Renewable Energy - the Great Debate; LEADER: Wind Farms, Tidal and Solar Power Could Help Save the Planet from Global Warming - but at the Price of Its Natural Beauty
Byline: MARIO BASINI
FOR many of those dedicated to preserving Wales's greatest asset, her natural beauty, the ranks of ghostly, skeletal wind turbines marching across the countryside are as polluting as acid rain or a major oil spill.
For others, the towering tubes responding restlessly to the wind are essential safeguards against the ravages of global warming that threatens to reduce much of our green planet to arid desert.
The appearance of wind farms in Wales should have been a sight for universal acclaim, uniting all those who have the interests of the environment at heart.
After all, the harnessing of wind power to produce the energy our sophisticated society needs to create the wealth and the lifestyles we prize has many attractions.
It should, in the British Isles with its mountains and long, exposed coastlines, be abundantly available. It is renewable for at least as long as the wind blows. And that is for much of the year in blustery Britain.
It produces none of fossil fuel's damaging gasses and poisons which pollute our air and which contribute to the biggest problem most environmentalists now say faces us - the rise in global temperature.
It is so attractive as a source of electricity that it has won the enthusiastic approval of the British government. Mr Blair and his colleagues have said they expect 10pc of British energy needs to be supplied by renewable power by 2010 and they expect half of that figure to be supplied by wind farms.
Companies in Wales have responded to that message with enthusiasm.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales monitors applications for wind farms in Wales. The campaign points out that almost half the 770 wind turbines constructed in the UK in the 1990s were built in Wales.
It has produced a list of 25 sites for wind farms which are rumoured to be in the pipeline or for which planning permission has been sought.
The problem with this passion for wind power is, of course, that in order to harness it to maximum efficiency, to minimise its cost and to help developers make a profit, the turbines have to be sited on places most exposed to the wind.
And the best land sites are often on the exposed tops of beautiful mountains, precisely the places which appeal most to those who prize wild, unspoiled nature. They are often visible for miles around.
Rather than uniting lovers of the environment, wind farms can create bitter divisions.
Groups which should be natural allies find themselves in opposite camps.
Organisations such as Friends of the Earth Cymru champion the use of wind energy as a means of helping to save the planet for future generations. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, on the other hand, is far more sceptical, frequently attacking the ugly visual impact some wind farms have on the existing landscape.
In a policy statement on land-sited wind farms, the CPRW welcomes the Government's commitment to "reduce the environmental impact of climate change and harmful emissions through encouraging the production of renewable energy."
But, it says, it is worried by the fact that the Government's championing of wind energy has led to the creation of large groups of "conspicuous skyline turbines" which "pose a pervasive cumulative threat to heartland landscapes, particularly in Mid and North Wales."
The CPRW says that local planning authorities, charged with preserving the character of rural Wales, have been unable to stop the construction of these wind farms.
Schemes for land-based wind farms are not just proliferating in Wales. The long, tube-like turbines and their propeller-style blades are getting bigger, increasing their visual intrusiveness.
Among the current schemes listed by the CPRW is one for the repowering of the existing wind farm at Cemaes in Montgomeryshire. …