Wind Turbines – What Makes the Fens So Attractive?

11:35 Monday 11th July 2011
Mid-Morning Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY HARPER: Local people who campaigned against new wind turbines in the Fens are unhappy, after plans which were rejected by planners at Fenland District Council have been approved by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles. Eight turbines will be put up in total, five at Boarding House Farm to the west of Wimblington, and three at Burnt House Farm near March. Further plans are in the pipeline. So, are the flat open spaces of the Fens especially appealing for promoters of wind energy? Nick Medic is from Renewable UK, which represents the wind wave and tidal energy industry. Nick, Good morning to you.
NICK MEDIC: Good morning.
ANDY HARPER: So, one assumes that the flat lands of Cambridgeshire lend themselves to be prolific when it comes to wind turbines. Is that the reason? Or is it because there is acquirable land available?
NICK MEDIC: Well there are, as with everything, a few factors making this part of the country suitable for development. Now obviously the geography: when you look at the wind map of the UK, what you see is that Fenlands have a very good wind resource. We’re looking at windspeeds from about 5 to 7 metres per second, across large parts of the area. But then also it’s an area with very good grid connections. Wind farms produce significant amounts of electricity, and you need good grid connections, strong power lines, in order to be able to feed that electricity into the grids. So when you take those two factors into consideration, which is grid and the availability of wind resource, yes, fen lands are a very very good area.
ANDY HARPER:So people therefore have to face up to the fact that companies are going to be looking at them enviously. Should they though, the residents, the people who live in the area, still have the right to say no?
NICK MEDIC: Exactly. Our association and the wind energy sector in general has always followed a policy of consulting closely with the local communities. And throughout the consultation process, including the decision making, it really is the local community that decides. Our point is this. Wind energy, wind as such, produces significant amounts of electricity. When you look at Scotland at the moment, already Scotland gets something like 15% of its electricity from wind alone, around 30% of electricity from renewables. The same in Spain, Ireland, Denmark and so on. So it is a very valuable resource. But then again there are the economic benefits. And when you look at research into this area, what you find is that during each wind project, around £1 million for each megawatt stays during the lifetime of that project at local and regional level. So not only can we do something to offset carbon emissions, and ensure continuing energy security for the UK, but local communities benefit from wind farms in a very tangible way, whether it’s from business rates, community benefit fund, land rent, employment and business contracts, and so on.
ANDY HARPER: So, that’s how the communities can gain on this. Are there still big financial incentives for companies to build turbines? Because there are quite a few companies about, aren’t there?
NICK MEDIC: There are. When you look at the pipeline of projects in planning at the moment, let’s say in your part of the world, there are  plans for a further sixteen turbines or 32 megawatts. Now that’s not an awful lot. What these statistics point out is that actually, yes, there are companies pursuing wind farm development. But this is only because England’s wind resource is massively underdeveloped. I’ll give you an example, and this comes as a surprise to a lot of people. When you look at Germany, or the Netherlands, or Denmark, in some cases these countries which are more densely populated, what you find is something like 6 to 12 large wind turbines per 100 square kilometres. Now in England that average is just 0.5. So we don’t have even one large wind turbine on average per 100 square kilometres. Effectively it’s one turbine per 100 square miles. So despite the fact that our wind resource is amongst or of not the best in Europe, our wind resource is massively underdeveloped. And I think the reason why you see interest, is because there is a resource that would serve both the country as a whole, and the local communities, were it to be developed.
ANDY HARPER: So will there be greater pressure on finding locations then?
NICK MEDIC: Well I wouldn’t think of it as pressure. In order to make a wind farm project viable, you need good wind speeds. There is no point in building a windfarm if it’s not windy. So I think what developers look at is primarily the resource. But then again there are other factors. As I said, grid is an important factor. Also proximity to housing, the industry has faced increasingly tough regulation, over the last decade or so, as to how distant turbines need to be from houses. So what you’re looking afor is something of a holy grail, which is a windy location, with good grid, but not too near to anyone. And I think those sites are increasingly hard to find.
ANDY HARPER: Nick, it’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.
NICK MEDIC: Thank you.
ANDY HARPER: That was Nick Medic from Renewable UK, which represents the wind, wave and tidal industry.