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Energy firm reveals its wind farm plans for Wales are inspired by the UK’s biggest such project in Scotland

31 Jul 2023 6 minute read
Whitelee Wind Farm by Ian D is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Martin Shipton

The biggest wind farm in the UK – on moorland less than 10 miles south of Glasgow city centre – is being hailed as the inspiration for a controversial plan to build a network of similar structures across mid Wales.

Whitelee Wind Farm, managed by Scottish Power Renewables, has been earmarked as a scheme to emulate by Bute Energy, whose onshore wind proposals have faced vocal opposition from those who don’t accept they are necessary to combat climate change, and who object to what they see as the potential destruction of beautiful Welsh landscapes.

The idea to create a wind farm at Whitelee originated in 1996, but it took 10 years of planning, including gaining the approval of the three local authorities whose boundaries it straddles, before construction began at the site, which lies at 300 metres above sea level. Initially it had 140 turbines, later rising to 215, producing 539 megawatts of electricity at full capacity, enough to power about 350,000 houses.

Whitelee is also a recreational asset. It’s criss-crossed with paths used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and has a visitors’ centre popular with school parties and other visitors.

Peat blanket

The wind farm covers an area of more than 30 square miles and has tracks with a total length of 80 miles. It has multiple owners, including Scottish Water, the Forestry Commission and some private landowners, but Scottish Power Renewables has a lease on it. The moorland, formerly grazed by sheep and used for grouse shooting, is covered by a peat blanket which acts as a carbon sink. It’s not suitable for arable farming.

Until recently the biggest wind farm in the UK, Whitelee’s title has now been claimed by a bigger facility in Sweden.

Stuart George, the managing director of Bute Energy, said that Whitelee Wind Farm combines modern engineering and environmental sustainability: “The visitor centre acts as an educational hub, fostering discussions on the importance of renewable energy and its critical role in combating climate change,” he said.

Stuart George, managing director of Bute Energy

“The unique access that Whitelee offers the public demonstrates that onshore wind energy can deliver significantly more than just energy. The careful management and enhancement of peat, and the extensive improvement to habitats and biodiversity the wind farm has brought, highlight that wind farms can make a truly lasting impact that benefits the local community, and society as a whole.”

Mr George said that Whitelee had not only provided a source of clean energy but also significantly benefited its local community: “It has stimulated job creation and economic activity, underscoring the potential for onshore wind farms to function as catalysts for economic and societal growth,” he said.

“With its rich landscapes and coastal winds, Wales holds vast potential for onshore wind power. Similar to Whitelee, wind farms in Wales could trigger substantial economic activity, create jobs in various sectors, and draw further investment into the region.

“Our aim is to mirror Whitelee’s economic success in Wales, recognising it as a unique opportunity to energise our economy, drive job creation, and attract green investment. Furthermore, the visitor centre at Whitelee serves as an excellent example of how renewable energy sites can become educational and tourist attractions. Moreover, capitalising on onshore wind power could enable Wales to make substantial strides towards meeting its renewable energy and climate targets.

“Onshore wind farms provide an excellent opportunity for Wales to take decisive action against climate change. Onshore wind is a critical technology in the path to Net Zero as it can be delivered at speed and at scale, all the while being the cheapest form of electricity generation.

“We at Bute Energy are committed to capitalising on the wind energy potential in Wales.

“By harnessing the weather, Wales has the opportunity to completely reshape and decarbonise its energy system. By embracing onshore wind farms, we can create a future where our energy is clean, our economy is robust, and our communities are engaged.”

Radnor Forest. Photo by Ted and Jen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Jenny Chryss, of the group REthink, which opposes Bute Energy’s plans, said there were significant differences between White Lee Wind Farm and Bute Energy’s planned energy park at Nant Mihil, about five and a half miles east of Llandrindod Wells in an upland area known as Radnor Forest.

Nant Mihil Energy Park, if approved, will comprise the construction and operation of about 36 wind turbines, an electrical substation and control building, underground power cables, anemometer masts, site access tracks, habitat management, and off-site highways improvements including a new bridge over the River Wye.

Ms Chryss said: “Most of the 215 turbines are 110m to blade tip – exactly half the height of those planned for Nant Mithil. The rest (69) are 140m, 80m lower than Nant Mithil ones.

“Eaglesham Moor [where Whitelee Wind Farm is located] is flat and stands at 300m above sea level. The Nant Mithil site is undulating and goes to over 500 metres. So the cumulative height will be very different.

