E.ON formally withdrew their application for eight 115m turbines on the West Ancroft site, nr. Berwick-upon-Tweed, in north Northumberland on Tuesday, 3 August 2010.
Their press release stated: “After carefully reviewing plans for our proposed West Ancroft wind farm following a recent public inquiry into nearby wind farm proposals, we have decided to withdraw our current planning application for an eight turbine scheme. We are now looking at the possibility of redesigning the project as a smaller development.” [Our emphasis].
After 18 months, and strident denials by E.ON management that there were any problems with their application, it seems that they have now realised that it contravenes local, regional and national planning guidance and would not be approved.
Had they waited on the result of the Moorsyde Public Inquiry rather than rushing to submit their planning application just weeks before the inquiry began, they would have had a clear picture of their scheme’s defects and might have saved local people and the planning authority considerable time, expense and stress by not pursuing a defective proposal.
But of course E.ON knew all along that their project went against local planning guidance, clearly contradicted Arup’s local capacity study and entirely failed to observe their own stated criteria for separation distances between turbines and housing:
“A certain distance should be kept between the location of every wind turbine and the nearest dwellings. As a starting point we use a 750m buffer.”
(E.ON UK Renewables, ‘Turbines on Your Land’).
The nearest housing was 560 metres from turbines.
Now local residents are forced to undergo a further period of worry and uncertainty while they wait to see whether E.ON are going to subject them to yet more months of stress and planning blight by submitting a revised application, or whether they are finally going to see sense, admit that they have not chosen a sensible location and call it a day.
‘West Ancroft says no’
‘The West Ancroft Community Association seeks an end to the blight of wind turbines wanted by few apart from those who will profit from them. The enormous subsidies that drive such developments are not matched by the contribution onshore wind farms make to electricity generation. While the power they create is miniscule, the turbines are capable of causing enormous and damaging upset to local communities. The localism espoused by the coalition must allow West Ancroft to say no.’
(Editorial, The Journal, 11 August, 2010).
Over 4 years after the West Ancroft application was withdrawn E.ON continue to inflict planning blight on local communities because they refuse to confirm or deny whether they intend to return with another, smaller application.
In our opinion, companies that continue to cause damage to communities and local residents because they don’t wish, or can’t be bothered, to clarify their intentions are not behaving responsibly.
E.ON UK (formerly Powergen), the UK arm of the German-owned power conglomerate, had submitted a planning application for eight 115m turbines at ‘West Ancroft’, after playing the usual game (the ‘iterative design’ play) of saying that they were considering more (10) and larger (125m) turbines before generously reducing their scheme after ‘consulting local people’.
The site is contiguous with the ‘Moorsyde’ proposal (see the map, below) which was decisively dismissed at appeal on grounds that apply just as much to West Ancroft.
The Secretary of State accepted in full the Planning Inspector’s recommendation to refuse the ‘Moorsyde’ proposal.
The Secretary of State concluded that:
In the case of Appeal B [‘Moorsyde’] ... the Secretary of State considers that the proposal would cause serious harm to the principal views of the Cheviots, in conflict with LP policy F4, and he has attached substantial weight to this harm. As set out at paragraphs 15 and 23 above, he has also identified conflict with 2 key objectives of PPS22 and harm in relation to the significant potential for noise limits to be breached. He has also concluded (at paragraph 23 above) that RSS policy 40 would not be satisfied. The Secretary of State concludes overall that the scheme would conflict with the development plan and he has found no material considerations of sufficient weight to justify his determining Appeal B other than in accordance with the development plan. (Decision letter, Overall conclusions, 29).
The overwhelming defects of the ‘Moorsyde’ proposal applied in equal measure to the West Ancroft scheme. It also grossly exceeded Arup’s capacity findings, would have been in even closer proximity to housing (with consequent noise problems) and would have had an even greater visual impact on the coastal AONB.
E.ON have now admitted that it was the Inspector’s findings on Moorsyde and the findings of a report on the West Ancroft visual impact assessment commissioned by the local planning authority that, eventually, brought them to withdraw the application.
