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11:00 - 12 July 2004
GIANT THREAT TO RURAL LIFE
This is the formidable industrial scale of the machinery that soon could be chewing up some of the Westcountry's most precious rural lanes, if plans for a new generation of wind turbines are forced through.

Our picture shows an Army "heavy equipment transporter" - which is 18 metres in length and can carry a tank up to 72 tonnes in weight - in a country road that narrows to 12 feet.

Yet the trucks which would be needed to bring 100-metre tall turbines to some of the most beautiful landscapes of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset would be even bigger. They would be escorted by police outriders as main-route traffic is diverted.

Then they would heave through winding lanes, which were created for horses and farmers' carts and are still too narrow for two cars to pass.

Ancient hedgerows could be torn down, bridges smashed, ditches drained, trees chopped back and wildlife scattered - all to clear the way.

It is a prospect that fills many people with dread.

Vistas that survived the Industrial Revolution, and an environment that bears no more intrusion than telegraph poles or pylons, could be changed beyond recognition.

It is this threatened transformation that has caused campaigners to warn of the "desecration" of the countryside.

Mounting criticism over wind-generated electricity - which accounts for 75 per cent of the Government's renewable energy strategy - has placed them at the centre of the debate over climate change.

Yesterday, even the chief scientist for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Howard Dalton, broke ranks with the Government to say: "Wind power can make a contribution but do we really want windmills all over the countryside and covering swathes of the ocean?"

As new applications for windfarms are submitted, we begin a series of articles today exploring how the countryside has become a battlefield over climate change and a looming energy crisis.

 
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BECOMES A BATTLEGROUND HARDY COUNTRY
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11:00 - 12 July 2004
In the first part of a special series on the battle against wind power turbines in the countryside, Neil Young speaks to residents of the Blackmore Vale fighting to save its beauty and tranquility

Roads that turn with the contours of hills could be straightened. Ancient hedgerows torn down, bridges smashed, ditches drained and wildlife scattered THE lanes that flank the farmers' fields and rise and dip in a raggedy network have names that even now recall their historic origins.

Places like Tinkers' Lane which narrows to within eight feet, and is fringed by hedgerows, ancient oaks and beach trees.

Even today horse riders are regular travellers along these narrow roads.

And the cars which crawl the bends risk their wheels becoming stuck in the ditches as they give way to this older mode of transport.

This is South Somerset's Blackmore Vale, which achieved near mythic status as the birthplace of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

It is a place that even now is steeped in the evocative atmospheres and imagery of Hardy's masterpiece 113 years after its publication.

And for more than a year it has been at the forefront of a battle that has lined up small and localised campaign groups country-wide against the combined weight of windfarm companies and the Government.

Here, the fight was ignited by an application by Ecotricity for two 100-metre wind turbines at Symphony Farm, Cucklington, atop the sweeping vale.

And it has become representative of a national campaign to halt an industrialisation revolution in the countryside. Save the Vale campaigners claim this would change beyond recognition a landscape that has evolved almost seamlessly over centuries.

By whatever means, wind turbine transporters more than 32 metres long would manoeuvre these lanes to their destination.And that pitches sheer force of machinery against nature.

Roads that turn with the contours of fields and hills could be straightened. Ancient hedgerows torn down, bridges smashed, ditches drained, trees cut down and wildlife scattered - all to clear the way. Then, above those fields first farmed in medieval times the swishing 33-metre blades of the turbines would dominate the skyline.

It is not a vision shared by windfarm promoters who argue the necessity of this technology in reducing carbon emissions. The thinking goes that if the wider environment is threatened then the effects will subsume the local environment.

But this as a rationale for wind turbines is bitterly contested.

And it is the combination of these small skirmishes which could determine the shape of large tracts of the English countryside.

They are battles being fought nationwide with placards and window posters at village halls and at planning committee meetings, and nowhere more than in the Westcountry - at Bradworthy, at Higher Darracott, and at Fullabrook Down.

And while the locations differ the issues intertwine.

Hardy described the Blackmore Vale as "a world constructed on a small and delicate scale". And in this, unknowingly, he touched on a conflict that would come long after his lifetime.

The dale is a world in miniature in which an ancient past streams into the present.

