The wind's got up in Nympsfield

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The Independent Online
If you visit the village of Nympsfield, high on the Cotswolds near Stroud, you will soon hear someone give vent to a disgusted exclamation of "Sixty kettles!" That, the objectors reckon, would be the average output of the giant wind turbine which threatens to dominate their skyline: that dribble of electricity would be the sole return for allowing a huge, alien structure to disfigure the landscape.

The dispute at Nympsfield has been rumbling since 1992, when Stroud District Council gave permission for a 100ft mast to be erected near the village. The applicant was Western Windpower, a firm run by a young and articulate entrepreneur called Dale Vince, acting with the German firm Enercon.

In November that year the Council gave permission for Western Windpower to erect two E-33s - turbines 163 feet high. For various reasons these have never been built, but now Mr Vince has applied for permission to construct one E-40, a 208ft monster. The villagers have risen up and formed the Cotswold Protection Group, which claims to represent 80 per cent of the population.

Arguments rage about how much power a single E-40 would produce. Mr Vince claims that on average it would satisfy the domestic needs of 1170 people, or 20 per cent of the population of Nympsfield and the neighbouring town, Nailsworth. The villagers maintain that it would take 36 years to produce what one 2,000-megawatt coal-fired station can turn out in a single day.

Noise is another factor much in dispute. Because the E-40 is of advanced design, its advocates argue that it will make scarcely a sound. The villagers claim that the swooshing noise from the 70ft blades will pollute a wide area.

There is also resentment that one small company stands to make money at the expense of the community: the Protection Group's figures show that over 20 years the mast could yield pounds 1m profit. Further, the objectors suspect they are being used as guinea pigs.

Yet the fiercest argument is aesthetic. Should such a structure be allowed in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty? "If this turbine goes up, all protection for the AONB will go out the window," says Ian Blair, a farmer who lives in full view of the site. "This structure would make a mockery of every national and local attempt to protect the Cotswolds. If you allow this one, how will you stop others?"

"Nonsense!" says Mr. Vince. "The site is the best you could find. The machine is the best you can get. The visual impact will be minimal."

He also draws attention to the fact that a line of high-voltage electricity pylons already marches past the site, and claims that the villagers are motivated by base motives - "fear of something they don't understand, and jealousy that other people are going to make money".

Having seen how glaringly obvious is the wind-farm at Llandinam in Wales, I cannot believe that it is right to build a big turbine in an AONB. But I do not envy the members of the planning committee who have to take the decision. If they give the mast the go-ahead, they may appear politically correct on the question of renewable energy; but they will incur fierce resentment locally and put the wind up conservationists all over the country.