Mid Wales

Wind farms plan 'faces years of legal challenge', AMs told

Wind turbines on a hillside
Image caption Opponents of plans encouraging wind turbines in mid Wales say there will be a 'bottomless' fund of cash for legal challenges against the policy

Opponents of wind farm developments in mid Wales have predicted a "Pandora's box" of legal challenges to the Welsh government's policy encouraging them.

Campaigners' lawyer Neville Thomas QC said ministers "made a mess of it" by issuing fresh guidance days before new EU environment assessment rules.

He addressed the assembly's environment and sustainability inquiry into Welsh energy policy at the Senedd.

The Welsh government said its 2005 plan "remains fit for purpose".

The Senedd's environment and sustainability committee, chaired by Lord Elis-Thomas, has been hearing the concerns of groups opposed to the spread of wind farms and electricity pylons in parts of Wales.

Impact assessment

There are already about 200 wind turbines across parts of Powys, with reports that a further 600 could be built in the future.

There is also concerns over proposals to construct a new network of power lines in the county.

The issue has prompted Powys council to arrange a special meeting on the plans to be held later in January.

The council has said the potential impact of wind farms was causing a huge amount of concern to people in the county.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, the opposition group Montgomeryshire Against Pylons, and the Cambrian Mountains Society, were giving evidence to AMs.

Mr Thomas spoke on behalf of the Shropshire and Mid Wales Alliance, which questions the so-called technical advice note, Tan 8, introduced in 2005.

The group claims Tan 8 did not and does not fully assess the impact of wind farms on the environment, landscape, tourism, local transport or whether new electricity transformers, cables and pylons are needed by the National Grid.

Before addressing AMs, Mr Thomas said Tan 8 would "unleash a Pandora's box of litigation which can't be good for the environment of Wales".

He added that people were normally afraid to spend their own money on litigation but because of the "intensity of feeling, not so here - there'll be a bottomless pocket to fund litigation aimed at challenging Tan 8".

Mr Thomas described the timing of Tan 8's introduction in 2005, eight days before new EU rules on environmental assessments as "an oversight".

"In other words they [ministers] made a mess of it," he said.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Our work to prepare Tan 8 began in 2002 and was completed in July 2005. This means that Tan 8 was not bound by the European directive.

"We believe that Tan 8 remains fit for purpose and stand by our planning policy, which is informed by independent research, and identifies seven areas for the development of wind farms in order to minimise the proliferation of large scale wind farms. "

'Intrusion' fears

Another focus for campaigners in mid Wales has been the consultation announced by the National Grid last year.

It intends building a 19-acre electricity substation in either Abermule, near Newtown, or Cefn Coch, near Llanfair Caereinion.

The development will also involve constructing a 400,000-volt power cable network, to link planned wind farms to the electricity transmission network.

The National Grid has argued that the current network for transferring power is limited in mid Wales, and with a new generation of more powerful wind turbines producing more electricity the infrastructure for delivering the energy would require upgrading.

But in its written evidence to the committee, campaigners from Montgomeryshire Against Pylons warned: "There is no community benefit for the people who have to suffer the intrusion of huge steel pylons or substations."

The environment committee is expected to report its findings to the assembly in March.

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