HC 517 The Economics of Wind Power
Memorandum submitted by Anglesey Against Wind (WIND 75)
Anglesey has a long history of onshore wind power. The earliest recorded windmill dates from 1303 and a list of the remains of 34 wind and water mills was compiled in 1929 to remember the invaluable role wind technology played in the island’s economy. These stone towers with ‘sails’ generated power in situ for milling the grain grown in Ynys Mon - the bread basket of Wales. They were an integral part of the agrarian scene of fertile green pastures, pre-Cambrian rocky outcrops and oceanic climate. As an island of abundant natural resources, prominently located on the ancient sea-trading routes around the Irish Sea, Anglesey has been exploited from ancient times through Roman occupation and into the modern age.
In the early 21st century as mankind evaluates the effects of the industrial revolution and looks at how to manage and harness natural resources Anglesey is once again a focus of Europe-wide attention as UK subsidy for wind energy is perceived as a lucrative cash crop.
Food production from farming and fishing remain crucial to the island’s economy. And as befits one of the most beautiful parts of western Europe tourism, recreation and sport have steadily grown over the last century to be probably the most important sector of the economy. More recently energy generation has become the third most important driver of the local economy, both metaphorically and actually.
Anglesey’s economy has benefitted over the last 50 or so years from being host to Wylfa nuclear power station. And possibly the largest section of the island’s population want to see new generation nuclear plant built to secure around 800 permanent jobs including highly skilled professional, engineering and scientific employment. In a population of less than 70,000 this is a significant number of new jobs. With a further 2000 or so during the construction phase this would be very welcome in a period when other industrial sectors on the island have contracted with the loss of some 1000 jobs since 2009.
While off-shore wind developments are likely to bring some work to Holyhead Port the number of temporary and permanent jobs will be a fraction of those Wylfa B could provide. Onshore wind developments provide few if any permanent jobs on the island. We have only identified two permanent local employees. The energy companies operating the existing 3 wind farms clustered in the north of the island at Rhyd y Groes, near Amlwch and Cemaes; Llyn Alaw near Mynydd Mechell and Llanbabo; and Trysglwyn, near Rhosybol can no doubt give details. There are 72 turbines in these locales that have been in operation since the mid-1990s. So Anglesey has experience of modern wind technology as well as its forerunners.
It’s notable that when considering these large energy developments in 1992 Anglesey County Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance states that " the Secretary of State for Energy is empowered to make orders requiring the Regional Electricity Companies to take a proportion of their supply from non-fossil sources...and a financial subsidy for the development of renewables is provided through a Fossil Fuel Levy. However, a deadline of 1998 has been set for the establishment of renewable energy schemes by means of NFFO support, and after this date the projects are expected to become commercially competitive." We are still waiting for onshore wind to become commercially competitive and unreliant on subsidy. Meanwhile the local residents have yet to see much tangible benefit from these developments, and indeed the residents, shops and businesses, in for example, Cemaes high street complain of frequent power cuts. There is a £24,000 p.a. and a £5,000 p.a. index linked local Benefit Fund which is frankly derisory. A few farming enterprises have benefitted from rental income.
In 2011 some 4000 people were employed in tourism and leisure on Anglesey and the sector generated some £233 million a year into the local economy. The sector has grown in recent years and is now the largest employment sector on the island. A study in 2005 for Tourism Partnership North Wales found that Snowdonia and Anglesey was a ‘key iconic destination’ due to the quality of the natural environment and beauty of the landscape. However tourism businesses in the north of the island in the vicinity of the existing wind farms that have turbines sized around 40 metres high do not appear to have flourished and long-established businesses have closed.
Successful tourism businesses in the rest of the island such as Anglesey Sea Zoo and those represented by Beaumaris & District Chamber of Trade and Tourism are concerned that the threatened proliferation of onshore wind turbines at new sites near and far from their businesses will inevitably damage their businesses. Modern turbines sized up to 145 metres will dominate the relatively flat topography of the island and be visible from all parts of it. The smaller sized existing turbines have a wide visual impact. If additional developments spill out of the existing wind farms to other parts of the island then these will further detract from the island’s natural beauty to the point where they will destroy its unique character and the attraction of its natural landscape.
Graphics presented by DECC’s Chief Scientific Advisor David MacKay at the Hay Festival demonstrate the huge land area that would be required if onshore wind was to provide a significant percentage of UK energy. Tourism and all other forms of economic activity on Anglesey, including farming, are in danger of being crowded out if the implications of this huge demand for land are not realised. The existing Anglesey wind farms claim to produce the equivalent of about 70% of the island’s household electricity. The 2 RWE Npower farms cover an area of 400 hectares. The impact on land use compared with Wylfa’s output, which generates the equivalent of nearly half the electricity Wales needs, is stark.
The other main consequential costs arising from the expansion of onshore wind developments concern the health, well-being and property values of affected residents and homeowners. We have evidence that Anglesey properties for sale near existing turbines take longer to sell and sell for less than comparable properties situated in turbine free areas. We are aware of local property sales that have fallen through once the purchasers learned of potential turbine developments and we have evidence that local estate agents are informing potential clients that their properties may be devalued by as much as 20% following a judges ruling concerning compensation to purchasers who claimed the vendors did not disclose information about a potential development which did proceed and did devalue the property because of noise pollution, light flicker and damage to visual amenity.
The Davis case in Lincolnshire about the impact on health and property values of a nearby windfarm, though settled out of court, demonstrates the financial and health implications of certain developments on households. There is also considerable evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems for nearby residents. A useful compilation can be found in an article published by Carl V. Phillips, PhD in Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society titled ‘Properly Interpreting the Epidemiologic Evidence about the Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents’.
Anglesey Against Wind Turbines is working with Dr Craig Young from the School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University to plot the potential economic impact on properties near to actual and proposed onshore wind developments on Anglesey. Research will be undertaken in the coming months and is unlikely to be available before this Committee deliberates but depending on the date we may have some further information to present.