Exploring the anti-wind movement in the UK

Ruth Chapman (l) talks with the owner of the Tafarn Dwynant in north west Wales. (Robert van Waarden)

Ruth Chapman (R) talks with the owner of the Tafarn Dwynant in north west Wales.

Pint in hand, I make my way to the corner table bathed in sunshine at the Tafarn Dwynant. Ruth Chapman joins me. Her glass contains orange juice and her baby bump shows clearly. This is the hangout for employees and students at CAT, the Center for Alternative Technology, near Machynlleth, Wales.

Ruth studied Environmental Management at university and moved to Machynlleth, or ‘Mac’, to work in the wind energy department at renewable energy company Dulas. While working at Dulas she decided to enrol in the Master’s program at CAT and the subject of her thesis has brought us together today. One day, while attending a debate on TAN 8, the Welsh proposal for renewable energy, Ruth was surprised to find the room packed to the rafters. Emotions were running high and most of the crowd was anti-wind. Ruth had discovered her thesis subject.

A wind turbine in the Welsh hills, United Kingdom. (Robert van Waarden)

A wind turbine in the Welsh hills, United Kingdom.

“I looked around the room and thought if you’re an outsider, if you were in the media, then you might think they are all NIMBYs, they are all just opposed to it because they all don’t want it in their backyard. But, some people were making really valid points,” she says. “So why is it that I’ve come to see onshore wind energy as a symbol of a greener future, but they see it as something that is quite destructive to the local environment?”

Her thesis was born. It is easy to list the reasons often cited by people against wind energy; visual, noise, flickr, and supposed health impacts. But Ruth was interested in ‘why’ people are opposed. She selected a small sample group of anti-wind people and was surprised to find that most of them were people that she could have a pint with.

“I had assumptions and stereotypes about the type of people I was going to be talking to. But I have to say that most of them really disproved those assumptions and challenged me. I really enjoyed this, it is a healthy thing to do, but it sort of conflicted me.” What Ruth documented couldn’t really be called NIMBYism. The term itself, not in my backyard, implies that a person would be willing to have a wind turbine built somewhere else. But Ruth was surprised by the attitude of zero tolerance for wind turbines anywhere in the UK consistently expressed by her sample group.

Ruth Chapman (Robert van Waarden)

Ruth Chapman (Robert van Waarden

Ruth’s conclusions are varied. Several factors such as fairness, improper consultation, market mechanisms and government policies all play a role in creating anti-wind sentiment.

One individual was upset by the ‘check box’ consultation carried out by the developers and didn’t feel that their concerns were addressed. Another objected to the map produced by the developers that didn’t accurately represent the landscape. They didn’t feel that they could they trust the developers if they didn’t make the right map. Furthermore, the gulf between a slick, city presentation from the developers and a local Welsh town often put things on the wrong foot. Ruth’s other theory is that the historical relationship between England and Wales might also play a role. She thinks that the Welsh felt like they were just providing the resources once again for the English.

Sheep in a pasture in Wales. In the background is the Ceemase wind farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Sheep in a pasture in Wales. In the background is the Ceemase wind farm.

Ruth didn’t come up with any solutions and that frustrates her. She does think it is necessary to do a better job telling the story of the future of energy and climate change in the UK. Ruth thinks that more people would get behind wind energy if this were done. Ruth wants to do more with this research but right now her first baby is taking priority. She loves her job working for Dulas and she hopes to keep working in this industry for the foreseeable future.

On the way back to England the next day I pass the Ceemase wind farm. The rolling Welsh landscape makes it difficult to see and it is probably the most well hidden wind farm I have seen. But the fact remains; navigating the waters of the anti-wind crowd will continue to be a challenge for developers in the years to come.

A typical anti-turbine farm in mid Wales. Translation: No Pylons.No Wind farms in Montgomeryshire (Robert van Waarden)

A typical anti-turbine farm in mid Wales. Translation: No Pylons.No Wind farms in Montgomeryshire

Crowd Sourcing Wind Energy

Sue and Andrew Clarke enjoy a cup of tea at their home near St. Briavels. (Robert van Waarden)

Sue and Andrew Clarke enjoy a cup of tea at their home near St. Briavels. 