We intend leaving content on this page that refers to the withdrawn application in situ until E.ON have clarified whether or not they are going to submit a revised application. This is so visitors can appreciate the issues with an application on this problematic site.
Click for a Microsoft Virtual Earth map of the site area. This clearly shows the character of the landscape.
“A certain distance should be kept between the location of every wind turbine and the nearest dwellings. As a starting point we use a 750m buffer.”
(E.ON UK Renewables, ‘Turbines on Your Land’).
The West Ancroft proposal had turbines as close as 560 metres to housing.
E.ON have already fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Authority for using misleading information (see below), so it might be thought that they would be taking some care to be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’.
Local people were, therefore, surprised to discover that E.ON had marked the position of the turbine that would be closest to housing in the wrong place when Councillors from the Planning Committee made an organised site visit (with E.ON representatives in attendance) on 16 December, 2009.
Rather than simply admit that they had placed the bale on the position of Turbine 5 in their original 10 turbine Scoping Layout (Figure 3.2 in their application) rather than on the position of Turbine 4 (Fig 3.1), E.ON have been making a series of increasingly desperate excuses to the planners and the press.
The latest suggests that the straw bale had mysteriously been moved to a different position between the Councillors’ visit and the day when the photo was taken.
The implication that local people moved the bale is not only insulting, but also very silly. If E.ON’s employees had any knowledge of rural life they would know just how difficult it would be to move a large, waterlogged round bale without farm machinery.
They also claim to have used what must be the world’s most inaccurate GPS (“plus or minus 20m”) to site the bale; our GPS, when used on the West Ancroft site, was showing an accuracy of +/-3m.
It has been suggested that the position of the bales does not matter much because Councillors were using E.ON’s photomontages to verify turbine positions on their site visit. However, these too have been discovered to be inaccurate.
E.ON have admitted that turbine 4, the closest turbine to housing, is actually in the wrong position in their photomontage (Viewpoint 02, Figure: 6.13.2a), it should be in the next field. This is blindingly obvious, even to E.ON - turbines cannot be sited within 50 metres of a hedgeline due to the dangers to bats. A close examination of this photomontage leads to suspicions that this is not the only turbine to be wrongly located in the image.
In response to press criticism of the accuracy of their photomontages, E.ON first sought to dismiss concerns, saying that it was merely “a graphics issue”. They have now privately admitted that Figure 6.13.2a is inaccurate and that a new photomontage needs to be produced.
Grossly inaccurate photomontages were used for the initial ‘Moorsyde’ planning decision, despite protests from MAG. These were only corrected just prior to the public inquiry and even then were discovered to have faults. (See the Visuals page).
We trust that all E.ON’s visualisations will be rigorously and independently checked before determination. Members of the planning committee should never again be asked to make decisions on turbine arrays using misleading photomontages that fail to meet best practice guidelines.
As a result of press exposure, E.ON have felt obliged to apologise for some of the misleading rubbish included in their so-called ‘Statement of Community Involvement’.
This document has really angered the local people who volunteered to engage with E.ON early in the planning process in the hope of avoiding the errors, misrepresentations and failure to consult experienced during the ‘Moorsyde’ application. Sadly, E.ON have proved to be just as bad as the ‘Moorsyde’ developers.
The document includes a considerable number of totally inaccurate and misleading statements. It is also completely unprofessional in its use of smears and ad hominem attacks. A typical example of its errors is the claim that, “a poll in the Berwick Advertiser which ran in conjunction with the exhibition indicated that nearly sixty per cent of its readership believed the environs of Berwick-upon-Tweed to be a suitable location for wind turbines.”.
