Windmill power set for major boom

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BRITAIN WILL soon be sprouting many more wind farms, the Environment minister, Michael Meacher, promised yesterday at the World Climate Conference in Buenos Aires.

He reaffirmed the Government's intention to produce 10 per cent of Britain's energy requirements from renewable sources by 2010 - a fivefold increase over the present level. Wind energy would play a big part, he said.

"If we are going to increase fivefold, and we are determined to reach that target, there is going to have to be a considerable increase in wind turbines, both onshore and offshore," he said.

He would not give any figures, but renewable energy consultants at the conference, which is attempting to take forward last year's Kyoto agreement on climate change, estimated that the UK target might mean another 2,000 windmills on top of the 700 already operating in Britain.

Many of these have met with fierce opposition from locals who feel they have ruined sensitive landscapes, especially in hill country.

But Mr Meacher said: "The expansion has to be tempered by careful planning to ensure that visual intrusiveness does not happen.

"There will have to be closer consultation with local communities to plan the siting of windmills, which up to now have not been as sensitively located as they might. That can alter. They do not always have to be on the top of the highest hills or the windiest ridges."

However, government help to wind farms from the Treasury goes only to the most economic projects and takes no account of landscape sensitivities. And, as the energy output of wind turbines follows a "cube law" - a doubling of wind speed gives an eightfold increase in power output - wind farm developers always head for the hills.

Tony Burton, the assistant director for policy, at The Council for the Protection of Rural England said yesterday: "Current planning policies are not strong enough to prevent this initiative causing considerable damage to the countryside.

"We strongly urge the Government to look at other renewable energy sources, or at least to encourage the development of offshore wind farms, which is in a very early stage.

"We can't accept that much more onshore wind [farms] without really quite significant environmental problems."

Greenpeace, the environmental group warmly welcomed Mr Meacher's statement. But it hit out at Britain's failure to develop its own substantial wind industry, and failure to ensure more offshore wind power had been built up.

Simon Reddy, Greenpeace's renewable campaigner, said: "Ironically, while Mr Meacher supports the need for wind technology, back home this government has done nothing at all to develop wind energy in the UK. Its delays are costing the UK manufacturing industry, jobs and exports."

Border Wind, Britain's leading offshore wind developer, is planning to build Britain's first offshore wind farm in 1999 with funding from the European Union.

Mr Meacher indicated that offshore wind farms might well figure in the next renewable energy funding round.

The Government's renewable energy policy is bogged down in the Renewable Energy Review being conducted by John Battle, the Energy minister. It was set up 18 months ago, when Labour came to power, and is now seriously overdue.