Once you get them started it can be hard to get them to stop. Talking about wind energy, Sue and Andrew Clarke bounce of each other, echoing or filling in the gaps when required. They love what they do and like everyone with a strong passion, they have sacrificed a lot to get where they are today.

Sue and Andrew live near St. Briavels in the Forest of Dean in western England. For 20 years they worked in large multinationals developing energy projects. When Sue started to work with the Transition Towns movement in her spare time they found their personal and professional lives diverging. During the week they could be found working on large energy projects and then on the weekend maybe marching in London for action on climate change.

They decided it was time to move on when a host of factors collided in 2008: economic downturn, support for renewables from the federal government, and Andrew’s professional life leading towards nuclear energy.

After many years of senior management in big business, they staked their pensions on wind energy and community owned development and founded Resilient Energy. They haven’t looked back.

“The best step that we have ever taken” says Andrew.

Sue and Andrew Clarke walking up the lane away from the St. Briavels wind turbine. (Robert van Waarden)

Sue and Andrew Clarke walking up the lane away from the St. Briavels wind turbine.

They devised a model for wind energy that will help meet, but not exceed, the energy needs of a community. This includes 50/50 joint venture ownership with the landowner with up to 70% of the revenue going back into the community. A key component of their model is crowd funding.

“With a feed in tariff you can get community projects off the ground, there is a guaranteed revenue stream from the government. There aren’t many businesses that you can get paid for 20 years for everything you generate. You can’t make pots and guarantee that someone is going to buy it,” says Andrew.

They worked with the crowd funding company Abundance and within four months had oversubscribed their St. Briavels turbine, raising a total of 1.6 million pounds. Over 450 people bought debentures with approximately 50% of them coming from the community. The youngest investor was 18 and the oldest was 82.

In a country that is known for it’s anti-wind lobbies, Sue and Andrew had a great experience the first time around. There were over 50 letters of support submitted from the community and only one against. However, their next couple of projects are stuck in planning. A well-organized anti-wind lobby is one reason, but ambiguity from the federal government is also a clear factor.

“We need a strong clear message from the government,” says Sue.

Dealing with the anti-wind lobby, Sue and Andrew have been forced to grow a thick skin. However, usually when they are really feeling low, the phone will ring from a stranger gushing enthusiastically about the St. Briavels turbine.

“Wind energy is a bit like marmite. No one goes around saying I love marmite, it is the best thing ever,” says Sue.

Sue and Andrew are particularly proud of the trickle down affect their work has had on their three sons. There were times when the money wasn’t readily available in the last few years because of their decision, but their sons have developed a greater understanding for this work and the issues. Their middle son is following in his parent’s footsteps and studying environmental science at university this year.

The Forest of Dean has a long history, it helped spark the industrial revolution and there is still coal to be found. There is a lot of energy in these hills and it seems that wind is the next logical step.

“Hopefully longer term it will get the communities thinking about what they actually need to be more resilient, thinking about the bigger picture,” says Sue.

The shadow of the St. Briavels wind turbine on the green pastures of St. Briavels. (Robert van Waarden)

The shadow of the St. Briavels wind turbine on the green pastures of St. Briavels. 

Constructing the largest wind farm in Europe

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania.

“When you drive from Constanta you can see the whole area is filled with wind turbines and it is a nice sensation, a nice feeling,” says Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600MW Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania.

Miklos says that he “fell into” this job. He began working in the construction industry when he finished university over 30 years ago. His experience took him to Hungary, Greece and on projects across Romania but he never thought that he would manage the construction of the largest wind farm in Europe.

Miklos Szilagyi descends the stairs of a turbine on the Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

Miklos Szilagyi descends the stairs of a turbine on the Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania.

“It wasn’t easy,” he says. They were starting from scratch and everyone was learning on the job.

“Each day during the construction we were thinking, what will happen today. There were a lot of issues,” says Miklos.

