First Wind Farm Pulled Down
As the first turbine farm is dismantled, meet the victorious villagers whose six-year mission has crucial implications for other campaigners
Joseph Turner loved the view from Bolton Abbey, the Duke of Devonshire’s 30,000-acre estate bordering the Yorkshire Dales. On three occasions, his brushstrokes took in the ruins of the 12th-century priory and the rolling hills of Wharfedale beyond. The same scene appealed to William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, who wrote about the “sweet peace” of the “wild northern land”.
The landscape also attracted less welcome visitors, however. In 1991, Yorkshire Water decided the hills overlooking its Chelker reservoir, five miles from Ilkley in North Yorkshire, were “ideal” for Britain’s third-ever wind farm because of their exposed location within “very open countryside”.
Its application was approved the next year, and the company put up four 140ft (43m) turbines in neighbouring fields. Planners gave them permission to keep the wind farm going until 2016. In 2008 locals believed they had lost their old view permanently when Yorkshire Water put in a fresh application for a “second generation” of turbines, which would have given them another 25 years on the site.
Yet, as The Daily Telegraph reported this week, Chelker has become the first-ever commercial wind farm in Britain to be dismantled. After councillors turned down two proposals for new turbines (the second submitted in 2011), the company has taken down the existing ones three years ahead of schedule, and said that the fields will never again be used for wind power. Campaigners believe the decision has national significance.
Locals in the nearby villages of Addingham and Draughton – many of whom have opposed the wind farm ever since the turbines were first erected – were celebrating their “David and Goliath” victory after a six-year campaign. They watched as a crane wrenched each turbine out of the ground, before lying them end-to-end across the meadow.
Today all that remains of the wind farm are four circles of concrete, which can only be glimpsed by leaning across a dry stone wall from an adjoining field at the end of an access track. Yorkshire Water admitted this week that the turbines had become “obsolete”, generating far less electricity than newer models. A study three years ago showed that they were generating just 9 per cent of their intended capacity. It is also harder and more costly to source spare parts for older models.
The effects of the decision could soon be felt across the country. More and more wind farms are being proposed, taking advantage of lucrative subsidies and divisions within the Coalition, where Energy Secretary Ed Davey, the pro-wind Liberal Democrat, is at loggerheads with Owen Paterson, the Conservative Environment Secretary, who is thought to oppose wind farms. Latest figures from the department show that 188 onshore sites were given planning permission between January and August, an increase of nearly half on the same period last year. But while campaigners have occasionally been successful in halting a development before it is approved, this is the first time they have triumphed after turbines have been installed.
This milestone is timely. Planning permission generally expires after 25 years, so developers must get approval before using a site a second time. At least two dozen wind farms built within six years of Chelker will soon need to be replaced, giving campaigners hope that even if turbines have stood for decades, securing permission to extend the lease is by no means a foregone conclusion.