The earliest records of Cucklington Church appear in the "Taxatio" of 1291 which raised funds for the Crusade that year. Medieval lynchets remain intact in every field around what would be the turbine site. The area boasts a Grade I listed manor house, Shanks House, and no less than eight Grade II farmhouses. The beach trees which line the route of the turbine transporters were planted by French prisoners of the Battle of Waterloo.

And yet these narrow lanes could be turned into thoroughfares for industrial vehicles with the muscle power of tank transporters. And it would be done in the name of environmentally friendly energy, and harnessing the power of nature to curb the carbon emissions that threaten the global environment on which we all depend.

It is an irony that has bedeviled the debate about windfarms as the main driver behind the Government's goal of advancing renewable energy. For turbines to function they must be located at vantage points where the wind not only blows but blows hard. Those locations tend to be exposed landscapes, beauty spots, and places of calm and retreat.

The gravity of the issue is matched by the determination of the protest groups.

Mark David put his 22 years of experience in the Army to good use for the Save the Vale group. He says the transporters that would carry the turbines and blades would be the equal or more of a loaded tank transporter mincing up country lanes.

A Challenger tank weighs 62 tonnes, and its transporter and carriage 40 tonnes.

A Heavy Equipment Transporter, used to haul the Army's main battlefield tank, is just under 18 metres long from the carriage to transporter tail.

Now imagine a 96-tonne vehicle (including 63-metre turbine tower) at 27.4 metres long, heaving through Tinkers' Lane. That's longer than the height of the trees, at 25 metres, along the route. The highest load would be 5.5 metres, meaning the transporter would have to tilt to avoid obstacles.

Mr David says: "I couldn't believe what was planned. I've seen from my time in the Army what they could do by going up those narrow lanes. The roads would have to be ripped up, and the weight alone would destroy them. We used to say in the Army 'just get them in and no matter the damage, we'll sort it out later'. And that's what would happen here."

Campbell Dunford, the group's chairman, offers this comparison of the effects on the ancient trees and hedgerows: "It would be like telling the Cornish they can't have stone walls."

The highly-organised Save the Vale campaigners successfully fought off the application and appeal by windfarm company Ecotricity.

But they remain on their guard. Mr David suspects that the Government's fixation with windfarms, and the relaxation of planning restrictions, mean an application could be resubmitted.

"People are still waiting. All the people involved are waiting to see if the wind company reappears, or if another one moves in," he says.

But all the while the scattered campaign groups are becoming more knowledgeable and interactive. Save the Vale drew on a range of community expertise, from engineering to agricultural, to argue its case, create its own website, and produce independent reports and campaign material.

It has also been able to scotch the routine accusation of backward-looking "nimbyism". The campaigners are pro-renewables and committed environmentalists. Several houses in the vicinity use solar panels. Wessex Grain at Henbridge in the vale has forged a business out of using grain to produce renewable transport fuel, bioethanol. It hopes to turn the process to creating a 15MW electricity unit which, the campaigners say, "would produce as much energy in a year as would be generated from more than 100 wind turbines of the type proposed for Cucklington".

One villager, Donald Bent, has even installed an underground geothermal - or solar - heating system into his home which is entirely self-sourcing and costs about a penny a week to run.

Do these sound like the kind of people who would put narrow self-interest before their wider social responsibilities?

Or nimbys only concerned with preserving the precious views from their windows?

Karen Dunford points out that is these untainted vistas, with their patchwork of fields and ancient landmarks, that feed the local economy. That economy and a sustainable environment are interdependent. The vale draws thousands of visitors from Britain to Germany with its ten circular walks, horse-riding, diversity of rare birdlife, including red kites, bat colonies and historic attractions such as Arthur's Tower.

That cannot be compromised.

It's a view that is shared by South Somerset District Council which eulogises in its tourism literature of "the spectacular Blackmore Vale", and "verdant pastures to the rolling hills of Camelot country where the legendary King Arthur and his Knights held court".

Campbell Dunford takes the environmentalist debate even further. "You can't build a new house in Sweden or Switzerland without a geothermal heating supply," he says, but in Britain the Government was pinning its hopes on a technology that could not work. When the global energy crisis kicks in, he predicts, the deficit in resources at times of high demand on the national grid would lead to blackouts.

