A much heralded Geminid meteorite shower round the middle of the month had me waking at 3.00am to a bedroom far too light in spite of drawn curtains and blinds. The moon was still high in the sky (click here for more). Creeping back to bed, I dozed until 5.00 then slipped outside again, camera in hand. I only spotted a couple of weak shooting stars, but the 2 long exposure images I managed yielded, with a bit of fiddling, the above result which I rather enjoy for its contemporary artistic feel.
It also serves as a reflective link to my main feature, which I’m burying in true bad news fashion, over the Christmas holidays.
Rewind to 2005. The Welsh Assembly, as it was then known, or WAG as it is known today, commissioned the civil engineering firm Arup, to explore the Welsh landscape for suitable venues for large scale wind farm construction. No significant local consultation that I was aware of was undertaken, but as a result 8 SSA (Strategic Search Areas) were created across the nation.
In the same year, I’m sure as a complete coincidence, RWE (no, not REALLY WELSH ELECTRICITY, but Rheinisch-Westfälische Elektrizitätswerke, a pan European energy firm based in Germany) were granted sole exploitation rights to SSA G, otherwise known locally as the Brechfa forest, in what came to be known as TAN 8 (Technical Advice Note 8). By further coincidence in the same year RWE announced major financial sponsorship of the local regional rugby team, The Ospreys. Click here, and here for a couple of links to these developments, which started to meld the image of wind turbines and ‘local’ investment into the psyche of South West Wales. (Addendum- like so many links, in a review of this post in 2020, I see that RWE no longer seems to be a princpal sponsor, thus all traces of their links to the club in 2013 seem to have been removed).
The Die Was Cast.
The Sky People Are Coming.
The following year, 2006, Carmarthenshire County Council also commissioned the same firm of civil engineers, Arup, to conduct a more detailed review of SSA G, for the purposes of exploring its real potential for wind turbine placement. Maps were drawn up, and separate zones created for turbine placement, again with no significant local consultation.An intriguing phrase struck me when reading through the introduction to this report which you can access by clicking here. (OOps, no you can’t – again it’s been removed!)
One of the key parts of the report was the production of a ‘Land Map of Visual and Sensory Value’ (LMVSV). But it was made clear that this was “largely derived from desk study, based on published landscape assessments”. And that any area of the SSA would be potentially available for development if the aforementioned LMVSV had a value less than ‘outstanding’. What constituted ‘outstanding’, is not however defined.
But surely beauty is in the eye of the beholder?A bit tricky perhaps, if it hasn’t ever been beholden, by an analyst completing a desk based study analysis of ‘visual and sensory value?The Die Was Cast.
The Sky People Are Coming.
The first we really knew of the local plans was when a motorbike passed me at dusk as I was doing regular maintenance work on our track over 4 years ago. A rare occurrence, and even more rare was the obvious strangely vowelled South African voice, from beneath the helmet, asking me for directions to Gelli. He later explained he was on a ‘scoping mission’, employed to assess the visual impact of future huge turbines on our property. Discovering that he was from Cape Town, an equally stunning visual landscape blessed with occasional strong winds, I asked if South Africa was about to turn the Cape of Good Hope into an industrialised wind turbine filled landscape.
At this point I decided to buy a camcorder and film what life was like here in 2010, in case the turbines were ever built, and things then changed.
How would anyone know we had peace and silence so extreme that you can hear the slugs eating on a still night, if it wasn’t recorded in some way?
Or how would you know about the loop the loops, and other avoidance strategies of aerial conflict between the superbly aerodynamic Angle Shades moth and their pursuing predator bats, amongst the firs of Sifigwm forest, unless you’d seen it with your own eyes?
And so ‘Epiphany in Translation’ came to be made, recording life here in images and sounds, as my brother Mark had through the medium of poetry 15 years earlier.
and we were off the map, as Gods ,Ghosts and the lost are.
(From ‘In Translation’ by Mark Wormald 1995).
The film was shown locally, and I submitted it, along with a copy of my Moth DVD-ROM, as part of my objections to the scheme in the planning consultation process that rumbled on from March 2011, in the naïve assumption that these records might actually form a part of any decision making process. My guess now is that at best, they gather dust in a drawer, or more likely were quickly binned. It’s very unlikely that they were ever viewed by the planning committee who made the final decision just before Christmas.On December 17th, some 33 months after the initial plans were submitted to Carmarthenshire council, (which still markets the county as ‘The Garden of Wales’, and includes on the linked page below an item on the secret Brechfa forest garden at the epicentre of BFE. Click here for link, and here for another – two more dud links I’m afraid in 2020), a planning committee of potentially 19 members from the county council had elected to make a pre decision meeting to visit to the potential BFE site (Brechfa Forest East).
