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Concerns raised over valleys windfarm plans

08 Sep 2023 11 minute read
Sheep on the slopes of Cefn Eglwysilan. Photo Gareth James is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter

Concerns have been raised over plans for a wind farm with 200m high turbines to be built in the south Wales Valleys

Bute Energy are proposing an energy park called Twyn Hywel made up of 14 200m high (to blade tip) turbines on the border between Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Three of the proposed turbines are planned to be sited on Cefn Eglwysilan, above Cilfynydd in RCT.

It is designated as a development of national significance so it will be up to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales to decide.

The plan is to generate 92.4MW of clean, green energy, enough to power the equivalent of 81,000 households a year.

It will also include an annual community benefit fund in the region of £693,000 which adds up to £30 million over the 45-year operational life of the project.

The council’s planning committee recently discussed the proposals and agreed to submit a local impact report to PEDW laying out what impact it could have on RCT.

A councillor’s concerns

RCT councillor Cathy Lisles said: “To give a sense of scale, Blackpool Tower is 158 metres and the GPO tower in London is 177 metres high.

“Granted, these landmark towers are much wider and thicker than a wind turbine but I feel these planned turbines have the potential to tower over Pontypridd town centre.

“I am wholly in favour of green energy solutions including wind turbines. This energy park is estimated to produce enough energy to power 81,000 homes and will go a long way to helping Wales meet it net zero target.

“However, I am concerned that local residents have not been given all the information they need to be able to judge the effect this proposal will have on their communities.

“In the documents from Bute Energy, there is a picture taken from Upper Alma Terrace in Treforest with the wind turbines added in.

“However, Treforest is off to one side and not straight on so it is difficult to see by what amount the development would overshadow Pontypridd

“There are also no pictures showing the aviation lighting that has to be added to turbines 1 and 3 and how this looks from the Pontypridd valley at night.

“I also have concerns about the type of companies that are putting forward these sorts of proposals and the market-based approach that is being used.

“I would like to see greater involvement of Welsh Government in alternative energy developments across Wales. In the lower South Wales valleys many wind farm developments are being proposed close to, or above coal tips.

“In the rush by capital investors to make gold out of our Welsh alternative energy resources we might risk repeating history, leaving just as hard to deal with legacy as made in the rush to make money out of ‘Black Gold’ in the 1800s.

Local control

She said she would like to see a higher degree of local control in all such schemes adding that there is very little real local ownership so far although a major investor is the Welsh Pension Partnership.

“This is the Local Government Pension Scheme covering everyone from council officers and teachers to County Councillors, such as myself.

“My final concern is with the Community Benefits package being proposed by Bute Energy who intend to provide £7,500 per MW, which is 50% more than the industry standard. However, this standard was set in
2015 and the energy market has changed significantly since then.

“So, £7,500 per MW may be under what the energy park could realistically realise for local residents in terms of enhanced community benefits.

“This is a large development, termed a Development of National Significance and will be decided by Planning and Development Wales (PEDW), an arm of the Welsh Government. The final date for comments is September 8. I would like to urge local residents to look at what is proposed on the PEDW web-site and make any comments to PEDW by that date.”

The consultation ends on September 8 and people can respond by contacting PEDW via email quoting the project title and new reference number in the subject line.

Fears over coal tip impact

Margaret Morgan who lives in Cilfynydd in RCT said she had a number of concerns about the impact on the nearby Albion tips especially the fact that there’s going to be such heavy building going on in such close proximity.

She said: “No one knows 100% what will happen.”

She said she had concerns about drainage and there’s a very sensitive drainage installation which has already had to be replaced and supplemented in the last five years and there’s a worry about the impact of the building works and an increasing amount of water coming towards the tip.

She said: “Bute will be diverting water away but water will find its own level. It’s too late after the event.

“It is absolute lunacy that they are considering putting turbines in an area that is already subject to 24/7 monitoring.”

She also said the local impact report submitted to PEDW by RCT barely mentions the Albion tips.

She also mentioned the significant excavation that will be needed to create an access track with “abnormal loads” being transported across the whole site.

She went on to raise concern about the blasting that would occur and the depths they’d need to go to to build the turbines.

“Why are they pitching it where they are? I just don’t understand when there is a known danger so close to the actual site. Why are they going ahead with it? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

She also asked who is going to be monitoring the drainage 24/7 and highlighted that retrospective readings of the tips after heavy rainfall were now being done as a report said that remote telemetry wasn’t working in all areas and she said this needs to be updated.

She added that there is no need for the development and that “the council should know that and should be doing everything in their power to keep it away from us.”

She said there is a feeling that it’s being “waved through” as the council don’t have the power to say yes or no.

She also said that when Bute Energy first made the proposal, they weren’t aware that the Albion tips were there and that they scoped out some.

She said it’s not about being a Nimby (not in my backyard) but detail is being overlooked and that they seem to have been fighting this battle with one organisation or another for so many years and they had to fight to get the first drainage installation.

She said: “It appears to us that it seems to be profit before people. They can’t ignore the fact that people live here.”

