Plans for UK’s tallest windfarm draw mixed reaction from local residents
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
Plans to build the UK’s tallest wind farm in south Wales have provoked both anger and excitement among local residents.
Coriolis Energy and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) are planning to build 26 wind turbines in a semi-rural area between Port Talbot and Maesteg. The site would be called ‘Y Bryn Windfarm’, lasting 50 years.
If the project goes ahead, the turbines would be the tallest in the UK, measuring 250 metres high and 170 metres in rotor diameter. The UK’s highest wind turbine is located at Lethans, Scotland, measuring 200 metres tall.
There are only two buildings that are taller than 250 metres in the UK – The Shard (310 metres) and The Helter-Skelter, Twentytwo, The Pinnacle (278 metres).
The proposed development site is owned by Natural Resources Wales, located north-east of the M4 motorway, over the mountain from Brombil through Bryn to Nantyfyllon and Caerau along the flank of Garnwen Mountain.
Some residents are concerned about the height of the turbines.
Andrew Thomas, who lives in Cwmavon, said: “I think it’s an awful idea. The dimensions of the proposed turbines are excessive, they’re absolutely horrendous in size.
“If there was a plan to put much smaller wind turbines in the area and they weren’t so much in view of people, that would be a better consideration. But at the same time, we’ve got copious amounts of water in the area and nobody’s looking at how we can use water turbines safely.”
Dan Jones, who lives in Maesteg, said he was “mixed feelings” about the plans.
“Frankly I don’t think they look that bad. If they stick out like a sore thumb that could be an issue but if there are similar wind farms built around the area then it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. If it’s the biggest in Wales, excellent.
“I’m quite glad that the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels is being taken into consideration and they’re going to produce renewable energy. I am concerned the works are going to cause disruption to my enjoyment of the natural environment.
“But then I’m also excited about the opportunities the access roads would offer us so we could improve access in the long term. So realistically I think the people who are complaining about it spoiling the views are barking up the wrong tree. If you keep burning fossil fuels, you won’t have much of a view left.”
Jen Makovics from Maesteg said she is not concerned about the impact of the wind turbines on the views of the surrounding area and thinks the proposal is overall a good idea.
“Once they’ve been around for so many years, you don’t think about them anymore. I walked the dog today and there are turbines you can see in the distance, power lines, a huge cell tower right above Maesteg which is ugly as sin but nobody seems to care about them anymore.”
Jen’s husband Alexander, who works for an environmental charity, said he is “all for” the project.
“The taller they are the better because ultimately that means there’ll be less turbines. I don’t subscribe to any of that nonsense of ruining the landscape or ruining the view of the hill.
“I don’t have a problem with the height but there may be some issues with improving local access roads to get the turbines here to begin with. I know those lorries can be quite big so they may need to straighten out some things.”
Mr Jones also said bringing the turbines into the area could cause problems.
“The transport of the turbines through Maesteg would be an issue for residents given the last time they built a wind farm in that direction they had to come through the town and shut two streets.
“A lot of local residents are very concerned about the traffic implications given the fact the main access road to Maesteg is also undergoing extreme road works at the moment – it’s got a lot of traffic lights on it and reduced speed limits. From what I’ve read in the proposal, they’re going to create a new junction of the M4 for this so I think there’s a lot of NIMBYism going on.”
Cmavon resident Rhodri Williams does not think the project should go ahead because it would cause “irreplaceable damage to the countryside”, the jobs would not go to local people, and the energy provided by wind turbines is “not reliable”.
“It’s scandalous in my opinion. We need more answers, surely there are cleaner ways to produce our energy. Why can’t the Senedd find the money to go ahead with the tidal lagoon? It would be a lot greener and there’d be a lot less side effects from that.
“We’re all encouraged by the Welsh Government to go outside and exercise and that’s all we’ve been doing for the last year. A lot of us have been working from home with our families and that’s what’s been keeping us sane, the beautiful scenery that we have around here and the brilliant views from the top of these mountains, which would no longer be here if they build on the site. You can’t put a price on it.”
Mr Makovics also said the energy produced by wind turbines is not always consistent but thinks the pros outweigh the cons.
“I’d like to see more local benefits… the power has to go directly into the national grid and I think it would be really interesting and useful to have a lot of energy storage options housed locally.
“The problem with wind turbines and solar panels is that the power they generate is very variable and obviously highly dependent on the weather – the problem around that though is to install local battery storage.”
Mrs Makovics added wind power is better than the alternative options currently available and she trusts the developers will undertake the necessary studies to ensure there is minimal environmental impact caused by the project.
“I’ve lived in areas where they’ve stripped a whole mountainside down to nothing to get to coal and that’s not sustainable nor can you reverse it.
“When anything is new there tends to be an overreaction at first and then… the impacts of this versus staying on coal and oil, there’s no argument between the two at all.”
Mr Jones also has faith that the environment would not be significantly harmed by the project.
“We’re going to power more homes, we’re going to ensure our economy improves in the future. These are all man-made forests, I can’t see what environmental impacts there would be beyond the groundworks. It’s not as if it’s a special site of scientific interest. When they do a project like this they’ve got to manage the impact on the environment anyway and I guess that it would be minimal.”
“I don’t think there’s been any consideration for the impact on animals and wildlife,” said Mr Thomas.
“These turbines kill an awful lot of birds every year – that concerns me because wildlife has an important part to play in our ecology and our own survival. I think we need to be looking at alternative ways of managing our environment.
“We should be booking at different methods of creating alternative fuels and not just looking at wind power. There is nothing else that’s come into this area in terms of inward investment to create jobs for this town.
“It’s always something that is a fad of an idea and nothing creates long-term prosperity for the area. It’s a really poor thought-out idea and I do worry for the consequences if it does go ahead.”
A spokesperson for the project said turbines of such a great height are being considered because they can produce more energy than smaller ones and the company is undertaking studies of the impact of the project on the ecology of the site.
They added: “Turbines will be situated away from residential addresses, and the design of the proposal will take noise considerations into account.
“Coriolis Energy and ESB have committed to ensuring that, wherever possible, Welsh contractors are employed to help us deliver the services we need for this project.
“Wind energy has an important part to play in the decarbonisation of Wales. As one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation, and as part of a mix of green energy generation technologies, it has the potential to contribute greatly to the drive towards ‘net zero’.”
Trevor Hunter, project manager for Y Bryn Wind Farm, said: “We are looking forward to seeing people at our public exhibitions, and to hearing local views on the proposals. We’ve already had some valuable feedback and we will be looking at all comments very closely following the consultation to feed into the further development of the proposals.
“If anyone has any questions or queries about what we are proposing, we’d encourage them to take a look at the virtual consultation available on the website, www.ybryn-windfarm.cymru, as there is a great deal of information there.
“All our events will be run in a Covid compliant manner – this means that we may only allow certain numbers of attendees in at a time in line with current guidance, and that face masks and use of hand sanitiser will be required upon entry. I apologise in advance for any inconvenience this may cause”.