The Die was Cast.
The Sky People Are Coming.
For those who haven’t yet picked up on my theme here, I should explain that a few days before the site visit, Fiona had asked friends up to watch a film with us – this is quite a rare and special event for us, since we have lived without a TV for the last 26 years and so need to set up our projector and screen before watching a DVD. I didn’t know that she’d chosen to screen Avatar.
And as I sat and watched a film I’d previously seen over 2 years earlier, I was struck by the resonance of themes. The RDA (Resources Development Administration) were hell bent on mining the immensely valuable mineral unobtanium, from a foreign world, Pandora. Here the native humanoids lived an alien existence (to the humans and their machinery) in harmony with a diverse and beautiful flora and fauna, interlinked in a complex physical and spiritual way, living lives pretty much uninterested in the concepts of money, technology, or exploitation.
The RDA had all the data on their computers. Their desk top analysis of where the best mineral deposits lay, beneath the home tree of the humanoid Na/Vi tribe, but they just didn’t appreciate the complexity of life there.
How could they?
They never got out of their bubble of atmospherically controlled environment.
So it seemed entirely appropriate that on the morning of the site visit, the few locals who chose to silently protest along the route of the climatically controlled bus carrying the committee’s members, should be greeted by fabulous changing views unfolding to the East and South.Then, after half an hour, rising mist enveloped the road to reduce visibility to a few yards.
In a strangely eerie and appropriate way, through the fog a single engined plane could be heard above, flying from South to North.
And finally, like layers of cloud just above the horizon, the dark ridges of the distant Black mountains re-emerged from the impenetrable vapour again, for just a hint of the mystery around.
Sweeping round from the mountain road behind, came the cream coloured coach.
But the coach didn’t stop to assess the vista. Simply slowing, as it swept over the laminated moths littering the road, scattering a couple in its tyred wake.
Later in the council chamber a democratic gathering.
And a score.
10 – 5
At least some knew, and fought.
But where were the Dragons?The Toruk?
The rains and winds have returned. 250 mm in 10 days.
Trees have been toppled. Ditches and drains dammed with late fallen leaves. Banks burst.
Perhaps the true wrath of Eywa awaits these constructs of concrete, steel and carbon fibre as they rise into the Carmarthenshire skies?
And do I remain.
PS – As a follow on from this, I thought I should update readers on my regular endorsements of Good Energy as our electricity supplier. I was first introduced to them by a fellow gardener a few years ago. At the time, by coincidence, we were using RWE as our historical electricity provider of several decades – we knew little about power, generation or energy consumption back then. When the wind turbine issue first came to my notice I did quite a bit of research and came to the conclusion that all around the world industrial scale wind turbines were creating big issues for local communities. Partly for that reason, I investigated PV micro-generation, as well as micro hydro. The latter is extremely difficult in the UK, not because of lack of rain, or gradient, but the number of layers of compliance to negotiate, to initiate even a simple scheme utilising just run off from the hillsides.
As soon as our PV system was up and running I was delighted by the non intrusive electricity produced and the impact it’s had on our overall energy consumption by raising our awareness of efficiency and insulation issues. All benefits which don’t accrue from mega generation systems. The government provides a Feed in Tariff (FIT) payment system to all micro-generators based on electricity produced, and paid out to the generator, by their electricity provider. As the sun shone through that early June, and the brand new meter clocked up a rapidly rising reading, I was eagerly awaiting an initial tiny return from the major personal investment involved.
So it came a s a big shock when RWE refused to pay me for the first couple of hundred units of electricity generated. There was complete intransigence, and the fact that I’d spent thousands with them as a loyal customer over decades counted for nought. (Subsequently I’ve realised that customer service doesn’t appear to be one of their top priorities: there have been two Which? surveys, the latest in December 2013, which lists them as bottom, or bottom but one in phone answering times on their customer call lines. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but routinely waiting 17 plus minutes for a phone to be answered doesn’t impress me. Perhaps some of that rugby sponsorship funding would be better spent in this area? (Click here for link. Interestingly, this link to the Which? site does still work. Funny, eh?)
But what about Good Energy? I’ve been very happy with their customer service, and I liked the idea that they’re keen on helping and supporting micro-generation, as well as using 100% renewable generation for their supplies.