Scale

Kim Allen who lives in Llanfabon in Caerphilly County Borough also raised her concerns about the scheme and that her main one was that people aren’t aware of it.

She said people don’t know who to go to about it and that it would have been better if it had been left to the council.

She said she is “really concerned” about the whole scale of it and said it’s too big a project for just a five week consultation and that there was no real community meeting about it with just 15 minute one on one meetings as a result of Covid.

She also raised the issue about whether the same amount of energy would be generated on land as it would offshore and she also highlighted that there are ancient monuments in the area.

She went on to ask what happens if something goes wrong and residents are left paying up adding that “people don’t understand how big we are talking” when it comes to the size of the turbines.

She said it’s “very short term thinking” and that 45 years is “not a long term fix.”

She said she is afraid of the long term impact and said: “I don’t think that they have thought it through properly.”

She also raised concern about the amount of community benefit being provided and that it’s not about being a “NIMBY” but that people are concerned about the blasting and the effect on water supplies as you “can’t say 100% that the water isn’t going to find another way.”

“I can’t see how they ever assessed it as being a suitable area.”

Climate emergency 

Matthew Haughton, Twyn Hywel Energy Park project manager said: “The proposed Twyn Hywel Energy Park will include up to 14 wind turbines – up to 200m tip height – generating 92.4MW of clean, green energy, enough to power the equivalent of 81,000 households a year.

“The project responds to the Climate Emergency and will help local communities live modern electric lives, while supporting the Welsh Government’s target for electricity to be 100% renewable by 2035.

“The Twyn Hywel Energy Park will also deliver significant benefits to the local community, including an annual Community Benefit Fund in the region of £693,000 – totalling more than £30 million over the up to 45-year operational life of the project.

The Community Benefit Fund will provide local groups, charities and services with funding to sustain their work, create new innovative projects that
benefit local people and help organisations combine their expertise with others to build large scale multi-year legacy projects to benefit local communities. Uniquely for a fund of this type, it is linked to the Consumer Price Index to allow for economic inflation and to future proof the funding.

“Informed by engagement with local people and stakeholders, Community Benefit Funding will focus on creating healthier, wealthier communities by supporting recreational, health and wellbeing improvements, enhancing local education offering and identifying more pathways into employment
for local people.

“And it will highlight opportunities to celebrate and promote local culture, heritage and biodiversity. The Community Benefit Fund will be formed as an incorporated charitable entity separate to Bute
Energy. The decision making will be led by a grants panel of individuals who live and or work near the project, with lived experience of the local investment priorities.

The majority of the proposed Energy Park site sits within a Pre-Assessed Area for large-scale onshore wind energy according to the Welsh Government’s National Development Framework, Future Wales: The National Plan 2040. This set out a presumption in favour of large-scale wind energy development in those areas.

“We understand that local people are concerned about the potential impact on coal tips in the area. In designing the project, we have made sure that the proposed infrastructure is deliberately positioned away from tips in the area, with drainage management included as part of the proposals to avoid any impact on the tips.

“We first consulted on our proposals to generate clean, green energy at Twyn Hywel in 2021 and early 2022. Feedback received from local communities, stakeholders and specialist consultees helped evolve the proposals ahead of Statutory Consultation that ran from November 2022 to January 2023, including a number of public consultation events. We submitted a Development of National Significance (DNS) application in May 2023 to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW). This was validated by PEDW in August 2023 and will now proceed through the DNS process.

“If consented, Twyn Hywel Energy Park could begin construction and start generating clean, green power in 2025.”

Impact report

A spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said: “The Council’s Planning Service has fully-participated in the statutory consultation process being carried out by Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW), and has completed its requirements as a consultee in that process. A Local Impact Report (LIR) has recently been submitted to PEDW, having been considered by the Council’s Planning and Development Committee at its meeting on August 17.

“The Committee resolved to include an Addendum Note to the LIR, asking for issues raised by Committee Members and other contributors to be carefully considered by the PEDW-appointed Inspector, who will examine the case.

“These issues include views expressed that heavy construction activity and blasting required to install the windfarm, together with resulting possible changes to the natural watercourse and drainage, could be detrimental to the Albion Tips in Cilfynydd – adding that the mitigation offered by the applicant to date did not offer the Committee sufficient reassurance.

“It is for the PEDW-appointed Inspector to consider the matters raised in the Council’s LIR and Addendum Note. The Inspector will examine the application and make a recommendation to the Welsh Government Minister, based on planning merits and national priorities. The Minister then decides whether or not to grant planning permission.”


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Jenny
Jenny
7 months ago

I do wish Bute Energy would give proper facts when it comes to the “operational life” of the energy park and the generation capacity. The capacity and, ergo, the equivelent number of households that it has the ability to power each year (whatever that means) does not take proper account of load factors. For onshore wind this is about 30%, so the figures they give would have to be divided roughly by 3. The model of turbine that they have chosen to show in their planning documents, according the manufacturer has a lifespan of around 20 years. Yet they say… Read more »

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