Visit To Roskrow Barton Wind Farm

Many thanks to VentnorBlog writer, Wendy Varley, for her report of a visit to see wind turbines in action at Roskrow Barton in Cornwall last week. It’s a long report, but worth the read if this is an area you have an interest in. Ed
My …

Many thanks to VentnorBlog writer, Wendy Varley, for her report of a visit to see wind turbines in action at Roskrow Barton in Cornwall last week. It’s a long report, but worth the read if this is an area you have an interest in. Ed

Visit To Roskrow Barton Wind Farm My visit to Cornwall Light and Power’s wind turbines at Roskrow Barton on a hilltop near Penryn in Cornwall wasn’t just for VentnorBlog’s benefit.

From where I live, wind turbines on Cheverton Down would be highly visible, and I’ve paid careful attention to both sides of the debate about whether three 125m turbines (tip-height) should go there.

There’s already planning consent for three smaller (tip-height 52m) wind turbines at the site dating back to 1995, updated 2003. If the application for larger turbines is turned down, CLP could install old turbines. But they wouldn’t be anything like as efficient as the larger models.

Never having been up close to wind turbines, I was keen to witness for myself how they operate, look, and sound. Are they the humming monstrosities that some opponents suggest they are, or silent and graceful workhorses?

Joining Me On The Visit
Also checking them out were Ray Harrington-Vail from the Isle of Wight’s Footprint Trust, and Hugh Walding (the IW Friends of the Earth co-ordinator.

We met up with representatives from CLP in sight of the turbines at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter, which runs a degree course in renewable energy.

Students from the course research the wind turbines, and have access to all the data on their performance.

A local farmer had reported seeing lightning strike one of the turbines during storms the previous day, but Steve Allen from CLP did not seem overly worried on hearing the news. Wind turbines are designed to cope with lightning strikes, and will automatically shut down and run checks before re-starting a few minutes later if everything’s okay, which is what the data showed had happened. There was no damage, and only momentary interruption to supply.

In the Lab
We arrived at the lab to find senior lecturer Dr Dean Millar explaining to a group of visiting sixth-formers from Exeter (all boys I noticed), how wind turbine blades work: the flat of the blades face the wind so that they resist it and flex back towards the tower as they turn.

He mentioned a rare wind turbine collapse in Scotland when a turbine failed to cut out in strong winds and a blade flexed so much that it collided with the tower causing it to crumple.

Neil Harris, Chief Executive of Cornwall Light and Power, quickly chipped in to say that it had happened in hurricane force winds, and that although wind turbines cut out in winds of 25m/s (56mph) they are designed to withstand winds of up to 70m/s (156mph) in the event that they fail to shut down.

Dr Millar went on to talk about the very small risk to birds from modern wind turbines (“half a bird per turbine per year”), and compared it to the far bigger threat from cars, or domestic cats (apparently an estimated 100 million birds a year are killed by cats).

Ray Harrington-Vail interjected that climate change poses a major risk to birds and bats.

Alternative Renewable Energy
Dr Millar touched on other forms of renewable energy, as the college is researching moorings for Cornwall’s £30 million Wave Hub project, which aims to find the best methods to harness wave energy.

“You can appreciate how difficult it is to anchor big wave energy devices in the strongest currents,” said Dr Millar, indicating a gargantuan mooring chain in the middle of the lab.

The SeaGen Ulster tidal project has been looked at with a view to its suitability for off St Catherine’s Point, but as that site is home to a natural reef and a wartime munitions dump, it is less than ideal.

Dr Millar emphasised that research and development into wave and tidal energy is twenty years behind wind turbines, and that wind turbine design has been honed over many years, and is proven and available now.

Neil Harris said that the technical issues that objector groups raise about wind power have been repeatedly dismissed at planning enquiries, but that every time a new planning application goes in “we have to keep on justifying it”.

Roskrow BartonDr Millar recalls how locals opposed the Roskrow Barton development (which went to appeal), “But since the turbines went up they’ve not said anything.”

Steve Allen adds that some opponents of the turbines have now come back to CLP saying they like them.

Neil Harris compared the proposals for Cheverton Down with another of CLP’s developments, Goonhilly Downs in Cornwall: “Those turbines are in an AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] and have been adopted by the community.”

Dr Millar has attended wind farm enquiries, and in his opinion objection boils down to two things: people are interested in house values (not a reason for refusal of a planning application); and “local folk sometimes feel it’s someone else coming along and taking our wind”.

“There’s nothing to stop someone forming Isle of Wight Light and Power”¦ if they’re willing to make the investment,” adds Neil Harris.

What Happens When the Wind Stops Blowing?
I ask Neil about the point people make on the Island that during the cold but still weather at New Year wind turbines would not have been much use.

“They’d be right, but overall it’s been a very good wind year,” he says. In their first year of operation the Roskrow Barton turbines have matched their predicted output, and have been producing energy 90% of the time.

“Some energy, but not at full capacity?” I ask.

No, but with an average windspeed of 7.5m/s at the site, the two turbines have produced enough electricity to power more than 1000 homes. (CLP predict that the three larger V90 turbines at Cheverton would power between 4500 and 5000 island homes.)

Dr Millar explained that the overall 30% efficiency of wind farms compares well to other forms of conventional energy such as coal-fired power stations.

Under The Turbines
From the university campus we walked up the track to the wind turbines. It was a bright and blustery March day, and I heard nothing other than the wind and a passing car until I was 70 metres away, where the swoosh of the turbine blades passing the towers was just audible.

Even right at the base of the turbines they are very quiet. Here’s a short recording I made at the base of one of the towers.