But this clearly presents a dilemma. Some of their electricity comes from wind turbines – they bought an existing wind farm in Cornwall and have recently re-powered it. You Hypocrite! You Nimby! (I have indeed removed just such a comment from this blog – well there have to be some perks to a venture like this). However, as a company they do at least provide a discount off bills to local residents, though that may be small consolation to many.
They also seem to have an intelligent CEO in Juliet Davenport with, as some might say, ‘skin in the game’, who is prioritising good service and communications with customers, as well as a more fair approach to price rises, and putting money into exploring ways of storing electricity effectively. This is a huge issue for any irregular system of production, which most renewables are. She was also instrumental in making Good Energy one of a handful of companies involved in setting up the Social Stock Exchange, as an offshoot from the LSE. So, on balance I was happy to support them – if you’re going to try to change a system currently dominated by 6 huge players, then you will need one or more smaller operators, (preferably based in the UK) to challenge the status quo.
And how many readers think about these issues in a meaningful joined up way anyway? More wind farms? Extra runway in London? Low energy light bulbs? Week end in New York? Infra sound or amplitude modulation? Wind turbine syndrome? Back up power stations running at low efficiency for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine?
I reckon it’s a pretty tricky job coming up with a holistic, rational, life style plan which encompasses a view on climate change, energy use and generation if you live in an affluent society. We do the best we think we can manage, but it’s certainly imperfect.
Heck, no wonder the politicians have rings run around them by vested issues on this, perhaps more than any other topic? Just WHO do you believe?
But, a few recent news items are currently troubling me. Firstly Good Energy appointed new board members with a background in the marketing and banking industry. So what?
Secondly they’ve just trumpeted a survey on the possible impact of wind farms on tourists visiting Cornwall. Minimal impact the survey apparently said. Tourists don’t seem to mind wind farms. All well and good, but what about the views of Cornish residents who live nearby to their existing, or indeed the other, wind farms in the area?
Finally they’ve recently held a very well supported fund raising of £15 million so that they can build further renewable electricity generating capacity. They aim to have 50% generation within house by 2016. Interestingly the majority of this is planned to come from new solar PV installation with a very limited number of new wind sites. Perhaps they sense that the public is growing weary of further landscape degradation from enormous turbines in an already crowded island?
So it came as a real surprise to read, by chance, that in Pembrokeshire they have just completed the sale of 75% of a planned and approved new PV site to another company, before a single KW has been generated. I’m sure that there will be a commercial or strategic reason for this. But I await to see how, or even whether, this decision is explained to a customer base expecting to see new PV installations coming on stream quickly after the recent fund raising.
For this reason I shall for now no longer provide a link to their site, though I’m happy to continue to use them as back up provider when we don’t generate enough of our electricity. Watch this space.
The Met Office said that there were no records of snow falling on Christmas Day this year in the UK. Click here for link. I publish the image below to correct this mistake.
Roll on a new year, growth in the garden, and the return of colour!
I resonate with your struggle; sadly not everyone has the breadth and depth of vision you clearly demonstrate. Patience and compassion must hold the space while the transition occurs, however long it takes. Wishing you all the best for the New Year. Arohanui
Thanks for the comment. It will be a tricky period whilst these things are built, and then?? Time will tell. Perhaps if I’m still going, I shall revisit the subject in the future, but not for a while I hope … it’s a little emotionally draining!
Best wishes to you for a happy and peaceful 2014,
How sad for you. It seems like this type of thing plus other seemingly insoluble and/or unstoppable forms of environmental degradation are going on everywhere. I was just reading about the invasive alien green crabs that are causing a collapse of the centuries old clam harvest in Maine. Is it worth reading about this stuff? I alternate between outrage and putting my head in the sand.
Thanks for taking the trouble to read my anguished spiel on this – indeed I was hesitant to write such a piece, but reckoned that it’s worth recording what you feel at the time for posterity … Maybe there will be no local issues after/during their build? Maybe there will. But I reckon on topics like this bloggers can write more from the heart than any conventional monetised media source, and hence, possibly, put a different slant on issues.
Thanks for the mention of the green crab invasion mention – one aspect of these problems is how what can co happily exist in an ecosystem in one part of the world can become so dominant (at least initially?), somewhere else. Does anyone know why in the case of the crabs? Presumably they’re lacking a natural predator at the moment?
Sometimes putting your head in the sand seems the best approach to retaining sanity, particularly during the winter months!
Best wishes for a Happy New Year, and I promise to be more upbeat next time!
