Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Blowing in the Wind; MP Hits out over Turbines 'Advisers'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Blowing in the Wind; MP Hits out over Turbines 'Advisers'

Article excerpt

Byline: Adrian Pearson Regional Affairs Correspondent

GOVERNMENT departments responsible for the increase in onshore wind turbines are using staff from energy companies to advise them on noise and safety issues.

Concerns have been raised that the potential conflict of interest, denied by the civil servants, could result in the Government making policy decisions which directly benefit turbine manufacturers and energy companies.

Guidance on noise issues was sent to planning inspectors as a result of Government meetings which in one case were chaired by a representative of RWE npower.

For at least a year, staff from power firms have been working in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), which is responsible for energy supplies, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, tackling climate change.

Businesses, including Shell and npower, have staff working in energy focused departments contributing on advisory groups.

At least two officers earned between pounds 45,000 and pounds 66,506 over the course of a year, though officials insist neither worked directly on the renewables programme.

Last night Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said he was "deeply concerned" at the risk to Government impartiality.

"We face the ridiculous situation of Defra and other Government departments saying they believe there is no risk from noise because renewable energy companies have told us so."

Northumberland County Council's deputy leader Roger Styring has called for greater scrutiny of those advising the Government. The former engineer compared the situation to the tobacco industry advising health trusts.

He said: "This indicates that in a sense the industry is being allowed to set its own standards, which is clearly wrong. I agree they should be consulted but there are enough other experts that can advise here, especially in our universities where we have assured independence. The noise these turbines create can have quite an impact on your standard of living.

"They produce a constant background noise that might at best be described as tolerable but under certain conditions this can change to include a sharp high frequency whiplash type noise.

"If the wind blows in gusts, the turbines in a sense resist this and create a very disturbing noise that households maybe half a mile away will certainly hear."

Mr Styring said he was concerned that environmental health officers who help councillors decide on the noise issues surrounding a planning decision risked being guided by potentially-biased Government advice.

Wind farm opponent John Ferguson, from the Save Our Landscape campaign, said noise problems were by their nature more likely to be a problem that is only fully considered after the turbines are built.

He said: "They can cause a very real problem for nearby households, but I'm sure for many people this is not something they would know to worry about. …

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