The Chairman of WACA, Ian Corsie, pointed out in the paper that ran the poll, “In fact, this refers to an impromptu website poll on the proposal to locate a single, small, community turbine close to Berwick's Ramparts industrial estate.” He added, “It is ludicrously wrong to claim that nearly 60 per cent of the Berwick Advertiser’s ‘readership’ voted in favour. There was no limit on the number of times an individual could vote and, as a matter of fact, 40 more people [of the small number who took part] voted no than yes.” An E.ON spokesperson told the Advertiser: “It looks like a mistake and we can only apologise for that.” 1
It is worth noting that MAG supported the Berwick turbine proposal, in writing; we have not supported West Ancroft!
E.ON’s ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ contains a number of snide, offensive and misleading comments that one would not expect to find in any professional planning document never mind one prepared by a leading energy company. 2
The following example manages to include two slurs in one paragraph:
A caravan was installed in the car park by the opposition group and exhibition attendees were approached as they entered or departed the official event. The exhibition team commented that they had heard ‘raised voices’ emanating from the van on occasion. It was further noted that although permission was willingly given for pictures of the exhibition to be taken, the photographer seemed as keen to get the faces of the exhibitors, and visitors, as the materials. [Our emphasis].
People were approached after they had visited the exhibition. The only voices the writer heard raised were in hoots of laughter at the desperate squirming by Arup personnel trying to explain being paid by E.ON to contradict their own company’s capacity study of the area.
The author displays his ignorance of photography. The photographer took pictures of the exhibition with the permission of the organisers. He tells us that he used a 28-210mm zoom lens, so E.ON’s CLO could have no idea whether the photographer was taking telephoto pictures of his face or wide angle pictures of the whole room. As it happens, the photographer was taking general views of the exhibition, as above. The original memory card, with numbered and timed images and their lens settings is available for examination if E.ON wish to pursue this fatuous line of argument.
The photographer says that it was difficult to avoid including E.ON/Arup/Faber Maunsell personnel because there were so many of them standing around talking to each other (6 in the above image). They outnumbered the few members of the public who could attend during working hours in the middle of the week.
1 See: ‘Energy firm denies misleading planners during visit to proposed West Ancroft wind farm site’, Berwick Advertiser, 3 February 2010.
See also: Letters to the Editor, Berwick Advertiser, 10 March, 2010.
2 One of the authors is an FoE activist best known for abusive tirades about ‘NIMBY’s’ in the regional press.
On Thursday 27 November 2008, a packed public meeting at Ancroft Memorial Hall heard a number of speakers, including a pro-wind landowner involved in the Barmoor scheme, before discussing the community’s response to E.ON’s proposal. The meeting resolved to form a community response group to be known as ‘West Ancroft Community Action’ (WACA) and elected a committee to further the group’s agreed aims.
(See: ‘Residents form wind farm action group’, Berwick Advertiser, 4 December 2008).
Local residents set up a community consultation point at E.ON’S public exhibition on 19 and 20 November 2008 and carried out an exit poll of visitors to the exhibition.
After visiting E.ON’s display, visitors were asked whether they were for, against or didn’t know with regard to the West Ancroft proposal for eight 125m turbines [as then presented by E.ON]. People who responded also signed their names against their responses, in order to counter any attempts to question the validity of responses. The result was overwhelmingly against the scheme:
The question asked was: ‘Having seen E.ON's exhibition (19/20 November 2008), are you for or against the proposal for eight 125m (410 ft) wind turbines at West Ancroft?’
Number polled: 93
For: 8* (8.6%)
Against: 73 (78.5%)
Don’t know: 12 (12.9%)
* This figure includes 5 members of the Douglas family (the ‘West Ancroft’ site landowners) who did not complete the exit form but who were presumed to be in favour of the scheme. All but 1 of the 8 in favour are either landowners with a financial interest in wind farm sites or would probably be involved in contract work related to the West Ancroft scheme.
The low number of visitors reflects the fact that E.ON’s exhibition was held during working hours in the middle of the working week.
Until a week after the ASA judgement (see below), and months after local residents first complained of its use, the West Ancroft page on E.On’s website was headed with an uncaptioned image of 43m turbines at Blood Hill, in Norfolk. These are some of the oldest (and smallest) commercial turbines still working in the UK.