He points to the experience in Denmark where the government had to give away and even pay the Swedes to take wind-generated electricity that could not be stored.

And he is scathing of the environmental effects of this "green" technology: "In Germany they call the turbines bird-slicers. In 2002 the German windfarm industry paid out 40 million euros in compensation because of fires caused by the turbines, damage to people, cars and accidents."

Mr Dunford taps another historic note in this historic place, as he quotes the Earl of Manchester to Oliver Cromwell in 1644: "If we beat the King but 99 times, yet he is King still and so will his posterity be after him. But if the King beat us once we shall all be hanged, and our posterity be made slaves."

Then he sounds this rallying cry: "There's no point fighting skirmishes because there's a war to win. We can fight these hundreds of battles but the wind companies are still there and the Government is still there, so we have to make the public understand what is happening. It's not just that the countryside is being blighted, it is being blighted for no good reason."

nyoung@westernmorningnews.co.uk
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WILL WE BE REACHING FOR THE CANDLES IN A BLACKED-OUT BRITAIN?
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11:00 - 12 July 2004
Vale of FEARS:Above, campaigner Campbell Dunford on a lane close to Cucklington, Somerset, which has been proposed for two 100-metre wind turbines. Right, the lanes were built for horses, not giant trucks IMAGINE the scenario: despite every exhortation for action to fend off impending crisis, the crisis happens. Nuclear power stations are phased out, coal-fired stations are downgraded, electricity prices rocket and an aged and ailing National Grid starts to short-circuit.

We would be reaching for the candles again as 1970s-style blackouts hit 21st century Britain.

All the while the Government focuses on imported gas and renewables such as onshore wind power for an energy policy that can't work.

It sounds like an alarmist prospect but it is edging closer to reality.

Last August a major blackout in South London stranded 300 tube trains, and in April this year a power failure plunged 61,000 homes in Wiltshire into darkness.

At the same time, nine out of 10 companies polled by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said they expected frequent disruptions to power supplies across Europe.

Most worrying for people living in places such as the Westcountry is that rural areas furthest from the National Grid would be particularly susceptible.

The grid itself is in urgent need of modernisation, according to Powergen's chief executive Dr Paul Golby.

He estimates that 50bn-70bn would be needed to upgrade the network as coal-fuelled power stations reached the end of their working lives. And that means electricity prices could rise by as much as a fifth.

"We can't live modern life without electricity and there is now a major need to invest in the UK," says Dr Golby. The Government's view of the looming energy crisis would appear to be to try to wish it away by not recognising it.

But all the while the warnings become more insistent.

In a report called The State of the Nation 2004, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) warns: "Last year we asked 'will the lights stay on?' One year on, the Government believes 'the market will provide' and renewables will bridge an impossibly large shortfall."

The biggest change has been the shift in emphasis of the projected sources of electricity by 2010 and beyond.

In 1990, coal and nuclear power accounted for the bulk of Britain's electricity - 64 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. Now gas, which then did not even register, provides 38 per cent, coal 35 per cent, nuclear 22 per cent, renewables 2 per cent, and 3 per cent comes from other sources.

By 2010, the Department of Trade and Industry estimates that natural gas will provide 58.6 per cent of the UK's electricity, and 75 per cent by 2020. But where will that gas come from? The ICE delivers this worrying forecast: "North Sea gas reserves are facing exhaustion. By 2020, 90 per cent of our gas will come from abroad. New gas reserves enter the UK via long pipelines initially from Norway, but later the Middle East and former Soviet Republics, or shipped as liquid gas (LNG) from West Africa and beyond."

Broken down that means that by 2020, 68 per cent of Britain's electricity would be dependent on the security of these gas supplies from countries of notorious political instability which have widely diverging energy policies.

Even DTi figures predict a huge shortfall in the level of demand and supply.

Britain even now has to import electricity from French power stations at peak times of winter.

By 2020 the DTi estimates that electricity demand will have risen by 30 per cent on present levels, while 16 per cent of the present capacity will have been lost because of the closure of nuclear power stations.

The ICE warns that renewables, while important, can not plug the gap and that a mixture of technologies must be advanced without compromising efforts to reduce global warming.