They had to pour 240 foundations, each one different: some were situated on rock, some needed pilings and some were easy. Miklos doesn’t think that there are two foundations that were made the same way. Each required 450m3 of concrete and 40,000kg of steel. The first loads of cement had to be shipped from Germany until Romanian manufactures managed to produce the grade required. They even had to construct a new concrete plant onsite to keep up with demand.

Wind turbines backdrop the small Romanian town of Fantanele. (Robert van Waarden)

Wind turbines backdrop the small Romanian town of Fantanele.

“Our knowledge was not huge. Everybody was learning, reading, talking together, and each day finalising something. We had a very very good team here.”

It took three and a half years of work but the wind farm came online in November of 2012. Wind energy accounted for 19% of the Romanian grid production when Miklos showed me around the site. Fantanele-Cogealac was flatout producing 580MW.

The newly painted Orthodox church in Fantanele. (Robert van Waarden)

The newly painted Orthodox church in Fantanele.

Fantanele-Cogealac is giving back to the neighbouring communities. The church in Fantanele has been repainted with support from the wind farm; a new market has been constructed; and furniture has been bought for the schools. 300 kms of roads have been built for the turbines, which means local farmers can now access their land in wet weather. Similarly, the villagers are working to improve their homes and taking more pride in their community. A lot has changed here in five years and the guaranteed tax income is going keep the changes flowing.

Miklos’ skills are required at an upcoming hydro project and he will soon sign off at the wind farm but he is walking away proud of his work and his turbines.

“They are very nice. Especially they are nice because they look nice,” he says.

Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania (Robert van Waarden)

Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania

Hitting the Jackpot with Wind Energy in Poland

(l-r) Mieczys?aw and Miros?awa Horodiuk  in their home in the Polish commune of Kobylnica. (Robert van Waarden)

“We feel like we’ve won the lottery.”

Miroslawa and Mieczyslaw Horodiuk sit on a couch in their living room, their aged cat stares through the window. Here in Konczewo in north western Poland a late spring snow has fallen, delaying the spring planting for this farming family. They rest easy knowing that summer will come and they now have a guaranteed income.

10 years ago a wind energy developer approached the Horodiuks to lease part of their farmland for a wind turbine. They were sceptical about this opportunity. It would have been difficult for them to agree if they were on their own, but they had support.

Leszek Kuli?ski, mayor of Kobylnica, Poland. (Robert van Waarden)

Leszek Kulinski, mayor of Kobylnica, Poland.

The citizens of Kobylnica had been prepared for such an event. Leszek Kulinski, mayor of Kobylnica, became interested in wind turbines while on holiday in Denmark. (His wife complained that 80% of the photographs he took were of wind turbines.) Leszek wanted to bring this industry to Kobylnica. He travelled to Germany to research and to investigate if it was safe for the community. He returned determined to make his commune attractive to wind energy developers.

His efforts have made Kobylnica the best rural commune in the country for renewable energy projects.

It was difficult to get the people onside. Kobylnica was the first commune in Poland to take steps to build community support for wind energy from the ground up. The mayor and his team had to develop their own processes to raise awareness. Many consultations were held and input from the residents was taken into consideration. It worked. When the wind developers came calling; the Horodiuks were ready and willing to work with them.

A snow covered field seen from a wind turbine in Kobylnica, Poland. (Robert van Waarden)

A snow covered field seen from a wind turbine in Kobylnica, Poland. 

And it’s not only farmers who lease their land who’ve hit the jackpot – the whole town benefits too. The taxes from the wind energy installations make up over 10% of the community’s annual budget. It is estimated that by 2016 it will be 20%. Kobylnica has been ranked as Poland’s best commune to live (2009) and the best commune for renewable energy (2009, 2010). The taxes are helping to transform the community and Leszek now has his eyes set on solar energy.

Firewood is piled outside a shed on Miros?awa Horodiuk's farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Firewood is piled outside a shed on Miroslawa Horodiuk’s farm. 

The partnership between commune and developers has other dividends. Tundra, the developers of the wind turbines on the Horodiuks land, had to build new roads for transportation. They replaced roads that were by all accounts terrible. They also sponsor the sports teams in Kobylnica and funded the reconstruction of the local church shrine in Lulemino.

