Green power and green places
WHEN it comes to producing renewable energy Cornwall is one the leading counties in the UK, and with nine wind farms and hundreds of individual turbines dotted across the county, wind power is playing an increasingly prominent role in our quest to be green.
"Cornwall is nature's playground when it comes to renewable resources," says Ed Gill from Good Energy, which operates Delabole wind farm in North Cornwall. "We have a huge amount of wind resource."
As a result of our plentiful and consistent wind supply the county has become a hotspot for wind turbines in recent years and the number of applications for wind farms and individual turbines is continuing to rise.
Over the past five years Cornwall Council has received more than 500 planning applications for wind turbines across the county, of which 314 were approved. Throughout this time the number of applications steadily rose each year, from 67 in 2008 up to 219 in 2012.
However, as the number of applications has increased so have calls for greater protection of Cornwall's landscape.
Environmental groups Cornwall Protect and the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) are campaigning for more account to be taken of the impact wind turbines have on the countryside.
A spokesman for both organisations said: "Many country-dwellers resent the deep beauty, which is composed of natural features of their rural locations, being stolen from them in favour of turbines which disrupt landscapes through their huge stature, constant motion and metallic structure."
The two groups argue for a greater balance between the need to protect the landscape and the need to invest in renewable energy programmes.
"What we can do is to achieve a balance between our renewable energy needs and landscape harm. The balance we must strike is between our rights and obligations.
"Both sides now recognise concern for the planet must be translated into local action in the place where they live."
Cornwall's councillors are in the process of finalising the Core Strategy, also known as the Local Plan, a framework for how future decisions will be made regarding wind turbines, as well as all other planning policies.
The council is considering proposals to introduce buffer zones, which would mean no wind farms could be built within 800 metres of residential properties or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
One more extreme option under consideration proposes an almost total block on any new planning permissions for large-scale wind farms in Cornwall.
Cornwall Council said in a statement that it aimed to find a balance between protecting the environment and developing renewable energy generation in the county.
"The role of the local planning authority is to balance the desire to protect the local environment, in particular the outstanding features of the Cornish landscape and its value to the economy and tourism, with the need to encourage deployment of renewable energy generation," it said. "This is a challenge which the council takes seriously."
Although all turbines must meet set criteria before permission is granted, each application was decided individually.
"In its role as the local planning authority, the council is required by law to judge all applications on their merits on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the environmental, economic and social costs and benefits," the council said.
Environmental groups are calling for communities to have greater involvement in planning renewable energy projects to minimise the effects on local residents.
The CPRE and Cornwall Protect spokesman said: "Each community in Cornwall and Devon should be tasked with drawing up a plan to initiate sustainable energy projects and the parish members should have control over how conspicuous these projects will be."
Those living near wind turbines should also receive a share of the financial gains: "There should be a right to buy into the profits of any turbine which the parish has permitted. Wind turbines in Germany and Denmark are often entirely owned by local co-operatives or local authorities who pay a ground rent to the landowner."
Projects such as local tariffs for residents are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and Good Energy, which operates the Delabole wind farm, is one such company which is offering local people discounts on their energy bills.
Residents in Delabole have also benefited from a community fund which has been put towards Christmas lights and installing hand-dryers at the local school.
Ed Gill from Good Energy said: "The tariff and the Delabole community fund are part of a wider approach we take to ensuring that our renewable energy projects benefit those living closest to them.
"The fund, which is independently run by members of the local community, has played an important role in developing that approach."
With lower energy bills for residents living near wind farms and local community funds benefiting the local organisation, the negative effects of living next to the machines may be somewhat dampened, but for some these perks will do little to alleviate their fears about the future outlook of Cornwall's landscape.
As the Government attempts to reach its target of 15 per cent renewable energy generation by 2020, wind power looks set to become an increasingly important component of energy production in the UK.
The decisions now being made regarding a policy framework for wind turbines in Cornwall will play a key role in determining the county's contribution towards creating a greener future and what effect this will have on the county's iconic landscape.