It seems that E.ON can’t find any images of modern turbines for their West Ancroft page (real 115m turbines might frighten people). So they have now replaced their picture of tiny turbines with a blurred picture of children’s whirligig wind toys.
See ‘E.on replace misleading wind farm images with toy pictures’, The Journal, 7 August 2009.
The German-owned multi-national ran adverts for its West Ancroft wind farm proposal using images of turbines that were less than half the size of those planned for the scheme.
“Because of the disparity in size between the image and the turbines proposed for the West Ancroft site”, the ASA found they “were likely to mislead” and breached CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness).
E.ON have been told that the adverts complained against must not appear again in their current form and have also been told to ensure that if they use generic wind farm images in their promotional material they must be more representative of the particular development.
A West Ancroft project brochure included a small image, captioned “A view from Bowsden village” that the company claimed was a photomontage showing the proposal. The ASA notes that Bowsden village is several kilometres from the proposed site. Because the proposed turbines would be highly visible in some areas, particularly those closer to the site than Bowsden, the Authority, “considered that the photomontage was not sufficiently representative of the likely visual impact in those areas”.
It “concluded that the ad was likely to mislead” and breached the CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).
A third complaint against E.ON’s claims relating to the number of homes that could be powered by energy from the wind farm was not upheld.
Colin Wakeling, the local resident who lodged the complaints, said:
“I am pleased that the ASA has recognised that the images used by E.ON were likely to mislead the public. All too often, wind farm developers play down the impacts of their projects on neighbouring communities and claim exaggerated benefits. I was surprised that a company of E.ON’s size and status should have resorted to such dubious tactics.”
Despite complaints from local people over many months, E.ON refused to withdraw, or correct the images complained of. 1 “Even now, after the ASA have found against them,” Mr Wakeling notes, “They continue to use an image of some of the smallest commercial turbines in the UK on the West Ancroft page of their website.” 2
“Although I am disappointed that the ASA felt unable to uphold my complaint relating to E.ON’s claims for the predicted amounts of energy that might be produced at West Ancroft, I am pleased that they have recognised that an assumed load factor (averaged output in relation to capacity) of 30% for onshore wind turbines claimed by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), the wind industry trade body, is not sufficient in itself to support any claims for output unless it is supported by site-specific data.
“I am told that E.ON has supplied figures to the ASA to justify their use of this assumed figure at West Ancroft.” Mr Wakeling continues. “Their calculations have not been made public and have not been independently verified.
“E.ON has used this assumed 30% figure for other proposals, irrespective of site-specific wind conditions. But actual electricity production has failed to reach this level at schemes with a much better wind resource than West Ancroft. 3
“I hope the West Ancroft scheme will never be built, but if it is, I very much doubt whether the Company’s predicted output figures will ever be realised. This is especially the case when giant turbines are built so close to housing that they would have to be run in reduced power output mode in order to meet noise limits.”
See the ASA website for the full adjudication (Case Ref. A09-85744).
1 See the archived ‘West Ancroft blog’ where these issues were raised with the company.
2 E.ON Website - West Ancroft page (right click on the image and on ‘properties’ in the drop down menu to see the image file caption). The website image was eventually removed after the ASA adjudication was published.
3 See Spinning the Figures, below.
‘Adverts ‘halved size of turbines’’, BBC News, 29 July 2009.
‘Power firm E.ON censured over 'misleading' advertising images’, Berwick Advertiser, 29 July 2009.
‘Energy giant misled public over size of wind turbines’, The Daily Mail, 29 July 2009.
‘E.ON wind farm adverts banned’, The Guardian, 29 July 2009.
‘E.on rapped over misleading adverts for Berwick windfarm’, The Journal, 29 July 2009.
‘Energy giant's adverts showed wind turbines half size of those planned’, The Scotsman, 29 July 2009.
‘Wind farm complaint upheld by Advertising Standards Authority’, the Telegraph, 29 July 2009.