For Miroslawa and Mieczyslaw, as landowners, the community support and knowledge was invaluable. It helped them navigate the legal documents and they could seek advice if they needed it. Their story is just one among many in Kolbynica. There are many people here that have ‘won the lottery’.

The two turbines on the Horodiuk’s land work peacefully with the agriculture below and Miroslawa enjoys having them there. The quarterly payment for the leasing of their land is one reason, but he also likes the notion that they are helping build a sustainable future.

In Kobylnica, renewable energy is taking the commune forward and in the words of Leszek, “we have to go forward, we are number one, but we have to keep that status.”

Miros?awa Horodiuk rests against a wind turbine on his farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Miroslawa Horodiuk rests against a wind turbine on his farm. 

From Beer Coasters to EU Parliament

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Sometime in the fall of 2010 I sat down with my friend Kate Harriman at a bar in Amsterdam. Our drinking hole of choice was Pacific Parc in the Westerpark and I had invited Kate to help me develop a new idea into a real photography project.

I recognized that climate change imagery focusing on environmental impacts wasn’t encouraging action – instead, it seemed to be pushing many towards complacency. It was time to work on something positive. Something that shared stories about change, about renewable energy, and about how the world is today – not some distant future that we can’t grasp.

Over a glass of Texels Skuumkoppe we started to write down our ideas and thoughts on the only available stationary, the beer coasters. Inevitably we ran out of coasters but quickly solved the problem by ordering more beer.

Over the next months and years, Kate and I continued to spend countless hours on our project. It now had a name, Force, and we wrote proposals, called potential partners, honed our language, and called more partners.

I found the first story after a 30km bike ride to visit farmer Stephan de Clerck.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_013 He and his family have been harvesting the wind for over a decade. That bike ride quickly told me two things: first, a bike is not the easiest mode of transportation for a project on wind energy, and second, the locations weren’t going to be easily accesible.

My trips started to get further and further afield. A bit of money from a magazine allowed me to self-fund a trip to the the Czech Republic. I tacked a few days on a travel magazine gig to get stories from Ireland. A trip to Nepal for the Climate Oxide project allowed an exploration into the nascent wind energy scene in Kathmandu. A family visit to Australia allowed me to stop in Thailand to explore the construction of the largest wind park in South East Asia.

The stories were varied and by the end of 2011 included 5 countries.

I partnered with the Global Campaign for Climate Action who posted the stories in the lead up to RIO +20 and this got the attention of the European Wind Energy Association. The EWEA felt that my story-based communication was a breath of fresh air, and they adopted it as part of their 2013 communications plan. They funded the exploration of three more European countries – Romania, the UK and Poland. That three-week whirlwind trip resulted in 8 more stories and the EWEA has been steadily publishing these stories on their blog over the last few months.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_015

Yesterday I was at the European Parliament for the the opening reception of the photography exhibit Discover the Stories Behind Wind Energy. Images are below. Six different stories from six different EU countries line the Couloir Cheval – the corridor where the conservative MEPs pass through on the way to their office. Good placement!

It has been a long road, 3 years. It involved a lot of trust, commitment and personal investment, but Force has once again reaffirmed my belief that a good idea, combined with a lot of hard work, will result in exciting partnerships and successful projects.

The EWEA photo exhibition will continue to be shown by EWEA members across Europe in the coming year.

Quality visuals and well-told stories can make a difference. It is my hope that the Force project has helped us to take a small step towards the future that we want.

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Three Mayors, three Communities, one wind

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

 

Rosu Nuti
Mayor of Progresu and Fácáeni
Romania
Population: 7200

Rosu Nuti was born in Progresu and has been the mayor here for 10 years. Her ambitious spirit is apparent the moment she walks in a room and if you need proof of how hard she works, one glance at her overflowing desk should help.

When Rosu first heard about the plan to construct a 44 turbine wind farm in the community, she immediately saw the benefits. However, as is always the case with something new in a community, there was some confusion and pessimism among the citizens.

Rosu spent a lot of energy organising and convincing the village that this was a good idea. Eventually they came around and ground will be broken on the project this year.

