Caution Blamed for Taking Wind out of Sales; the Need for Renewable Energy Is Clashing with Planning Policies

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Byline: CERI JONES

LAST autumn the National Assembly threw out plans for two wind farms in Wales.

The decision by a panel of AMs and an Assembly Inspector to reject a threeturbine scheme near Pembroke and a 17turbine proposal near Fishguard on landscape grounds was greeted with delight by many local residents and by anti-wind farm campaigners.

But for environmentalists and wind farm developers the move was a huge setback and reflected mounting concern about Assembly administration policy towards wind energy.

For whereas Wales once led the way in wind power development, fewer wind farm schemes are now going ahead in this country than in any other part of Britain.

While 100pc of wind proposals for Northern Ireland are given the go ahead, 70pc-plus in Scotland and between 50pc and 60pc in England, in Wales it is only 30pc, with only one scheme passed since the Assembly was set up.

And while Scotland has recently set itself a 17.5pc renewable energy target, there are fears that Wales may not even be able to meet the existing 10pc UK Government target by 2010 - of which 40pc is expected to come from wind power.

This apparent lack of enthusiasm for wind energy from the Assembly, in a country where wind is one of its natural resources, has led many to believe Wales is now undermining its own policies including its sustainable development remit.

It is also, they say, missing out on economic development opportunities.

With more than pounds 100m of wind projects held up in the National Assembly pipeline, wind developers are pulling out of the country. Danish manufacturing company Vestas, which had been looking to set up an pounds 11m production facility in Wales, has now decided to move to remote Mull of Kintyre in Scotland instead, taking with it the 200 job opportunities.

Environmentalists argue that a lack of enthusiasm for wind power could tip the Government towards nuclear power to ensure Britain meets greenhouse gas targets.

"The lack of commitment in Wales is causing great concern, " said Peter Hinson, the British Wind Energy Association's representative in Wales.

"Even though many projects have local support, they are being called in by the Assembly and its advisers. The latest decisions over two proposed wind farms in Pembrokeshire were a major blow. If you can't develop in places like these, where is Wales going to get its renewable energy from?"

Cynog Dafis, Plaid Cymru policy director, said the Assembly administration's failure to embrace the possibilities of wind power was a serious failure of policy.

"The combination of a lack of determination by the economic development unit and a hostile planning department is killing off a nascent industry that has big potential for jobs, energy supply and cheap electricity in Wales, " he said.

Welsh opposition to wind power is a fairly recent phenomenon. At one time, Wales was leading the way in wind development. However, 97pc of the country's present 153 MW capacity was built in the eight years before 1997.

Since the Assembly came into being, only one wind farm scheme has been given the go-ahead - a five turbine scheme in Carmarthenshire - and the rate of wind farm build has been reduced to just 6pc of the average pre-1997 rate.

In its Plan for Wales 2001 consultation document the Assembly suggested Wales's renewable energy target should be 10pc, the same as for England, despite higher potential for renewable energy.

Since its inception, the Assembly, which has a duty under the Devolution Act to promote sustainable energy schemes, has called in several proposals, including Tir Mostyn in Denbighshire, which was given the go-ahead by the local authority.

Environment minister Sue Essex said the plans raised issues of more than local concern. Wind farm projects stalled in planning amount to more than pounds 120m of investment, of which pounds 30m would be spent in Wales. …