The Oldside and Siddick wind farms featured in E.ON’s advertising, according to an article in the local press, “... dominate the West Cumbrian coastline and have attracted criticism since they were erected because some turbines do not appear to move”. According to Ofgem records, Oldside had a load factor of only 15.8% in 2008. The British Wind Energy Association (and E.ON) claim that turbines, “typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output”.
Workington MP Tony Cunningham has called for turbines past their sell-by-date to be removed.
He is quoted as saying, “Where it can be demonstrated that wind farms or turbines are inefficient or not working properly they should be taken down.
“There’s no point having them if they’re not producing electricity.
“I think there are one or two at Oldside that haven’t turned for some time and if that’s the case they should be taken down. 1
E.On operates both wind farms and said the sites had been shut down for long periods over the last couple of years for maintenance as they were about 12 years old.
The wind industry claims that turbines have a lifespan of 25 years, though very few operate for anything near that time before being ‘repowered’ with larger turbines.
Oldside also suffered a blade accident in 2006 when a local police officer was quoted as saying, “The blade was made of fibre glass. If anyone had been underneath it, they could have been sliced into pieces.”. 2
On the afternoon of Wednesday, 3 December 2008, WACA flew a blimp from close to the ‘West Ancroft’ site boundary and the proposed site of turbine 5 in E.ON’s scheme. The blimp, although tethered to a measured 125m cable, was actually flying well below that height, due to wind drag (probably close to the revised, 115m, height of the turbines).
A static 5m blimp is just a height indicator, it is a lot less visible than turbines with 80-90m diameter moving blades.
Surveys are frequently commissioned by major wind developers. Unsurprisingly, they always ‘prove’ how ill-founded people’s fears about living next to a turbine array are.
The subjects of this particular survey (‘Living With an E.ON Wind Farm’) are described as “living near to one of our wind farms”, at Bowbeat, near Peebles in Scotland and Out Newton, on the Holderness coast in Yorkshire. We do not claim to know Out Newton; it is described as consisting of, “ a few scattered dwellings including four farms ... The present (2006) population is around 20 persons.” (Local Website). It appears from the map that there are two oil terminals between the village and seven small (80m) turbines which were erected, “in the face of considerable opposition, culminating in a public enquiry”.
The Bowbeat array is “some 7.5 km north east of Peebles” and consists of turbines that are 49m smaller than those proposed for West Ancroft. It is well known to people in North Northumberland and the Borders who also know that you will not find anyone “living near to” Bowbeat, because it is over 500m up on top of the Moorfoot Hills, in the middle of peat hags and forestry plantations with only sheep for neighbours:
“Wind turbine siting - The turbines are installed on a hill, but are not visible from nearby communities.”
(‘Project profile’, Nordex UK Ltd. [turbine suppliers]).
People living on a populated, low wind, lowland plateau within 1km of E.ON's West Ancroft proposal for 125m turbines will make their own minds up about how relevant this sort of ‘survey’ is to them.
People living close to E.ON’s West Ancroft site, at c. 70m above sea level, will be interested to know that E.ON insisted on using exactly the same presumed 30% ‘load factor’ (1) to predict the scheme’s output as was used for the Bowbeat turbine array, over 400m higher, on one of the windiest sites in the Borders.(2)
The Bowbeat site had an average wind speed of 9.5 m/s, according to its builders. The West Ancroft area is closer to 6.5 m/s according to local weather stations and the BERR Wind Speed Database.(3) Your Energy Ltd. who, unlike E.ON when they made their load factor claims, had monitored wind speed figures close to the West Ancroft site admitted that, “The fact [that] Felkington is on a low lying plateau means the wind conditions are relatively low”. (Bill Richmond, Your Energy Chairman. Berwick Advertiser, 20 October 2004). The ‘Moorsyde’ site is higher than the West Ancroft site.
Your Energy’s figures revealed a 22.4% load factor.
But E.ON’s West Ancroft figures use the same assumed 30% load factor as Bowbeat. This 30% figure has no basis in local, regional or even national figures but is the British Wind Energy Association’s now discredited notional “average” figure.