For Progresu and Fácáeni the money injected into the local economy will have a clear benefit. Infrastructure here is underdeveloped: roads are poor and horse-and-cart is still the mode of transport for many. Any local jobs that are created will be welcome in a village with an unemployment rate of 45%.

“The earth won’t be able to give us fossil fuels for eternity, and when we take into account the nuclear plant nearby, we prefer to have a field of turbines,” says Rosu.

Valentin Vrabie
Mayor of Pestera
Romania
Population: 3500

Valentin Vrabie is the most popular mayor in Romania. He was awarded a prize for best mayor in Romania and was re-elected with 95% of the vote. He has achieved this distinction not on his own, but with the help of the wind blowing through Pestera.

When wind energy developers came to Pestera, interested in building a 30 turbine farm, Valentin Vrabie seized the opportunity. He immediately opened the doors and did what he could to streamline the process. He understood that the revenue from this project could turn Pe?tera around.

Valentin didn’t believe that the taxes from the wind farm should go to the county office in Constan?a. He successfully lobbied to have the laws changed and the taxes are now flowing into the Pe?tera commune coffers.

The results of this legislative change are apparent everywhere in Pestera. There is a beautiful new park, a new mosque, a new school complete with fibre optic line and new laptops, and a renovated church. Every year large light shows and celebrations attract tens of thousands of people. All this in a period of global crisis mentions Valentin.

Valentin and the community are excited that there is another wind farm coming to Pestera this year. It will make this commune one of the richest in the country. As for Valentin, when he has finished his term in Pe?tera commune he has his political sights set on the county.

Beiu Ion
Mayor of Saligny
Romania
Population: 2300

Beiu Ion was the vice-mayor of Saligny,when the turbines were built. 19 in total, they stand on unused agricultural ground on a hill above the village, surely a sight prettier then the nuclear reactors over the hill in Cernavoda.

Beiu and the villagers were very supportive of the project to build the turbines when initially proposed. The construction was smooth and although there were a few small disputes, when the money started to come in, those concerns were quickly overcome.

That money, approximately €300,000 a year, goes a long way in this little community. When Beiu was elected mayor last year he inherited a community that is transforming. First on Beiu’s list is to ensure all the houses have running water and to pave the roads in Saligny. With a life span of 25 years on the wind farm, the community is looking forward to a future with the wind.

Wiping the Slate Green

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

Delabole is famous for its hole in the ground. Well, to be more accurate, it is famous for its slate mine. The hole is visible from the backyard of Peter and Jacqueline Harman’s slate house. For 23 years that hole has had a backdrop, contrasting new and old, of the first commercial wind farm in the UK.

The wind turbines turn lazily in the Atlantic breeze. They don’t bother Peter. “I think that if people could see that they can benefit from it, it might change their opinion,” says Peter.

Peter and Jacqueline are retired pensioners that have just moved to Delabole, a little village in the south west of the United Kingdom. Their home is still in a state of renovation; boxes piled high, furniture covered with sheets and projects visibly underway. Everything in this house runs on electricity, including the heating; and when your walls are 21 inches of slate it can take a while to warm up. Although “once warm, it stays warm” insists Peter.

The Harmans’ electricity bill is significant so Peter spent some time researching the best rates. He noticed an article in the local paper, The Slate, with details about the new Delabole Local Tariff from Good Energy.

The concept is simple. Good Energy owns the aforementioned wind farm and their customers living within two kilometres of the site are eligible for a local tariff. The idea is that those that have it in their backyard should benefit from it. This is something that the developers of Delabole wanted to do at the very beginning but only recently has a change in regulations allowed it to happen.

The tariff gives a 20% discount on standard energy prices and includes an additional ‘windfall’ bonus. If the turbines exceed their expected yearly performance each household gets £50. It is the first scheme of its kind in the UK and puts the community at the centre of renewable energy generation.

After speaking to Good Energy, Peter didn’t even look at other rates. He immediately signed up and as of April they have been receiving their discounted wind energy. He believes that he will save around £70 per year, no small amount for a retired couple.

