Welsh Green Dragon

Reaching further with renewables in South Wales by catherinegraham4

Following on from Chris’ comment a few weeks ago, I went down to Aberdare to do a little more investigating into the wind farm proposals in the valleys.

“What are your views on the community wind farm projects?” Cue blank expression and furtive glance. Most local people just nodded along with interest as we explained the topic of wind turbines in their area, despite being unaware of all the details. However, as conversation progressed, the majority response was a resounding “yes” to supporting the community schemes.

These schemes were launched between January and March of this year, throughout Cynon Valley, Afan, Neath and the Rhondda Valleys. Nuon Renewables set up a comprehensive consultation programme within local communities on proposals for a large scale wind energy project. With plans to have over 100 wind turbines up and running by 2013, the community engagement factor was key to their success. By allowing communities to have a say and to even take part in the design stage of the project, we think this could serve as a positive force for changing attitudes within communities.

Drop-in sessions were held in Aberdare, Cymmer, Glynneath, Hirwaun, Maerdy, Neath, Tonmawr and Treorchy to hear local views. A recent survey found that 73% are supportive of more wind energy schemes in Wales. The fundamental aim behind opening up to the public in this way is a forward-thinking and inspiring one and will hopefully take us to a period when people independently support renewable energy.

However, the reality of the situation remains that not enough people know about wind energy, as was proved by our day in Aberdare. Despite the thrust of information that has been generated, those who have no prior interest would be unlikely to peruse letters detailing upcoming plans to build turbines. Even the drop-in sessions would appear an effort for those unaware of the issues.

Therefore, with no knowledge and consequently no involvement, it is much easier to cast the letter aside and to decide that a turbine’s ugliness or inconvenience is the most important worry. The point to make is that people generally disagree with wind turbines when they are not entirely clued up on the subject. One local man we spoke to in Aberdare, Hywell Williams, actually said: “I thought that they were not an efficient source of energy”. Ideally he should already know that many communities have the potential to generate 5MW each; it all makes a huge long-term difference.

Mick Bates, Assembly Member of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, explains why Wales has failed to meet the 2010 wind energy targets: “It is down to cowardice. All this could have been done but politicians haven’t done enough because people don’t like the look of turbines.” If the message about ever-decreasing renewable energy was more hard-hitting, then aesthetics and noise would not be prioritized issues.

Regular leaflets, a newsletter or even a magazine could be circulated to households explaining about renewable energy on a general level. Workshops or groups could be set up to inform people and local radio, television and even the educational system could become involved. After all, it is our children who will one day either maintain or drop the push for renewable energy. The community projects need to be more than just part of a plan for one wind farm in south Wales but current as part of a daily lifestyle.

A promising scheme launched very recently, is one aiming to offer communities financial incentives. Windpower Wales has signed an agreement with the Board of the VESTRI foundation and £3000 will be invested in local needs for every turbine installed. People must remember that there is less government money available at the moment so this is surely an effective way to improve local services and avoid raising taxes. Everything remains in the favour of the people. It is just a case of letting them know.

Of course, the battle to inform people correctly can only be entirely successful when fought on a national level. Allowing an environmentally friendly voice to speak out more regularly in the media, pushing the promotion of wind farms and making people sit up and understand the facts without the bias of an opposition butting in; these are the main remedies for success.

This, in the big picture, can only be achieved when we gain strong political support from the Labour UK government. However a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step and community projects are definitely a firm step in the right direction.

Perhaps by persevering to eliminate those blank expressions, we can hope to rely on a continuing support for renewable energies in the future. A struggle today will lead to an easier, safer and more efficient tomorrow.