When the windmills are up, I hope you will still be able to see the beauty in the landscape and if the windmills are a part of your view, that you will be able to see beauty in them as well. If not visually, at least in the fact that they are providing a sustainable source of electricity for your projector (after you have used the PV power). We, too, have PV panels and enjoy the reduction in our bills. I support wind farm development in most cases and have enjoyed what it can provide on both a small and large scale. I am pleased to say as well, that I have not found that my local hill landscape in Mawr has been spoiled by the sight of these structures – but then again, I can also see the beauty and interest of the geometry of electricity pylons!
Thanks for the comment and personal insight on this which you clearly have. I don’t think that I shall ever really be able to visually remove them from the landscape once they’re there or appreciate them since they are of such an epic scale. In this sense I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to use the term windmill, which really denotes, in my mind at least, something of all together more sympathetic scale to any landscape. Interestingly the council’s heritage officers must have felt the same way, since they objected to the development noting that the turbines would have ‘a serious impact’ on the 7 listed properties nearby. I also notice the recent comments by Sir Andrew Motion on this issue of landscape impact from major turbine developments – there is clearly a polarity of opinion on this point.
However all of this is now water under the bridge for us.
What does remain of course is the potential for noise disruption in an otherwise acoustically extremely pure and quiet environment. Again only time will tell, and I guess from your comments that you, (and others?) near to the turbines you mention have never suffered any problems of this kind. Unfortunately the only other similar development in Carmarthenshire (so far) has (apparently) made life a misery for some of the nearby residents of Alltwallis and Gwyddgrug.
I find it difficult to imagine why such strongly held, moving personal warnings about large turbines would be delivered by ordinary people, unless they were indeed experienced on a regular basis, and I guess that this remains one of my biggest worries. I’m sure that down the road I shall be able to report with more personal authority on whether any of these fears prove to be valid. Along with their actual working lifespan.
The issue of just how valid they are as a source of electricity production is a huge separate one, which I really think is beyond the scope of me addressing in my simple blog. Again, perhaps history will record whether they played a significant role in mankind’s, or even Britain or Wales’ energy strategy, or whether they turned out to be a bit of a blind alley.
Hi Julian, I don’t mind what you call them and don’t see that it makes any difference but I certainly agree about the complexity of the issue. There is so much (understandably) passionate language about it all and I doubt that anyone is truly objective on either side – probably myself included. “Industrialising the landscape” is a part of that but I understand and appreciate where Andrew Motion it is coming from in using it.
The sound element of the wind farms is important. I visited the Mynydd y Betws wind farm in Mawr last year to see the turbines up close and record the sounds they make. I was fascinated by the swish of the blades as they went round – less so by the hum! I was led to understand that the turbines could not be constructed within 80 metres of a dwelling. I do not know for sure if this is correct but either way, 80 metres is way too short a distance. In an urban environment this would not be less of an issue and I have seen a number of small wind farms in urban areas – the noise is drowned out by traffic.
What I agree with is the use of sustainable resources of energy production rather than the finite resources of fossil fuels or the toxic results of nuclear. I appreciate the level to which we “need” power these days – it is phenomenal – but also feel that if as much had been invested (or could be) in sustainable resources as there has been in nuclear and fossil fuels, then we would have already resolved many of the issues presented by these technologies.
In the end, the economy we live in requires that those in a position to do something about it (businesses, corporations and governments), will only do anything if they can see that it will make them a mint along the way.
Oh oh! Now I’m getting frustrated with so many things, I’m in anger of a major rant, so I will stop there.
I would love to visit your garden sometime this year if it possible, it looks really beautiful!
Hello again Alastair,
Thanks for the very thoughtful response. Not a rant at all!
I entirely agree with a lot that you say, including the noise of turbines when you’re close to them. I’ve also checked them just as you did. Which has left me even more perplexed about the problems that some experience from them.
Would be delighted if you wanted to visit the garden sometime – just pick a dry day!! Over 418 mm rain here in December – our wettest month ever. Some visitors have enjoyed it in the rain, but the light and shadows can be so special it’s worth scanning the internet forecasts in advance of a visit. Mind you, all this rain has led me onto some fascinating stuff to do with biomimicry which I’ve been researching tonight and which I’ll put on the blog in a few days,
Thanks Julian, do I need to make an appointment or could we come along anytime after February?
We do ask everyone to make an appointment first, either by phone or email, just so that we’re definitely going to be here! But basically after mid to late February, would be OK,
Thanks, I’ll be in touch and looking forward to it 🙂