“Eaglesham Moor lies 9.3 miles south of Glasgow. Nant Mithil would sit adjacent to the highest point in Radnorshire, in a beautiful and remote upland area miles from any major city. It would be industrialisation of a unique rural landscape in isolation, rather than an expansion of an urban landscape. The only other industrialisation or urbanisation there would be nearby are Bute Energy’’s other proposed wind farms, substations and pylons.

“Whitelee has more than half a million people living within a 30km radius, a completely different area to Radnor Forest. If you don’t just consider Nant Mithil in isolation but surrounded by the other wind farms proposed by Bute, here and down the line, I’m sure you will get at least as many turbines as Whitelee alone, but all almost certainly higher and covering a larger area.”

Loggerheads

Bute Energy and its detractors are at loggerheads.

While some of Bute’s opponents maintain that onshore wind projects are not needed to enable Wales to meet its renewable energy targets,and that offshore wind is preferable, Bute insists that all forms of renewable energy must play a part in helping to combat climate change.

Equally, while the Welsh Government’s policy is to prefer community ownership for wind farm projects, Bute Energy argues that huge capital investment beyond the scope of community groups is necessary if schemes are to be taken forward.

Big battles lie ahead.


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Ap Kenneth
7 months ago

Wind turbine ownership is not beyond the scope of community ownership and I would point you to Ripple which constructs turbines and now a solar park owned by a co-operative. Their first turbine was Craig Fatha above Llantrisant. Bute is all about maximising profit they have no interest in a community owned model. There are problems building on every upland area. Not enough research is done on looking closely at the archeology, not just the cursory desk research but a fine on the ground fieldwork. Senghenydd is one area that needs proper fieldwork before we destroy, it can inform where… Read more »

Non Davies
Non Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

the sadness is that England doesn’t need to, as Welsh Government is seemingly happy to help to the detriment of Welsh landscapes and communities

Nia James
Nia James
7 months ago

Yippee! Lots of turbines from China to scar our landscape. Then watch the money flow to the east of Offa’s.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago
Reply to  Nia James

Bute is just part of the infestation of carpetbaggers trampling all over our country. Drakeford and his compliant crew should dump their affection for big corporates and divert funds into community owned schemes. But that just won’t happen as the guy is infatuated with the big business/big government model.

Robert Eastham
Robert Eastham
7 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Despite all the big business model talk by Mr George the irony is that Bute Energy is not a big corporate but a private company 88% of which is owned by one individual and which has never built a wind farm in its existence. Quite why the government would want to risk the reputational damage of doing business with them is a mystery.

Non Davies
Non Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Robert Eastham

Indeed, anyone doing business with them including private landowners would need to be satisfied that their liabilities are limited, especially when the sites are sold on as anticipated. It is possible that collective action will be taken in respect of the adverse impacts, at some point.

Non Davies
Non Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Welsh Government fail to see the distinction between being a net exporter of energy and being exploited. Cofiwch Dryweryn? It appears that recollections fade when the financial incentive is high enough and the regard for landscape, individuals and communities correspondingly low enough.

Ann
Ann
7 months ago

I am very much pro renewable but there are so many questions about the embedded energy in them, how they will be recycled, how battery components are mined etc. Surely solar panels on existing buildings should be prioritised over more rural construction! The Bute family has over the years made, or increased, its fortune from Cymru, no more Rape of the Fair Country!

Arthur
Arthur
6 months ago
Reply to  Ann

Oliver Millican et al’s “Bute Energy” does not appear to have a direct link to the Bute family that I am aware of. From what we have discerned from Companies House and Bute Energy’s original website, Bute Energy began as a partnership between Edinburgh-based Scottish private investment firm, Grayling Capital and Njord Energy. Steven Radford’s Njord Energy was the original owner/developer of notorious Hendy Wind Farm at Llandegley Rhos Common which is across the A44 from the Radnor Forest. I agree that we must do everything possible to stop any further rape and pillage of our precious Welsh landscapes, especially… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago

Not a fan of wind turbines, apart from being a blight on the landscape the low frequency noise and the fact they only work intermittently is a huge drawback. Surely tidal power is a better option. That aside Wales is already the fourth largest exporter of electricity in the world, ie we produce more than we need. Why do we need wind farms?

Weedod
Weedod
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

As a Scotsman I totally agree with your comments as we too produce more than we need and have to pay to put it on the national grid to sell!

