Jo Waltham at Westmill wind and solar farm

Last Sunday I stood beneath an 80m tall wind turbine—its blade tips rushing past at 100 mph. It was a dramatic sight but the loudest sound I could hear was the singing of skylarks. This was quite striking as, a few days before, I’d been reading objections placed in 2015 against placing of a wind turbine at Chapmanslade (near Westbury) and one of the concerns had been about noise.

I’m not suggesting that noise was the deciding factor in the rejection of the Chapmanside proposal but the wind farm I was visiting, Westmill wind and solar farm a few miles north-east of Swindon, has 5 turbines generating 6.5 MW of electricity and their soothing whisper was far less disturbing than that from cars on the minor road running past the farm. Noise really wasn’t an issue.

Westmill is well worth a visit (details at Free tours are run by the Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust once a month through the Spring, Summer and Autumn whilst special visits can be laid on for larger groups. Our volunteer guides for the two-hour walk around the site—Sarah James and Mim Norvell—were extraordinarily knowledgeable. I don’t think there was a single question, the seven of us on the tour asked, that they couldn’t answer:

How much electricity does the site generate?—the wind and solar farms combined generate enough electricity for 4100 homes.

How long did it take for the site to prevent more carbon dioxide emissions than produced by building it?—about 8 months for the wind farm and 2.5 years for the solar farm.

How did the locals react to the wind-farm proposal?—there were many objectors but there were even more supporters.

How long did it take to get planning permission?—16 years for the wind farm but the solar farm was approved very quickly.

How has it affected farming?—the wind turbines have a very small footprint and crops are grown around them whilst sheep graze beneath the solar panels and benefit from the shelter that gives them.

What’s the effect on birds?—there’s been no problem at Westmill although siting of wind farms should avoid bird migration routes.

How about bats?—bats do seem to be attracted to wind turbines and this has caused problems at other sites.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. To prevent dangerous climate change we need more wind farms and many of the objections don’t add up. They’re not noisy, it doesn’t take 40 years to get the energy back and, with sensible siting, they are not a problem for birds or bats. Of course we do need to be sensitive about exactly where we place them—even I wouldn’t put a turbine in the centre of Stonehenge—but we also need to relax the harsh anti-wind planning rules introduced by the government in 2015.

For a start, Wiltshire Council needs to designate areas where wind-farms will be allowed, this is a step they haven’t yet taken with the result that new wind farms are banned across our county. As I said in a previous column, onshore wind farms are the cheapest form of electricity and they have to be an important component of preventing excessive global warming at an affordable price.

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  1. Paul Jenkins

    You say you wouldn’t put a wind turbine in the centre of Stonehenge, but would you put Stonehenge in the centre of a wind farm? Now that we have declared a climate emergency we have to have an open and honest conversation about how to address it. There are other forms of low carbon energy. We need to weigh up pros and cons. Offshore wind costs more than onshore, but it’s more reliable, and then, more reliable still, in neighbouring Somerset you have Hinkley C being built which takes up very little land and will supply electricity 24/7.