I am a fan of renewable energy, especially of the community co-operative kind like Awel Aman Tawe and its solar sister Egni Co-op. Wind turbines have a Marmite effect – people tend to extreme love or hate – and I was curious to see if both reactions were represented on a site visit to a big wind energy project under construction in the Valleys, Pen y Cymoedd.
We booked to go on 3rd August, which turned out wild, windy and wet. The clouds were low on the Rhigos mountain when we got to the compound to park.
The Rhigos A4061 road between Hirwaun and Glyn Neath is famous for its spectacular views, hairpin bends and access, as well as the Tower Colliery. Most of my photos look grey and bleak because of the rainclouds over us and lack of visibility.
Pen y Cymoedd is one of four wind energy projects run by Vattenfall, which is Swedish and state-owned. (I first came across them through the Local Access Forum, when they gave a presentation about the community fund associated with their project.) While our visit was designed as a positive PR experience, their investment and employment (mostly local) are impressive. I asked about access at the briefing which we had – there were about 25 in our visit, kitted out in safety gear.
I was really pleased that they said that the turbines, which are on forestry land – open access land – have no exclusion zone around them. People can walk right up.
Nearly half of the 76 turbines were installed by the beginning of August. They are 140 metres high, and the heaviest components weigh 90 tonnes. The design of the site using the contours was fascinating, as well as the details of construction and linking to the grid. For example, peat which is removed for the foundations is conserved as part of a sustainable approach. Noise of turbines is reduced by serrating the edges of the blades.
These wind projects are technologically awesome and one of the visitors remarked that the construction must feel like the building of the railways.
We went on our tour in a coach, with periodic soakings outside. On the way to our first stop, we passed serious machinery and a huge main compound.
Our first stop was to look at components: these are brought up from Swansea Docks. This is a partially built turbine.
The blades, serrated edge and all, were there. I was pleased with the long shot.
We were back in the coach, with machines and turbines looming out of the rain. We chatted to the manager and engineer and they answered queries as we travelled.
It was a bit too wild at times, though the turbines kept a wow factor.
And then, the clouds lifted. With the trees and hillside hiding the turbines, it is hard to believe that there are already over 30 there.
It was well worth going, and the sun even came out for us as we drove back towards Hirwaun.
Pen y Cymoedd should provide energy for 140 thousand homes without air pollution and and will not leave the scars of coal. I expect some will be sad that the forestry land has these big white moving inventions and avoid them. I remain optimistic about the outcomes of this and co-operative renewable energy for the Valleys communities, and am always pleased to read about the Welsh Government’s backing of renewables which is continuing this summer.
Of course, as with Marmite, people will disagree.
You can see much sunnier photos of Pen y Cymoedd on their Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/120047838@N03/