Wern Ddu wind farm-delivering miniscule energy output but healthy subsidized profits for its shareholders.Photo JA
When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money. Cree Indian Prophecy
The last days of the forest as we know it, is measured by the quiet places that remain. Already tracks are being widened to accommodate the huge flat bed trucks; borrow pits (quarries) are being excavated to supply hard core and anemometers touch the sky. If anything symbolizes the ‘lunatics are running the asylum’ folly of our political masters obsession with wind power then perhaps Clocaenog Forest in North east Wales could be considered an appropriate example.
Despite the fact that the state has offered up a planning enquiry overseen as usual by an unelected civil servant, like a Soviet era show trial, the outcome of the planning enquiry is never in doubt. Its true purpose, to bestow an illusion of democratic respectability upon a giant German energy company, RWE’s planning application. With hundreds of millions of pounds in profits tied into the application, the enquiry might be a sham but given the profound environmental implications which come in train with the development, then for environmentalists, it is a sham too far. Certainly, given that its impact will extend far beyond the forest itself .
The Welsh Assembly government through the Forestry Commission it controls, designated Clocaenog Forest as one of its ‘Technical Advice notice 8’ areas for wind power development. The development area extends beyond the forest onto Hiraethog- ‘the Moors of longing’, where developments have already taken place- and are spilling out like a contagion into the un-designated hinterlands. The Orwellian sounding Technical Advice Notice 8 plans were basically cooked up several years ago by civil servants in Cardiff who were tasked with selecting areas in Wales where intensive development could take place. Not surprisingly, many of the areas chosen were forests controlled by the Assembly. In this respect, The Cardiff administration, following Westminster and Brussels directives, thought it could reduce the number of expensive planning procedures, where local authorities, more minded to kick out controversial applications, and developers, become locked into long running and expensive enquiries.
Forest borrow pits (quarries) are being worked and extended to service the development as the planning enquiry takes place.
If you want an example of how local democracy is trampled underfoot by the unholy alliance of energy companies and Cardiff administrators then you need to look no further than a development within one of the contagion areas just outside Clocaenog Forest and the Tan 8 area. The Wern Ddu wind farm is a four turbine development near Corwen in NE Wales which is owned by a Anglo German Energy company, Tegni Cymru Cyf. The original application to build- what anyone who has ever seen it will concur- is a highly intrusive development which negatively impacts on a unique landscape, was opposed by every community council in the area. The planning Inspector advised against the development; the planning committee voted 19-1 against the application and it was of course, not surprisingly rejected. You would be forgiven for wondering just how we now have a virtually pointless wind farm on Wern Ddu given the overwhelming weight of opposition to the development and its rejection by the local authority?
Knowing how minded the Assembly is to wave through wind farm developments, even outside its own designated areas, the developer appealed to the Cardiff administration. The Assembly government sent an unelected civil servant up from Cardiff- in the manner of a medieval sheriff sending up a minion to quell the restless natives-who took the appeal and not surprisingly, corporate profits triumphed over local democracy. If the Wern Ddu debacle had taken place in a Central American banana republic then we would just shrug our shoulders and say this is how things are in the third world, but this is Wales, a supposedly advanced democratic nation! On the subject of Wern Ddu, the last energy output figures I have to hand showed it operated at a rather pathetic 19% of its potential capacity. Environmental impact huge- Energy contribution minimal- Subsidised profits to shareholders healthy!
Photo: Cefn Croes campaign
When Clocaenog Forest wind farm was first investigated by developers, it was suggested that the number of turbines erected in the forest would be in three figures. A private conversation I had at the time with the current Welsh Secretary, David Jones suggested that three quarters of the forest would be clear felled to make way for the turbines and the massive infrastructure which comes with it. At this stage, RWE’s application is for 33 turbines although these would be amongst the tallest in Wales and their construction will still see huge swathes of forest cleared. As it stands the bare facts are these: 8k of new tracks will be created;20k of existing tracks will be widened; 4 borrow pits or quarries will be worked within the forest, underground cables will be laid; substations and overhead gantries built, public rights of way will be closed.
What the planning application stats do not tell you, is the tonnage of concrete to be poured into swimming pool sized plinths to root the massive turbines- the amount of woodland which will be clear felled and more importantly, the potentially devastating environmental consequences of such an industrial development within an ecologically sensitive area.
Last year the Vale of Clwyd beneath the Clocaenog development area, suffered catastrophic flooding which took one life and caused millions of pounds worth of damage. For those living in the shadow of the forest in this flood prone valley, the idea of massive clear felling of tree cover with its inevitable impact on water retention and inundation of water courses in periods of heavy precipitation-not exactly a rare phenomena in the north Wales uplands!- must be chilling in its cataclysmic potential. Despite spending millions of pounds on flood prevention in the area, the dark irony of the Welsh assembly government aiding a development which can only further exacerbate the flooding potential brings me back to my earlier comment re- lunatics running the asylum!
Clocaenog, despite being overwhelmingly a coniferous forest, harbours a variety of indigenous species including some of our rarest creatures. It is one of the last bastions of the threatened red Squirrel, the fringes of the forest is the habitat of rare black grouse and anecdotal evidence from at least two observers suggests the remote westerly edge of the forest is the last domain in Wales of the pine marten. Add to these rare species, deer, foxes, badgers, rodents, hares etc, and all manner of birds including Red Kites, and you have a rich and diverse range of species which are facing either a massive depletion of their numbers given the rape of their natural habitat, or worse, total extinction.
It’s one of the ironies of wind power plant developments that the companies employed by the corporate energy giants to undertake environmental impact studies are inevitably agencies wedded to this branch of renewable energy. In effect, it is like the UK government commissioning British American Tobacco to do a study on the effects of smoking on health. Despite EU legislation ostensibly offering protection to rare species from developments, environmental impact reports are inevitably doctored in the interests of the developer and the true environmental impacts of massive wind power developments are creatively structured to ignore for example, potential species depletion/extinction or flood risks. Little wonder when you consider that all parties stand to makes millions out of these huge developments. As Gordon Gecko might have said “ How can I make a lousy buck out of a pine marten!