Air Farmers (AF) held a presentation on the Middleton Burn (MB) Scheme at the Bell View Centre on 29 September, 2011.
This was a PR exercise, designed to try and muster some vestige of support from local people. It failed abysmally – see the exit poll figures!
Most of the information presented was selective, inaccurate or misleading. It was designed to place the best possible gloss on their scheme while ignoring, downplaying or concealing the negative impacts.
AF can get away with this at this stage, because everything is “indicative” (a word which featured strongly in their presentation). Later in the planning process information is presented as part of an Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) which will be examined by planners, consultants and, if the scheme ends up at appeal, by lawyers and a government planning inspector and/or minister.
There were only three people present representing AF. None of them wore ID badges so the affair was chaotic, with visitors wandering round the crowded room trying to find out who could answer their questions.
The man behind the entrance desk remained anonymous and did not tell any of the many people we have talked to who he was. From what was said, we think that he might have something to do with the mysterious moneymen behind AF. We await clarification from AF.
The main director and shareholder, Mr Jens Rasmussen, was there, as was Mr Bob Morgan, a consultant hired to act as project manager for both Middle Hill (Elsdon) and Middleton Burn.
Unusually, no representatives for the consultants (Pegasus) were present to answer questions on their documents.
The most prominent position in the presentation was given over to two large panels which featured pretty pictures of the many possible uses to which the small annual payments to a community fund might possibly be put.
This fantasy did not extend to explaining that community funds have nothing to do with the planning application. Less scrupulous wind developers, of course, talk of little else when ‘consulting’ with the public!
Nor was it mentioned that AF only propose paying the bare minimum of £1K per MW of installed capacity per annum set by the wind industry trade body, RenewableUK (less than ReUK’s 2006 average of £1.5K).
AF are proposing double this minimum amount at Middle Hill, Elsdon: £54K, which is £2K per MW, p.a. (27MW headline capacity). They seem to think we are a soft touch!
Just over the Border amounts are much higher: e.g. at Brunta Hill, a pre-application scheme near Lauder, PNE Wind is offering £5K per MW of installed capacity, plus an additional £1,000 per MW at years 10 and 20 (linked to RPI).
In Powys, Wales, it is £5K and in the Highlands region of Scotland it is £4-5K. Highland region explicitly states that these sums, even in the more difficult site areas of Highland Scotland, can be easily funded from large, consumer-funded Renewables Obligation production subsidies.
Nor did they mention that landowners would receive many times what the local community might receive in community funds.1
The sum of £48K per year appears even less generous when you know that Air Farmers might receive over £5.8 million per year in subsidies paid by the electricity consumer. (Calculated using AF’s predicted load factor of 30.2% and the £45.85 average auction price for Renewables Obligation Certificates as of 30 September, 2011).
We can report the reaction of at least one visitor, whose tourist business would be badly affected by the scheme: “What upsets me most is that this company thinks we can be fobbed off with a sculpture trail or some other cheap gimmick”.
A scandalously misleading feature of the presentation was the (mis)use of photomontages:
The guidelines recommend a height of image that allows sufficient detail to be seen. The photomontages were too small according to these guidelines and were presented in such a way that they could not be viewed as recommended.
Several people noticed, after much peering through reading glasses, that there were errors in locations and turbine scaling.
Professional photographers who were present say that the images contravened the SNH guidelines by not having the required information on cameras and lenses and how the images had been constructed.
There isn’t space to itemise all the errors, selective ‘facts’ and mis/disinformation that visitors to the AF show reported.
I will highlight one example which illustrates the way AF operate:
One panel prominently featured a graphic from a report by Mott McDonald for DECC, the energy department. It illustrated, according to AF, that the cost of generating onshore wind was comparable to gas-fuelled power stations. 2
This is misleading. The referenced Mott McDonald report sets out to present ‘levelised costings’ and sets out a number of caveats relating to its calculation of wind power costs: it does not include subsidies, which can double the cost of wind-generated power to the consumer, nor does it include backup costs, supply and distrubution costs or the cost of re-engineering the grid to take intermittent wind power generation. Nor do they include the costs of ‘curtailment’ (paying wind power producers not to produce) which is much higher, in relation to capacity and output, than for thermal power stations.
In the recent gales the Norwegian-owned operators of Crystal Rig, in the Lammermuirs, were paid £1.2 million for not producing for 12 hours, a period when their turbines might anyway have automatically shut down due to high wind speeds. This was nearly ten times what they might have expected in normal wholesale price plus consumer-funded subsidy.2
When we pointed out how misleading this graphic and the headline text with it were, Mr Morgan cheerfully responded that some anti-wind protestors misrepresent the facts. He seemed to think that this justified AF, supposedly a responsible development company, behaving in the same way.
Who are Air Farmers?
Something that has been repeatedly raised by visitors to the exhibition is the secretive nature of Air Farmers Ltd.
This private company was only founded in 2008 and has no history in the wind business. It is not recorded as having built a single wind turbine.
It is no longer even, according to Messrs Rasmussen and Morgan, a member RenewableUK, “the trade and professional body for UK wind and marine renewables industries”. RenewableUK might be surprised to hear that Air Farmers resigned from ReUK because, and I quote Mr Morgan: “the trade body haven’t been doing anything for years, and most people in the wind industry do not regard RenewableUK as a force.”
However, in spite this lack of experience, AF is proposing two very large applications in Northumberland, at the same time.
The more you look, the more mystifying this company appears in comparison with ‘normal’ wind development comnpanies. It operates from an office accommodation address in London; its website is nothing but a greenwashed mission statement – no information on the company, its directors, their history or even the company’s projects. It does not even directly employ its only visible employee, project manager Mr Bob Morgan, he has his own consultancy business.
We are down-to-earth people in Northumberland, if some company pitches up proposing a massive scheme which will change our landscape for generations and disrupt our lives and businesses, then we want to know who we are dealing with.
I, and many others, quizzed Jens Rasmussen, the company’s Danish major shareholder and director in an attempt to find out.
He refused to tell me, or anybody else that I have talked to, anything about the investors who are behind the company. They are very probably persons of the highest possible probity, but, for all that we discovered from Herr Rasmussen, they could just as well be Russian mafia or Colombian drug barons.
1 The 2006 minimum was set out in BWEA, ‘Onshore Wind: Powering Ahead’, March 2006. p.23 (see http://www.bwea.com/media/news/060327.html).
The sum has since risen considerably, if the letters we have seen to farmers from speculative developers are to be believed.
2 Mott McDonald for DECC, ‘UK Electricity Generation Costs Update’, June 2010. (PDF download).