NPower, also operating without measured wind speed figures, used a 21% load factor in their initial predictions for the Toft Hill site which has marginally better figures on the BERR database.
NPower predicted a 27% load factor at the public inquiry into their Middlemoor site further south. This is on higher ground than West Ancroft, with a substantially better wind resource. This figure was based on the use 125m turbines.
Interestingly, we can compare the Bowbeat predictions with the reality. Ofgem record actual turbine array output figures on which Renewables Obligation subsidy certificates are awarded.
The recorded figures for Bowbeat have never reached 30%:
|Year||Output (MWh)||Load Factor|
(Predicted output was “81,994 MWhr p.a.”. The figures above are averaged from separate returns for Emly Bank and Roughside, REF UK ‘RED’ Files).(4)
It should also be noted that the Bowbeat turbines were built on an area of deep peat. No allowance was made in the claimed carbon substitution figures for the extra foundations needed nor for damage done to the peat, which holds CO2.
Even before allowance is made for damaged peat, the CO2 savings figures should be halved in accordance with the latest advice from the Advertising Standards Authority.
Having stubbornly insisted to the ASA that their supposed 30% load factor was based on actual output calculations (not released for public scrutiny) rather than a notional average, E.ON produced new output prediction figures for their environmental statement.
Surprise, surprise: in a document that will be examined by the planners and by people with technical expertise, they do not claim a 30% figure. They are now saying: “The amount of energy generated by the proposed West Ancroft Wind Farm has been calculated using an estimated capacity factor of 28%.”
This figure is as ludicrous as their previous effort and becomes utterly farcical when you examine the reality of their proposal, including turbulence and wake effects from topographical features and turbine layout, and the probable requirement to run turbines in ‘reduced output’ mode in order to meet noise limits.
The Moorsyde decision must inform any decision on the West Ancroft scheme. Councillor Jim Smith, Northumberland County Council’s executive member for regeneration, housing and planning, is quoted in a statement by the planning authority as saying: “The County Council welcomes the appeal decisions which will help to inform future decisions on windfarm developments particularly in North Northumberland.
The decision letter, Inspector’s Report and NCC statement are available for download here:
Decision Letter (16 pages, small PDF file).
Inspector’s Report (101 pages, large PDF file).
‘Planning decisions on windfarms’, 25 January 2010. (NCC statement).
The Arup report on the capacity of the area ‘south and west of Berwick’ for wind turbine development is available as a PDF download from the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) website; ANEC is the successor to the North East Assembly (NEA), the lead agency in commissioning the report. Compare and contrast the suggested capacity of Zone 10 with what E.ON are proposing.
Paul Golby, E.ON UK’s chief executive, says: “We are calling for a new balanced and honest debate about the UK's energy needs, one that truly assesses the consequences in terms of carbon, cost and security of our energy choices.”
So why are E.ON pushing, against all planning guidance, a scheme with an excessive number of 115m turbines in a populated, low wind, lowland, tourist landscape that would be better suited to, for example, small biomass/biogas plant? See: ‘E.ON warns over backup for renewables’, The Guardian, 4 June 2008.
There is one simple answer: ROC’s (Renewables Obligation Certificates). As Paul Golby has said, “Without the renewable obligation certificates nobody would be building wind farms.” (Daily Telegraph, 26 March 2005). For an explanation of ROC’s, see our Windpower page.
E.ON Netz, the grid management arm of E.ON’s German parent company, has published some very interesting information on their experience of trying to cope with a massive installed wind capacity and its ineffectiveness in substituting for conventional generating capacity.
At the end of 2004, they had an installed wind power capacity of over 7,000MW in their grid area, over 40% of the then German total (it is now close to 24,000MW). By comparison the British Wind Energy Association is claiming a total installed capacity (offshore and onshore) in the UK of 4,091.82 MW as of 7 February, 2010.
The E.ON Netz 2005 Wind Report can be downloaded or ordered from the E.ON Netz website.
ELECTRICITY GENERATIONBalancing Mechanism Reporting System (BMRS).