A future blowing in two directions

Some people call them windfarms, others describe them as ‘power stations in inappropriate locations’, but all agree that one alternative energy source is an issue dividing communities in Northumberland.

SOME people call them windfarms, others describe them as ‘power stations in inappropriate locations’, but all agree that one alternative energy source is an issue dividing communities in Northumberland. Alastair Gilmour reports in the first of five features this week looking at the controversial windfarm issue.

Wind turbines

THERE is a better range of energy options for Northumberland than 71 giant wind turbines planned around Alnwick and Berwick.

So says Dr John Constable, director of policy and research at the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) and one of the country’s leading authorities on renewable energy.

He was speaking at last weekend’s Border Green Festival in Tweedmouth, Berwick, which had been expected to include a Question Time-style debate on the pros and cons of windfarm development in north Northumberland.

Applications to build 10 turbines at Moorsyde, nine at Barmoor and seven at Toft Hill have been submitted to Berwick Borough Council but have yet to be determined.

As we reported yesterday, the expected debate didn’t materialise as intended, with the two representatives for the pro-windfarm movement, Joe Lannon and David Saunders, feeling unable to turn up.

Julian Lake, organiser of the festival, said: “I am reluctant to speak on their behalf, but I’m very disappointed. They felt that because John Constable was from outside the region, for them to participate would not be thoroughly constructive and not within the spirit of the debate.”

Bill Short, a member of Kirkwhelpington Renewable Energy Forum, stepped in at the last minute to give his views, along with Dr Constable and Peter Worlock, a Save Our Unspoilt Landscape (SOUL) member.

Dr Constable said offshore wind farms, tidal power and, in particular, biomass fuels, would be more suitable for Northumberland. Biomass is an inexpensive and greener alternative to gas and electricity. This could come from agricultural wastes such as straw or woodchippings from managed forestry. Crops can be grown specifically for energy production, such as oil seed rape.

Regional development agency One NorthEast is investing £1.1m to develop this market.

He and Peter Warlock expressed great concern for the local economy, saying that if windfarms come, tourists won’t. They pointed to figures from Scotland, Wales and Cumbria where tourist organisation surveys predict drops in visitor levels that can be anywhere between 15% and 26%.

“If we take a hit like that, it’ll have a major impact,” said Mr Worlock.

Dr Constable said: “We have to remember, renewable energy is part of an overall sustainable policy. If you have an economy which has been built around sustainable tourism, you need to think very carefully about industrial generation in that area, because it may damage that sustainable policy.

“I would sympathise very much with people who build up a sustainable tourism business then find out they’re about to be damaged by things that don’t have as much benefit as their proponents claim.”

Mr Worlock said: “If you look at DTI data, it says the least windy place in the UK is Northumberland. The prevailing wind comes from the west, that’s why wind development has been on the west coast and in Ireland. They have to put them where they get the most wind – putting them in the lee of the Cheviots where there’s not much wind is not the answer, quite apart from the visual impact.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer