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Speaking Out: Wind Farms – Beauty or Blot?

Speaking Out: Wind Farms – Beauty or Blot?

Are wind farms a graceful and necessary presence on our horizons, or an unnecessary evil and a blot on the landscape?

Statistics reveal that in 2010, almost half of all onshore UK wind farm applications were turned down. From a total of 66 submissions put forward last year, 32 were rejected, which resulted in the lowest number of successful applications since 2005.

According to statistics by law firm McGrigors, the percentage of rejections (48%) has risen significantly over the last five years, compared to 33% in 2009 and 29% in 2005. However, with no supporting figures it is difficult to draw accurate comparisons between the physical number of applications and those that were rejected.

What this does show however is that in many parts of the UK, strong public feeling and local action is successfully overthrowing a large amount of proposed wind farm locations, and potentially subduing government plans to generate up to a third of the UK’s energy from wind farms by 2020.

If this long-term objective is to be met, thousands of new onshore wind farms will need to be built. But with just 9 years to go, this target is looking somewhat threatened.

The arguments against wind farms are largely based on aesthetics, amid fears that wind farms are unsightly and a ‘blot on the landscape’, along with claims that they are noisy and can damage house prices. There are also concerns about the efficiency of wind power, with some reports suggesting that wind power is intermittent.

The argument about the appearance of wind farms is, naturally, down to personal preference – but public opinion appears to be largely split.

A survey carried out in July 2006 among 973 adults, conducted by GfK NOP, shows that just over half of respondents (52%) disagreed with the notion that wind farms are ugly or unsightly, with 21% having no strong views.

However the same survey also produced more assertive figures, as 76% of people in the UK agreed that wind farms are necessary for the creation of renewable energy, and 60% thought that because they are a necessary, what they look like is unimportant. 56% said they would be happy to have a wind farm in their local area.

In 2010 a YouGov poll of 1,000 people, which was conducted in Scotland for Scottish Renewables, found that support for wind farms had risen to 78% – in increase on 73% from five years previously.

When asked if they thought that wind farms are ‘ugly and a blot on the landscape’, 52% of respondents disagreed with the statement, while a further 59% of those polled agree that wind farms are necessary so that we can produce renewable energy and ‘what they look like is unimportant’.

The argument that wind farms can damage house prices appears to be a somewhat grey area, with different surveys and consultative advice offering conflicting information.

In 2004, studies by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that 60% of the survey sampled suggested a decrease in the value of residential property where the wind farm was within view, and 67% found a downward impact on prices when a planning application was made.

In 2007, Peter Dent and Dr Sally Sims of Oxford Brookes University attempted to put an end to speculation by carrying out a study in Cornwall, based on the effects of wind farm developments on residential house prices. The research concluded that “other factors” were “more significant than the presence of a wind farm” when it came to the reasons behind a drop in house prices.

The report also found that to some extent, wind farm developers are avoiding potential problems by locating their developments where the impact on prices would be minimised.

However, the report also found that many of the objectors for Cornwall-based wind farms are actually from other areas, as Dr Sims pointed out: “In very few cases are the objections from local people. People from Scotland are objecting to wind farms in Cornwall,” – prompting the term NISEBYs (Not In Someone Else’s Backyard), as opposed to NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard).

Across the pond, a study on US house prices by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which assessed data from 7,459 residential home sales, found that “neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities is found to have any consistent, measurable, and statistically significant effect on home sales prices”.

In response to this, a spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) claimed that it added to a growing body of evidence that found no link between wind farms and a drop in nearby house prices.

“We’ve been saying this all along,” said the spokesperson. “Every single study we know of plus all the anecdotal evidence points out there is no link between wind farms and house prices. It is simply a myth and it is time it is laid to rest.”

Perhaps then, the threat of a wind farm is having more of an impact than the actual presence of one?

Apparently, not so for those living within close proximity to a turbine. A legal case involving Jane Davis, who claimed that local turbines were so loud that they kept her and her husband awake at night, gave the Davis’s the right to claim a cheaper council tax on their property. “For people living near wind farms, both now and in the future, it will be a disaster,” she said. “This isn’t about Nimbyism, but the rights of ordinary people to live a normal life.”

As the argument for and against wind farms continues, the fact remains that there is a desperate need for renewable and sustainable energy to replace our current reliance on oil and fossil fuels. The question is, are wind farms the way forward? If not, is there a more sustainable form of energy that will affect less people – or will there always be unwelcome side-effects?

The government has focussed on wind power largely due to the abundance of suitable sites within the UK both on and off shore. The UK is already reportedly ranked as the world’s eighth largest producer of wind power, and this form of energy is currently the second largest source of renewable energy in the country.

However, development of wind energy is impeded and wind farm developers feel that they are not getting a “balanced hearing”, as local objectors are being given too much priority.

“There is little willingness to consider the benefits of renewable energy generation in context – the national interest is being overridden by local concerns,” said Jacqueline Harris, a Partner at law firm McGrigors. “There is a lack of balance – even single turbines, which can generate enough electricity for a few thousand houses, are being rejected because of the visual impact on a handful of properties.”

With or without opposition, the number of wind farms is expected to increase for the foreseeable future as the government ploughs towards its 2020 target, and aims to create a more sustainable environment for future generations.

What are your views on wind farm developments – friend or foe, beauty or beast? Is it the best form of sustainable energy for the UK? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

Image: Derrybrien wind farm, Co Galway, Ireland.

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