and Climate Change said Wednesday it will have hearings over the proposed Carnedd Wen Wind Farm near Welshpool in Powys, which at 150 megawatts would be one of the largest wind farms in Wales.

Germany's RWE has proposed 50 turbines, each standing a lofty 450 feet, located 15 miles west of Welshpool in Mid Wales. But the local Powys County Council in March came out against the project, as well as against the smaller Llanbadarn Fynydd scheme of 59.5 megawatts proposed by Sweden's Vattenfall.

That triggered a planning inquiry by DECC under Britain's Electricity Act.

British Minister of State for Energy Charles Hendry said he decided evidence on "the benefits and impacts" of the proposals should be weighed at a single inquiry.

"The county council in Powys has maintained its objection to these two proposals for wind farms in Mid Wales," he said. "In these circumstances the legislation provides for a public inquiry at which all the evidence will be independently examined before ministers make a final decision.

"It makes sense that these applications should be considered jointly, in order to ensure strategic consideration of the benefits and impacts."

Bids for 25 new onshore wind farms are on the table for Mid Wales, prompting fears that energy developers are seeking to "industrialize" the region's rugged and scenic rural countryside.

Opponents say that level of turbine-building will affect the region's tourism industry and spoil its drawing card of pristine outdoor landscapes.

In rejecting the two proposals, the Powys council said the environmental effects of the turbines, as well as their impact on tourism and concerns over new overhead power lines, accounted for its opposition, the trade journal Utility Week reported.

"We object to both applications because of their impact on the county's environment, the impact on the highway infrastructure and because they fail to meet a number of important national and county planning policies," Councilor Michael Jones said.

The Powys council has four other wind farm applications before it, to which it must respond by the end of September.

RWE npower renewables scaled back its original proposal for the Carnedd Wen wind farm from 65 to 50 turbines in response to the opposition. The company as also offered to remove some nearby infrastructure and triple the size of an adjacent peatland restoration to nearly 1,000 acres.

It claims the construction of Carnedd Wen could create up to 50 full-time-equivalent jobs and pump $22 million into the local economies of Mid and North Wales, with ongoing operations and maintenance making for a further 24 full-time jobs.

But that hasn't swayed opponents, who warn of the "industrialization" of the scenic Welsh countryside, which they fear will prompt holiday-goers to take their recreational vehicles elsewhere.

"(Tourists are) helping to support businesses that have significant employment within the caravan parks but also beyond that in the local pubs, the hotels, the restaurants and the shops because they buy locally," Alison Davies, chairwoman of protest group Conservation of Upland Powys, told the Western Mail newspaper.

Backers, however, counter that studies have turned up little evidence that wind farms harm tourism.

The Welsh regional government has targeted 2 gigawatts of wind power generation by 2015.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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