Non Davies
Non Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

much better for the energy to be produced where it is needed. I wonder why Bute Energy don’t have proposed sites where the energy is needed. Sound business sense one would have thought.

lufcwls
lufcwls
7 months ago

I don’t get a trust worthy vibe from Bute Energy…

Robert Eastham
Robert Eastham
7 months ago

So Mr George, not satisfied with the environmental damage his plans will do, now wishes to turn Radnor Forest into a theme park. If he had spent any time here he would know that there are many existing footpaths and bridleways enjoyed by walkers, riders and cyclists who value the peace and quiet. Mid Wales is not Glasgow and his and Bute Energy’s motivation is not public good but personal profit. Some honesty would be appreciated.

Barry
Barry
7 months ago

So commercial success and profits equates to inspiration to do more of the same in the same way to make more money. The quick buck route to profit whilst massively overproducing in Wales in ecologically sensitive areas that should really be registered as areas of outstanding natural beauty. Proposed offshore development around Wales, a renewables capability which has not really been tapped into yet at scale has the potential to dwarf the capacity of mid Wales onshore proposals. So other than commercial gain why is the proposed onshore model good. The Wales offshore potential is now emerging fast with approvals,… Read more »

Clive Goodridge
Clive Goodridge
7 months ago

Extremely over ambitious of Mr George, because Bute, who are new to the game, have not built a single windfarm anywhere or had a planning application for one approved……yet…….!!??
They’re not interested in saving the planet……just destroying the countryside & making money…..lots of it…….£££££££!!!!!!

Chris
Chris
7 months ago

I would like to see a nation wide and UK wide plan for alternative energy. This development seems random and disjointed from any wider and far sighted intelligent energy planning. Bute is building a part network in competition to the National Grid, bypassing Welsh communities and throwing tourism and landscape under the bus for a short term gain that may not fit the rest of the grid development. I can’t see many long term jobs being created once the system is running but many jobs in the tourism industry being lost for good. Wind energy is intermittent and its integration… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris

I couldn’t agree more Chris. I watched a video recently of Margaret Thatcher giving a conference speech in 1989 – not for any political reason but because she was talking about climate change, using that very phrase. We’ve known about it for long enough now, surely it would have been within the capabilities of those who have been in power since then to get something going to mitigagte it that was holistic, properly considered and used a variety of technologies that produced stable, constant results rather than an intermittent and weather-dependant system. And, above all, structured by people who knew… Read more »

Gareth Westacott
7 months ago

Wales has enough wind turbines. Far too many. No more.

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
7 months ago

Why does not anyone mention the consumption side of the equation
Our homes are full of appliances mostly on standby if infrequently used
Home heated like a Mediterranean holiday venue with bills constant all year round
Minimal clothing with any attempt to provide body warmth at any time of the year

Riki
Riki
7 months ago

And will no doubt all be built on top of ancient British (Welsh) ruins! Ruins that cadw refuse to excavate.

Arthur
Arthur
7 months ago
Reply to  Riki

This is sadly very true. Firstly it should be noted that Scottish novice wind developer Bute Energy have never before constructed a wind turbine let along 22 “energy parks” which they have registered on Companies House. In addition, they are directly connected to dodgy as heck Hendy Wind Farm. Bute Energy stated on their original old website that it was a partnership between Njord Energy Limited (Steven Radford and his wife, Hendy WF developer), and a Scottish private investment firm called Grayling Capital based in Edinburgh. The three primary directors of Grayling Capital are also directors of Bute Energy. With… Read more »

Dorienne Robinson
Dorienne Robinson
7 months ago

The wind and energy farm planned for Nant Mithil, and the wider Radnor Forest uplands, is a prime example of outdated thinking on climate change and how to mitigate it. We don’t save the planet by destroying the land!!
Here is a voice that must be heard, Jim Perrin from The Guardian.:

Arthur
Arthur
6 months ago

Thank you Dorienne for sharing this wonderful video. Please note that “Nant Mithil” does not exist except in the minds and sinister plans of Bute Energy who have never before built a single wind turbine. Yet, they apparently have plans for 22 “energy parks” which they have registered with Companies House. Bute Energy fabricated the name “Nant Mithil Energy Park” for their plans to desecrate the Radnor Forest. The name derives from small but very significant Mithil Brook which, in itself is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which sources from the ancient domed Silurian hills of… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Arthur
Non Davies
Non Davies
7 months ago

Can someone please remind me how many turbines Bute Energy have actually built. Jenny Chryss’ comparative analysis demonstrates how superficial Bute Energy’s understanding is of the comparison.

Arthur
Arthur
6 months ago
Reply to  Non Davies

Zero.

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