Wind farms are springing up all over the hillsides of South Wales and many people are not happy about this at all. Looking out of the window of my study, across the valley to Cwmparc and the Bwlch mountain, I cannot as yet see any. However, it is not necessary to go far to start seeing the white blades of the turbines rearing up from the hills.
Wind Turbines overlooking Gilfach Goch, by Martin Edwards [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The latest is the Ferndale Wind Farm, with 8 turbines, each 74 metres high, on the slopes between the two valleys of the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach. It is due to become operational this summer. Speaking to Wales Online, local councillor for Ferndale, Ceri Jones, pointed out that the project was approved despite the opposition of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and 95% of Ferndale residents.
Of course all the usual arguments and counter-arguments for wind farms apply. There is the aesthetic argument that they are ugly, spoil the landscape and make it unnatural. I'm not totally convinced by that one. For a start, the landscape here is already man-made to a significant degree. Moreover, I think I prefer to see a wind farm than a nuclear power station any day, particularly if it is close to where I live!
The potential impact on birds is more worrying. There have been incidents of birds being injured by flying into the turbines, such as the red kite which suffered fatal injuries near Aberystwyth. Furthermore, studies have found that the areas round wind farms are being abandoned by birds. The turbines act like giant scarecrows to chase them away. This affects feeding and breeding areas and also migration routes.
Nevertheless, I believe that the major issue is that this is one of the latest examples of the continuous exploitation of Wales and its resources. The wind farms in the Rhondda are not going to bring down the price of electricity paid by local people. In fact, a survey published last June by Consumer Focus Wales found that people in Wales pay more for electricity than people in the rest of Britain, and people in South Wales pay more than people in North Wales.
For about 150 years, the miners of the Rhondda gave their strength, often their health, and sometimes their lives to produce coal, on which so much wealth was created. Practically none of that wealth was brought back into Wales. The mines dominated the local economy. Since they closed, little has been done to create other work for local people. The legacy of health problems left by coal mining places a huge burden on the Welsh Health Service.
Now, as we move from coal to alternative energy sources, the Rhondda is again being asked to contribute, but get nothing back. Is it any wonder that people are angry about the wind farms?
In her consultation document Greenprint for the Valleys, Plaid Assembly Member Leanne Wood puts forward a number of proposals to regenerate the former coalfields of South Wales. One of the points raised at the meeting to launch the initiative in the Rhondda was that any future wind farm developments should be organised jointly with the local communities, and that the communities should receive a share of the profits. Even more importantly, investment should be made into developing and funding small-scale alternative energy projects, such as roof solar panels and garden-scale wind turbines.
The Rhondda is at times derided by outsiders as a bleak problem area. It was not the people of the Rhondda who caused the problems, but those who exploited them and their resources and gave nothing back. In the wind farm issue, history appears to be repeating itself. It is more than high time for this pattern to stop. That is why I oppose the Rhondda wind farms in their current form and support the alternatives being proposed in Greenprint for the Valleys.