Shepway Green Party members at Little Cheyne Court wind farm

Shepway Green Party members at Little Cheyne Court wind farm

This is an area beset by hype and spin, mainly from the oil and gas companies. The Green Party strategy on energy is clear: Our aim is to eliminate fuel poverty and address the climate crisis by investing in our thriving energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. Affordable and renewable electricity will be generated, stored and distributed as close to users as possible, with maximum local control. Instead of shackling our nation with expensive new nuclear power and environmentally reckless shale gas (aka fracking), we will control energy bills and create more jobs by investing in warm and efficient homes, energy storage and smart grids and in renewable energy supply, owned by public, private and community enterprises. We will ensure energy resilience by investing in energy efficiency, energy storage, diverse renewable energy generation and by expanding our international grid interconnectors.

With regards renewables, wind farms and solar farms should be evaluated on a case by case basis, with careful planning rules as with any other development. There are many potential factors, including the quality of the land for the proposed site, the environmental impact, the involvement and, ideally, ownership of the local community, and the ethics and constitution of the developer. However, renewables do not burden future generations with hazardous waste, do not endanger water suppliers (as with fracking), are efficient (contrary to some of the lobbying), are an excellent potential source of new, clean jobs, are far better for the climate than their fossil fuel equivalents, and do not destroy the habitat.

There are plenty of myths around both solar farms and wind farms. For solar farms, the land can still be used, particularly for grazing, and the fact that the panels are raised and spaced apart facilitates farms that can support biodiversity, potentially far more than is the case with intensive farming, including the end of harmful pesticides.

For wind farms, many of the myths were blown away by a visit Members of Kent Green Party to the wind farm on Romney Marsh and the adjoining proposed site for an additional four turbines in late 2013. The sector arguably does not do nearly enough of this sort of PR and, while largely on this trip it was preaching to the converted, if more people could be exposed to the reality of this form of renewable energy, it would lay to rest many of the associated fears and myths.

Myth number one is noise. In fact, standing under a turbine, the only sound for most of the time is the swish of the blades moving through the air. There is additional low noise when the brakes are applied, but that is it. It is basically a peaceful, calm environment.

Myth number two is that they are often not working. In fact, the air movement is continually being monitored, in the Romney Marsh case by two permanent aerials, and this directs the operation of the turbines. One reason for seeming inactivity when passing such wind farms is that they have to start operating in phases. Basically, if they all started turning at once, it would cause a surge of energy that could blow the system. As such, they are forever slowing down and starting up based on the wind and the logistics of their connection to the grid.

Myth number three is that they don’t generate much power and we cannot rely on these and other forms of renewables for our future energy needs. Well, this is already being blown away by other countries that have well thought-out, proactive renewable energy strategies (and are building new expertise, jobs and exports on the back of it). Germany is in many ways the poster child of renewables, including a large community ownership factor. The existing site, comprising 26 turbines, at Little Cheyne Court Farm, generates enough clean electricity to meet the average annual needs of some 33,000 homes.

Interestingly, we were escorted on the trip by one of the landowners that hosts the current wind farm and would also host the new array, the Clifton-Holt family, including Alan Clifton-Holt, Conservative Shepway District Councillor, so clearly there is some cross-party support!

What about the environmental impact? Wind farms have to undergo the same amount of planning scrutiny as any other development and there are always sites that are unsuitable, whether due to wildlife, visual impact or other reasons. That is no cause to reject them out of hand. On Romney Marsh, there are concerns from the RSPB about the potential impact of the new turbines on winter wildfowl, particularly Mute and Bewick Swans, but the Society is working with the supplier to come up with a mutually acceptable mitigation plan.

On Romney Marsh, it seems opponents of wind farms have become blind to the electric pylons that criss-cross this lovely area from Dungeness Power Station (the lines of which, of course, are a major hazard to birds). Once erected, the turbines do not require a lot of maintenance, do not add pressure on local roads, do not impact on other resources, and have a far lower carbon footprint (compare and contrast with shale gas extraction, of course). Farming continues around the pylons and, at the end of their life, they can be taken down and removed.

Finally, there are community benefits, even if we are behind other countries at present on community ownership. The current index-linked community fund from the existing wind farm is £60,000 per annum; the proposed fund from the additional four turbines is £40,000.