"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Wind Farm at Nant y Moch


Some miles away from where I live is a roadless area in which I like to walk . There has for some time been a proposal to site an industrial scale wind farm in the area and today a prospectus was delivered to my house, along with all other houses in the district, setting out the proposals and assuring residents that it would be good for the local economy. “A local girl”, as the prospectus puts it, is working on community liaison and “local consultants” are advising on the scheme. We are even informed that a local printer has produced the document we are reading. They clearly feel the need to ‘sell’ the project to the local community and to that end are offering to fund local projects and community initiatives. The company concerned, Airtricity, are headed by an ex Energy Minister who controversially blocked a bid to refer to a public enquiry the wind farm development at Cefn Croes not very far away from the present proposed site. There are also a number of smaller wind farms in the area, one of which I can see from where I live. When these were developed I was not against them and felt that landscape intrusion was worth putting up with for the environmental benefits. When the much larger Cefn Croes site was developed I began to have some doubts. There were arguments from some questioning the gains in environmental terms and doubting whether the energy produced would significantly exceed the energy expended in production. And some of this energy would also be lost in transporting it over long distances into the National Grid. These doubts were reinforced when the huge turbine blades and columns were delivered to the site. Their size far exceeded the ones we were used to seeing and the convoy of heavy lorries carrying them caused a massive tailback on the A44 road across the Cambrian Mountains and further delays as they manoeuvred onto the site.

At Cefn Croes, access roads had to be constructed but at least these were accessible from the A44. The current proposed site is on the western side of Pumlummon mountain and access would require a considerable road infrastructure to support it. The only road into the area is an unclassified single track that can be scary to negotiatiate even in a car. This runs across the southernmost part of the designated area and crosses the dam which regulates the flow of water into the River Rheidol from the Nant y Moch reservoir to the hydro-electric power station in Cwm Rheidol some distance downstream. This road would not support the sort of vehicles which brought in the turbines to Cefn Croes and the ones to be used at Nant y Moch are to be even bigger. So the development will mean building roads across the area, not just small roads for maintenance access but also larger ones to get the material in. This will mean excavating a considerable amount of peaty soil both for the roads and the turbine bases. At an initial ‘information’ display in a village hall a while ago I asked the advisor if this had been factored in to the calculations. But it seems not even to have been considered that disturbing peat releases carbon into the air and that a peat conservation strategy should be part of the climate change prevention agenda. Nor has the effect of the hydrology of the area been considered as considerable amounts of water are retained by the peat which would otherwise run off into the Wye and Severn valleys and exacerbate flood risks further downstream. In fact then, as now in the published prospectus, the ‘information’ about the development is confined to reassurances that few people will see it from their houses and to offering derisory benefits to the local economy.

So who will benefit? Much of the land to be used is being acquired from the Forestry Commission who no longer regard forestry in the area as viable. Again, though subsidies are available for the wind farm, the idea of subsidising forestry for paper production in Britain (which is in decline) rather than importing it from places like Indonesia (where the production of cheap paper has developed at the expense of the rain forest) seems not to have occurred to anyone. Some local landowners will no doubt receive payments, and the ‘consultants’ mentioned earlier will benefit. A few local jobs may be created to set against those lost in the forestry. Ecologically, the environment will inevitably be affected whatever the environmental gains for green energy generation. The area concerned is often spoken of as a wilderness both by those who value it and those who wish to see it exploited. But it does have some cultural significance. The name ‘Nant y Moch’(‘Stream of the Pigs’) is said to derive from the story in the Mabinogion as a stopping place on the journey south by Gwydion with the pigs he acquired from Pryderi. More historically, it is also the location of Hyddgen where Owain Glyndwr gained a great victory in his campaign to establish himself as the leader of the Welsh in the 15th century. So it is not quite the empty place that ‘wilderness’ suggests.

And will the environment benefit? I am far from convinced that there will be any significant gain in terms of reduced carbon output, certainly not within the projected 25 year life span of the wind farm. The politicians will, of course, be able to tick their green boxes and will no doubt assure us that we are doing our bit for climate change. Developers will profit from grant-aided work on projects that would otherwise not be economically viable. But I doubt if there will be anything other than a negative effect when considering the totality of environmental issues involved. I am passionate about the environment and concerned to do my bit to address climate change. But it seems to me that schemes like this will, in the long run, only discredit the idea that we can do anything about this by political initiatives and provide further ammunition to those who are cynical about attempts to address global warming.
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More information and photographs of the area can be found on the Cambrian Mountains Society web site :

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