On a sunny Saturday, about 100 small-scale wind power activists packed into a nearby park for a rally and tour around the On the edge of a scruffy patch of farmland straddling the M62 motorway, Benburb Low Lights, an ambitious project to run wind turbines at 150 metres on the wind farm owned by Alison Woodhead and her colleague Brian Mills, plans for a like-minded wind farm at just 17 metres were announced this spring with The Power Struggle, the presenter of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, on hand as a guest expert.
The trouble is, the Saffron Offshore Wind Farm is not supposed to be a like-minded wind farm. You have to be at least four kilometres from the nearest turbine site to be eligible for the new UK Renewable Energy Certification, or REC, which is the toughest form of certification for sustainability and reliability and is required by the P.E.I. Renewable Energy Minister to apply for the project.
Saffron gets the REC, automatically, because it meets the minimum requirements of community involvement in the project and public consultation. Woodhead and Mills don’t get to apply for the REC, however, because they are the only people in their community, and in their land, who are free to apply for it. And they do not want to.
All the arguments, meanwhile, against the REC have almost all been expressed by people like Maggie Buffini, the government’s minister for energy and infrastructure, and Steve Middleton, the former P.E.I. cabinet minister in the administration that cancelled the Kelowna Solar Project, which applied for the REC, but the Minister refused to allow the project to proceed. It is alleged that the project would put neighbouring children at risk of exposure to the radiation emitted by the six turbines and the equipment they would support, and that the net benefit of the project (a facility with the capacity to sell electricity to the national grid) would not be worth the direct impact. And who could argue with turbines blowing up clouds and displacing air pollution?
Woodhead and Mills, already concerned about their diminishing number of flats on their land that lie within the boundary of the proposed Scenic Country over which the turbines would be visible (by the way, this is not saying that wind farms pose no risk to the health of individuals or vulnerable groups such as migrating birds) have filed a claim for their home, seeking an order under the National Register of the Lands Appointments Act 1958 to be entitled to apply for the REC.
The company proposing the project, Three First Wind, has been called as a defendant in their suit. As a case it is unusual, the unusual being the fact that it is not legally a claim for the REC itself, but that Three First Wind (which – the conservation minister has confirmed – plans to only obtain the REC in the commercial market, without seeking approval from the advisory body) should be made liable to pay the costs of any and all witnesses (both parties) who testify at the event.
And then there’s the yarn that the opposition to this wind farm “doesn’t sit with what people want”. The so-called Concerned Residents of Benburb (CORB) have filed a separate claim to the REA for a Community Benefit Agreement and to bring the project to a halt. But are they the ones who don’t want anything from this wind farm?
CORB have taken up the question of MoneysavingExpert, an independent online provider of savings and investing guidance, to provide some information on wind farm company or developer profitability and risk of default. There are some good points about the various companies cited and an intriguing analysis of how the risks go from comparatively moderate to very high when you end up saying something like, “Look out for Government debt by assuming that each project’s financial statement is independently audited.” And then there’s a worrying examination of some of the wind farms to have been built in other countries and how their vulnerabilities might start to emerge and exert competition pressure on those elsewhere. (Dangers in the wind industry of government debt threat! How to manage it! What