Rather than trawling chronologically through my journey with wind turbines, I’m throwing caution to the wind (as it were) and simply saying what I see, when I see it, then using each discovery to share with you the Alice-In-Wonderland world that lies underneath every shiny picture of a “sleek” new wind turbine.
At 5pm this afternoon I went on a short drive across South Leeds with a friend. “This is a rough area”, said my friend, and not more than 30 seconds later (he will attest to this), as if on cue a large turbine loomed over the horizon. What was that I was saying about a symbiotic relationship between turbine developments and deprived areas?
This area, Farnley, is not actually that bad, but equally not that great. It’s one of the many large overspill estates that have transformed former villages into the vast conurbation of West Yorkshire. A cluster of old buildings survive amongst the suburban sprawl. The turbine itself is located half a mile to the south at Harper Farm, just outside New Farnley, a separate settlement straddling the A58.
Visible from all directions due to the prominence of the ridge, this turbine is certainly not subtle in its appearance. You can see it from Elland Road Stadium and all the way along the M621 between Churwell and Morley. The otherwise rural Green Belt setting, surrounded on pretty much all sides by towns and cities, has certainly been compromised, shifting the character of the landscape another notch closer to edgy urban fringe, rather than relaxing countryside. It has changed the energy of South West Leeds for the worse, even in the short time I have lived here (since 2013), degrading one of the nearest hilly landscapes to the City Centre. Areas such as Wortley and Armley have also had their rural vistas blighted by the turbine’s aggressively spinning blades.
Bearing in mind the industrial past of vast swathes of West Yorkshire, does this rogue wind turbine really warrant paragraphs and paragraphs of complaint? My answer is the “broken window” theory – one broken window attracts others, once the precedent has been set. When it comes to wind turbines, if just one mislocated turbine is allowed through, it makes it that much harder to reject further applications that are no materially different, and this is a very real phenomenon leading to “cumulative impact”, as we shall further explore when we head out into Kirklees.
This single turbine at Harper Farm is as good as any to evaluate and use as a template upon which to formulate a policy that applies to turbines across the board. Exceptions and special cases may come to light, but as a starting point, let’s ask ourselves: exactly what IS our attitude to turbine placement, as a society? Where do we draw the line? Even the SNP wouldn’t countenance a wind farm on Arthur’s Seat (well actually, knowing them, the HGV access tracks are probably already under construction…)
We already have stringent planning laws in place, particularly pertaining to the conservation of the Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Parks. So the logical place to start is with the law, as it stands, and to understand just how it is that wind turbines are given permission in places where virtually no other type of development would be allowed.
The case for the Harper Farm turbine was this:
“The major supermarket customers of Harper Farm products are constantly striving to reduce their carbon footprint, and produce marketable, sustainable products, and are increasingly looking to their suppliers to make the same commitment. The need to demonstrate best practice and sustainable production is expected, with markets demanding higher environmental standards from their supply chain, and buyers requesting support from suppliers to help meet their commitments. For Harper Farm, in a competitive market the ability to demonstrate that the farm business is working hard to support buyers’ environmental strategies is becoming increasingly important to maintain business. This is supported and promoted by Oakland’s Farm Eggs, to which Harper Farm supply the majority of their eggs, who themselves are committed to ensuring sustainable food production.
Energy prices are also increasing and to ensure production remains viable, both environmentally and financially, a sustainable energy supply is essential. As the Harper Farm business is a relatively large consumer of electricity, they are acutely aware of the need to achieve maximum efficiencies and in this regard are always looking to employ the most energy efficient production systems available. The farm has recently installed a small roof mounted solar PV system, with zero environmental impact, and this is already assisting to offset the farm’s power consumption. In order to put the farm business on a firmer footing they are now considering a wind turbine, which as well as being a sound business proposition would clearly demonstrate to their customers, a commitment as their supplier, to a ‘greener’ and more ‘sustainable’ product.”
They all seem like perfectly valid business cases for a turbine, sure, but essentially that is really all they are, business cases. See how the words ‘greener’ and ‘sustainable’ are in quotation marks. Looking through my own writing, I see I sometimes (though not always) use quotation marks when using a word how other people would tend to use it, rather than maybe how I would use it myself. If the above case followed my own grammatical principles, it would imply that being “greener” was merely how the operation comes across to the public, not actually greener (no quotes). The quotes – imagine doing them with your fingers – imply it’s not for real somehow. Either way, the gist of the application is that the farm is struggling, the supermarkets are pressurising them to do this for some reason (hmm…), and one way or another they will make enough money from erecting the turbine to just about stay in business.
The Harper Farm wind turbine is a symptom of failure and financial hardship. It indicates a pressing need for money that clearly isn’t coming from the straightforward sale of produce. When we stare at this turbine, we are apparently looking at a financial lifeline for an otherwise loss-making farm. So HOW is it making them money? And is it worth it? If the farm went out of business, its carbon footprint would drop to zero. Not that I want to see the closure of any business, especially a long-running family business, but if it can only get by with income generated by a wind turbine, wouldn’t the truly green course of action be to accept defeat, walk away and leave the countryside unspoilt? Where on earth is the turbine revenue coming from anyway? And at what cost to the community?
While we’re asking some questions, here’s another…the wind at 5pm this afternoon was barely 1 or 2 on the Beaufort scale, yet the Harper Farm wind turbine was spinning at high speed. It was rotating significantly faster than the wind speed. HOW???
As a Beginner’s Guide To Wind Turbine Applications (And How To Oppose Them), the following links on Leeds City Council’s Planning Portal offer a great overview of the kind of documentation required to obtain planning permission. Is all this work added to the carbon footprint of the wind turbine? There are pages and pages of documentation, and as always “The Devil is in the details”. In this case, the Council approved the turbine, which, despite sticking in the craw, is a noticeably different scenario from those turbines rejected at a local level and approved on appeal, more of which in due course.
A good starting point is the Landscape & Visual Assessment, which you can find towards the end of the Planning Application Documents. This shows that the blight is known about in advance, accepted and approved of by Leeds City Council. It’s not an accident or an oversight – it was a conscious decision to prioritise Harper Farm’s survival over the quality of life for other residents. At this stage of my research, I’m not even saying that’s wrong, it’s just the logical conclusion drawn from reading the Planning Application. You can see in black and white (well, purple and white), the extent of the area blighted by the turbine, and yet looking through the documentation, I have failed to find any acknowledgment whatsoever from the council that this blight might have a harmful or unpleasant impact on those areas affected.
My conclusion is that every resident of South West Leeds is paying a little, both in money and in quality of life, for the survival of one small, struggling business, Harper Farm. The wind turbine is simply a conduit via which energy is transferred, from the many to the few.