Peter emphasizes that it wasn’t only the financial reward that affected their decision. He says that Jacqueline is a strong believer in the need for action on global warming, and even if he hasn’t quite made up his mind on the science, he really likes renewable energy and what it represents.

Peter has spread the word and now several of his neighbours have also shown an interest in signing up. He thinks that this idea should be replicated across the UK.

“Wind farms are a good idea, as long as they don’t put hundreds of them everywhere and spoil everything, but if they have a wind farm in a local area, why shouldn’t local people benefit from having it there?”

 

Force – Stories Behind Wind Energy

 (Robert van Waarden)

The Force project was born from my belief that by providing examples of positive personal and community stories, we can help grow the renewable energy sectors and avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis. Force is a series of photographic essays that highlight that wind energy solutions are not an aspect of the future but are a lived reality right now for people and communities all over the world.

This project has proven to be an important and timely vehicle through which to communicate wind energy solutions. Force has been supported by the European Wind Energy Association and the Global Wind Energy Council.

Leading up to Global Wind Day on June 15, 2013, the EWEA will publish one or two new stories each week from the Force project and then exhibited the stories at the European Parliament in June, 2013.

There are two ways to discover the Force stories, explore the map below or visit the image gallery.

 

Birds and Turbines – An Ornithologist in Poland.

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

The shadows are still long on the freshly fallen snow when Krzysztof Pietrzak starts out on his daily walk. Spring is in the air here in Goscino, Poland, and during the next few hours Krzysztof will walk 10 km with his dog Ciapa (‘clumsy’). Krzysztof is an ornithologist. Everyday he follows the same route, monitoring the bird and bat activity at the wind farm near Goscino. His primary job is to determine the mortality rates of birds and bats in relation to the turbines. And Ciapa, despite her playful and clumsy character, is a trained professional particularly good at finding bats.

Inevitably one of the first questions Krzysztof receives is; how many birds or bats have these turbines killed?

“In the first few months of working here, I killed more birds with my car driving to the site, than I discovered killed by the turbines.” he responds. The official statistics of this ten turbine farm is eight – 16 birds per year, around one bird per turbine each year. He attributes this to the location of these turbines. They are away from the edges of the forest, marshes, swamps or rivers; places that birds frequent. “Cars, trains, electrical fences, triangular electrical poles; all these things kill more birds then wind turbines.” says Krzysztof.

Krzysztof began working with birds at the age of 15, volunteering for local NGOs in Poland. He credits his love of birds and the natural world to his childhood. His mother taught him sensitivity to the environment and he proudly says that his first steps were taken in the forest. He holds a degree in biology with a specialisation in ornithology, and is further educated in agriculture and physiotherapy.

The growing wind energy industry has been a boon for ornithologists. An unemployed ornithologist is difficult to find in Poland now, quite a shift from a few years ago when there were very few paid opportunities for people in this profession.

“It’s not a job for everyone, it is a lifestyle,” says Krzysztof. “My friend is my dog, the job keeps me fit and I haven’t been sick in years. The most difficult part is the weather. But, I think that I can call myself a happy person, which isn’t very common in Poland.”

Krzysztof spends every day walking under turbines so what does he actually think about them? He says he likes them. However, he insists that it is important to engage an ornithologist early in the planning process to avoid headaches later.

For Krzysztof a larger concern with wind farms is the potential impact on bird migration pathways. It is easy for a flock to go around one farm, but on a long flight from northern Europe to Africa, the amount of wind farms to be avoided is much greater. Typically a migratory flight takes a lot of energy so birds arrive very tired. The addition of what could amount to hundreds of extra kilometres over the whole route could cause problems. Krzysztof admits that studying this issue would be very difficult and so right now it remains only his theory.

The length of the study on birds at the Goscino wind farm is ten years. This means Krzysztof finds himself in the enviable position of having a secure job due to wind energy. He loves it. Walking under the turbines gives him time to think and he dreams of one day canoeing the Yukon River in Canada and joining the Polish Antarctic stations. But, until he makes it to those far-off places, he can be found on his walk under the turbines with his friend, Ciapa, bounding along happily beside him.