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Welsh Government department says energy park ‘would damage the soil on which it’s built’

19 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Artist impression of the proposed Twyn Hywel wind farm as seen from Alexandra Terrace, Senghenydd. Credit: LUC

Martin Shipton

A specialist department of the Welsh Government has lodged a formal objection to a developer’s plan to build an energy park with 14 wind turbines in an upland Valleys area.

According to Bute Energy, the Twyn Hywel Energy Park at Senghenydd, Caerphilly will produce enough electricity to power more than 80,000 homes.

But the Soil Policy & Agricultural Land Use Planning Unit of the Welsh Government’s Department for Climate Change claims the application is contrary to existing planning policy because it would damage the soil on which the turbines would be erected.

Adverse impact

The unit’s submission to a planning consultation states: “The proposals will have an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment and represent a net loss of the peat resource. The Department does not consider acceptable provisions for the conservation and protection of peat can be achieved, and the proposal lacks detail for the effective site restoration of mineral soils.

“The proposal has not demonstrated that the site can be reclaimed to an acceptable standard and after-use. This should have been presented in sufficient detail for … statutory consultees to form a judgement as to its feasibility. There is significant doubt as to whether satisfactory reclamation can be achieved at the site, and as such, the planning permission should be refused.

“The lack of a detailed scheme means the Department does not have confidence that the land can, as far as reasonably practicable, be brought to the required standard when it is reasonably fit for (agriculture) or be brought to the required standard when it is suitable for sustaining trees, shrubs or other plants.

“When operations cease, land needs to be reclaimed to a high standard and to a beneficial and sustainable after-use so as to avoid dereliction and to bring discernible benefits to communities and/or wildlife. The proposal lacks the necessary detail to reasonably assess and provide confidence that a high standard of reclamation and beneficial and sustainable after use can be achieved.

“The Department considers locating borrow pits [holes dug for the purposes of removing gravel, clay, soil or sand to be used in a construction project] on areas of peat, which is an acutely sensitive natural resource with multiple benefits, as unacceptable. Peat soils are extremely fragile. The proposal risks compromising the long-term integrity of the peat resource and as such puts at risk the resilience of the multiple ecosystems which peat support.

“By developing peat, the proposal compromises the resilience of ecological networks. Development proposals must consider the need to safeguard protected species and species of principal importance and existing biodiversity assets from direct, indirect or cumulative adverse impacts that affect their nature conservation interests and compromise the resilience of ecological networks and the components which underpin them, such as water, air and soil, including peat. As Policy 9 of Future Wales highlights through the identification of national natural resources, peat is the critical component underpinning these networks.”

Climate emergency

Matthew Haughton, Bute Energy’s project manager, said: “The proposed Twyn Hywel Energy Park will generate 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 clean energy generated at Twyn Hywel will help displace approximately 5.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent to taking all cars off the road in Caerphilly County Borough Council each year. Improvements to habitats and support for local wildlife are also included in the application, with the project committed to delivering around 20% Biodiversity Net Benefit to the site through proposals including hedgerow planting and the restoration of degraded bog habitats.

“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.

“Twyn Hywel 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.

“As the proposed Twyn Hywel Energy Park will generate more than 10MW of energy, it is classed as a Development of National Significance(DNS). This means that we have applied to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW), which will make a recommendation to Welsh Ministers, on whether or not to grant planning permission.

“We are aware of the representation made by the Soil Policy & Agriculture Land Use Planning Unit and will continue to engage with them – and other stakeholders, as the project proceeds through the DNS process. If consented, Twyn Hywel Energy Park could begin construction and start generating the clean, green power that Wales needs to transition to Net Zero and respond to the Climate Emergency in 2025.”

Mr Haughton said the objection was “from one specialist team within a Welsh Government department, rather than the Welsh Government or a department as a whole. We expect to hear from the Welsh Government regarding the outcome of the DNS (Development of National Significance) application in Quarter 2-3 2024 [ie between April and September].”


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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Is it just me or are other wondering if they should produce the profits forecast for any company doing this? Other than power x homes.

But if it is on peat, that will be a lot of harm to the environment. Peat is something that should stay where it is.

josh
josh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

while that sounds right in principle, there’s no guidance as to the condition or depth of peat in question. If it’s drained and degraded, it emits CO2. Welsh Gov could (and does) have the wind farm restore it by doing things like blocking up drainage ditches that have been built over the last 100 years, so it recovers and starts absorbing CO2 instead.

Dr Jonathan F Dean
Dr Jonathan F Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Whether or not this is a good financial investment is entirely down to the developer though

What they should be doing though is following the methods in the mandatory H M Treasury “green book” to determine the value to society … however, the Welsh Government has so far avoided all use of mandatory guidance for renewables

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

“…..the application is contrary to existing planning policy because it would damage the soil on which the turbines would be erected.”

That’s a statement that could be applied to most of the larger wind turbine installations of recent years and certainly those now at proposal stage. On the one hand soil, plant life and wildlife is damaged or exterminated by the developers, and on the other our daft Bay government are sinking millions into restoring peat land as though they hadn’t sanctioned the destruction that comes with these land based wind turbines.

Ap Kenneth
1 month ago

Having to dig out peat for “borrow” pits, for hardcore for the tracks and hardstanding while constructing the towers seems odd when these hills are covered in old coal tips which should be able to provide similar material, so improve the safety of the tips by re-using the material in another location?

Dr Jonathan F Dean
Dr Jonathan F Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

I’ve wondered the same but imagine by blasting borrow pits they get exactly the type of rock they want and not have to screen out the dross that might be even less stable in a tip

Dr Jonathan F Dean
Dr Jonathan F Dean
1 month ago

Considering Wales can reach net zero twice over just by using offshore wind, it’s utterly lost on me why there are any proposals for the less efficient, more expensive (p/kWh) onshore wind

Non Davies
Non Davies
1 month ago

at last! someone of integrity demonstrating the courage of their conviction and expressing an informed and professional view.

Why vote
Why vote
1 month ago

Sounds like lots of taxpayers hard earned coin may be used in courts with the developer and council/government arguing over who is best to save the planet, is this some sort of comedy sketch Sounds very monty python to me. GET A GRIP.

Jicarilla
Jicarilla
1 month ago

Firstly I know there are many variables in this but on average a domestic supply to a home is about 9.2kw. This means to power 80,000 homes you need a capacity of 736MW. Now an average 5Mw windmill (others are available) using a 42% supply factor (not running – no wind,, too much wind, maintenance etc.) gives us 2.1Mw per windmill. (which is about right) Divide that into the 750Mw means you would need about 350 Windmills, even using a home consumption factor of 33% you need 117! So how big is this proposed park really? Now I said at… Read more »

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