Article

Turbines advice 'blowing in the wind'

Government departments responsible for the increase in onshore wind turbines are using staff from energy companies to advise them on noise and safety issues. Concerns have been raised that the potential conflict of interest, denied by the civil servants, could result in the Government making policy decisions which directly benefit turbine manufacturers and energy companies. Guidance on noise issues was sent to planning inspectors as a result of Government meetings which in one case were chaired by a representative of RWE npower.

Government departments responsible for the increase in onshore wind turbines are using staff from energy companies to advise them on noise and safety issues.

Concerns have been raised that the potential conflict of interest, denied by the civil servants, could result in the Government making policy decisions which directly benefit turbine manufacturers and energy companies.

Guidance on noise issues was sent to planning inspectors as a result of Government meetings which in one case were chaired by a representative of RWE npower.

For at least a year, staff from power firms have been working in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), which is responsible for energy supplies, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, tackling climate change.

Businesses, including Shell and npower, have staff working in energy focused departments contributing on advisory groups.

At least two officers earned between 45,000 and 66,506 over the course of a year, though officials insist neither worked directly on the renewables programme.

Last night Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said he was "deeply concerned"... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Government departments responsible for the increase in onshore wind turbines are using staff from energy companies to advise them on noise and safety issues.

Concerns have been raised that the potential conflict of interest, denied by the civil servants, could result in the Government making policy decisions which directly benefit turbine manufacturers and energy companies.

Guidance on noise issues was sent to planning inspectors as a result of Government meetings which in one case were chaired by a representative of RWE npower.

For at least a year, staff from power firms have been working in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), which is responsible for energy supplies, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, tackling climate change.

Businesses, including Shell and npower, have staff working in energy focused departments contributing on advisory groups.

At least two officers earned between £45,000 and £66,506 over the course of a year, though officials insist neither worked directly on the renewables programme.

Last night Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said he was "deeply concerned" at the risk to Government impartiality.

"We face the ridiculous situation of Defra and other Government departments saying they believe there is no risk from noise because renewable energy companies have told us so."

Northumberland County Council's deputy leader Roger Styring has called for greater scrutiny of those advising the Government. The former engineer compared the situation to the tobacco industry advising health trusts.

He said: "This indicates that in a sense the industry is being allowed to set its own standards, which is clearly wrong. I agree they should be consulted but there are enough other experts that can advise here, especially in our universities where we have assured independence. The noise these turbines create can have quite an impact on your standard of living.

"They produce a constant background noise that might at best be described as tolerable but under certain conditions this can change to include a sharp high frequency whiplash type noise.

"If the wind blows in gusts, the turbines in a sense resist this and create a very disturbing noise that households maybe half a mile away will certainly hear."

Mr Styring said he was concerned that environmental health officers who help councillors decide on the noise issues surrounding a planning decision risked being guided by potentially-biased Government advice.

Wind farm opponent John Ferguson, from the Save Our Landscape campaign, said noise problems were by their nature more likely to be a problem that is only fully considered after the turbines are built.

He said: "They can cause a very real problem for nearby households, but I'm sure for many people this is not something they would know to worry about.

"We can easily consider the impact of a turbine on the landscape but for noise issues you often don't find out how bad they can be until they are built." The seconded staff contributed to the studies by the Noise Working Group which was set up to advise the Government on the impact of wind farm noise on nearby residents.

The Government has insisted the seconded staff were supervised by civil servants but admit they were responsible for "communicating" noise policy to the public.

A BERR spokeswoman said: "It is not unusual for secondments to take place between BERR and industry or vice versa. We take great care in avoiding any potential for conflict of interest, indeed there is regular Parliamentary scrutiny of the secondments programme.

"Clear guidance is set out for local planning authorities advising they ensure renewable energy developments have been located and designed in such a way to minimise increases in ambient noise levels."

A spokesman for RWE npower said the secondments were common and provided the Government with expert advice.

He said: "While I'm reluctant to put people into pro or anti wind camps, the panel we chaired was made up of a variety of views and ensured the Government received the best possible advice."

Study given narrow focus - claim

THE Noise Working Group (NWG) was set up to advise ministers on wind issues.

It brings together evidence on noise issues and presents a finding for ministers to accept as Government policy.

This time last year the Government decided a report by Salford University had given the definitive answer to noise issues, following NWG meetings.

Salford researchers looked closely at Amplitude Modulation (AM), the conditions which can make turbine noise much worse. They did not tackle many of the wider noise issues. The report said AM noise was not an issue for UK wind turbines. Meetings to discuss the report were chaired by Zoë Keeton, a representative of RWER npower.

The report was used "to give clear guidance to local authorities and inspectors when considering wind farm applications". This was despite one member, noise expert Dick Bowdler, standing down from the NWG in opposition to the Salford University report, which he says was misleading. One of the criticisms levied at the report and subsequent Government advice was that the researchers decided that turbine noise was not as big a problem because many people do not report problems to the councils. Opponents believe most households affected would have instead raised noise issues with their GP as a health concern.

Wind opposition groups claim the Salford study commissioned by the then DTI was given a deliberately narrow focus, avoiding wider issues.

The Government commissioned work assessed 133 operational wind projects across Britain and found that although the occurrence of noise cannot be fully predicted, the incidence of it from operational turbines is low.

One couple's plight

Government advice is that noise from turbines is often merely negligible and unlikely to lead to a big disturbance.

For Jane and Julian Davis though, the realities are quite different. The couple have had to abandon their home and face little chance of making a profit on the value of it after turbines were built just 930m from their house.

They are now renting a house some miles away, costing £1,000 a month, in order to escape the noise and get some sleep.

Estate agents say that their house, worth £170,000 before the Lincolnshire wind farm was built in 2006, is now so severely blighted that it could be unsaleable.

Since then they have had their council tax reduced by the Valuation Tribunal in recognition of "significant detrimental effect", "nuisance real, not imagined" and "potential sale price affected".

Mr Davis said it is vital for residents near proposed wind farms to make their voices heard.

He said: "We've been left with a home that's practically worthless and the constant irritation of the noise."


Source: http://www.journallive.co.u...

AUG 18 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/16589-turbines-advice-blowing-in-the-wind
back to top