The main noise you can hear is the general background noise of the wind. Over that you can hear a rhythmic swish of the turbine as the blades pass the tower.


John Mills, head of construction management at CLP, showed us the nearby control room (in Cheverton’s case it would be down in the farm buildings), which houses a large computer, and a control panel from where the turbines can be adjusted or stopped completely. We were shown how by turning the blade edges to the wind the turbine acts as an air brake and gradually slows to a halt.

Visit To Roskrow Barton Wind Farm Inside the Tower
Donning hard hats, we headed inside the turbine tower itself (picture right by Ray Harrington-Vail).

There’s a ladder up the inside for maintenance work. John explained how the gearbox in the nacelle (behind the blades at the top of the tower) amplifies the power from the slowly rotating blades, before it’s converted by the generator into electricity, which flows through cables down the inside of the tower and underground to the nearest substation.

Monitors at the base of the tower showed the wind speed (which was fluctuating between 7.5 and 10m/s) and power generation.

I felt at ease standing by the turbines, though I had to bear in mind that at 72m to the tip they’re 60% of the size of those proposed for Cheverton.

Dr Millar had compared people’s perceptions of wind turbine size to the scene in Father Ted when Ted explains to Dougal that a miniature cow in the distance isn’t really miniature, it’s just further away.

But for anyone walking the Tennyson Trail there’s no doubt that they would have a fairly close encounter with some pretty large structures.

But a public footpath runs right across the site at Roskrow Barton, within feet of the turbines, and from the hilltop there’s a spectacular view of Cornwall. Maybe the turbines are simply a point of interest on the route.

Other Wind Turbines
On the horizon I could make out other wind farms – Bears Down and Carland Cross – on the north Cornish coast. I can’t claim they’re a blot on the beautiful landscape. They’re barely noticeable. But although Cornwall is more familiar with wind farms, there are objectors there, too.

Later, when I Googled Carland Cross, I noted some opposition to plans to replace the existing 17-year old turbines with ones with a tip-height of more than 100m.

Given that we have no giant turbines at all in this part of the country yet, it’s perhaps no wonder that people are concerned about their potential impact on the landscape.

But there has been a discernible shift of opinion since the plans for wind turbines at Wellow were rejected in 2006. Then, just 18% of the 2312 respondents were in favour. This time it’s a third (612 of 1940).

Ray Harrington-Vail pointed out that a consultation on the Island’s AONB has been taking place, and the responses on that have been in the tens, not the hundreds, suggesting that people are perhaps not quite so fired up about the landscape as the wind turbine debate suggests. He openly supports the wind turbines, and believes that “People might change their priorities once the lights start going off.”

For myself, I am largely reassured about their performance, certainly about their quietness, and in terms of the visuals, while I still can’t entirely picture how they would look in the Island’s landscape, they’re undoubtedly more attractive – and clean – than the coal mines and spoil heaps that used to dot the Yorkshire countryside of my childhood.

As ever, we try to present a balanced view of subjects. We’ve made considerable effort to get the views of the main opposition to wind farms on the Island, ThWART (The Wight Against Rural Turbines), but to date we haven’t heard from them after they agreed to take part in an interview.

Wednesday, 11th March, 2009 12:05pm



Filed under: Environment, Green Issues, Overseas

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.

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34 Comments on "Visit To Roskrow Barton Wind Farm"

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excellent report – thank you.


What a great report. Thank you for taking the time producing it.


compare and contrast – the situation in portugal :

…Portugal is set to become the first country to produce energy from floating offshore wind farms following an agreement between the country’s dominant power utility and a US technology company…

James P

Thorough, balanced and interesting, as ever, Wendy. Of course, the ThWARTists will still have you down as a member of the opposition… :-)

James P

I know it’s not a planning issue, but did they affect house prices at all? It would be nice to nail that particular myth…

Wendy V

With house prices sliding everywhere lately, it would be hard to know, but the council’s head of planning who spoke at last month’s Brighstone Parish Council meeting said what tends to happen is when the application goes in there is an effect due to uncertainty and that afterwards there’s no or little impact. I haven’t looked at any specific studies myself.

James P

There is this:

I realise it’s on the BWEA site, but it is a summary of findings by others, including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

James P
In the interests of balance (and before I get jumped on by the ThWARTists) I should say that the BWEA’s summary is a bit selective. The RICS report does say that: “Insofar as there was any impact on prices, the results seem to show that it is most noticeable for terraced and semi-detached houses” but that it was most significant “within a mile of a wind farm”,… Read more »
Wendy V

Thanks for the feedback. Will have a look, James.

Vicky Portwain

Hi – I have a factual and balanced summary of several “wind farm impact on house price” studies from UK and US on my website which should help you out. In summary the evidence base (certainly in the UK) is not sufficient to come to definite conclusion – however in both UK and US other factors seem to be much more influential.

Wendy V

Thanks for the link, Vicky. Interesting article.

George: is this a second “pro” facebook group? Any connection with ITAG (Island Turbine Action Group)?

I’ve seen wind turbines in Hawarth the town the Bronte sisters came from, it’s a beautifully preserved town which has many more Victorian features than the Island still has. They had been strategically placed so they couldn’t be seen from main tourist attractions like the Bronte’s house and church and the Victorian High Street I admit. When I saw them though in the distance against the back… Read more »
Wendy V

I guess as Wuthering Heights was set on the moors above Haworth, there’s no argument over the wind resource?!

john Harrison
The issue is about location, location, location. The V52 at Barton has a swept area of 2124 m2 compared with the v90 for Cheverton which is 6362m2. Thus the impact of a 44m diameter blade compared with a 90m blade is therefore 3X. Natural England, the IW AONB, English Heritage, the National Trust , Hampshire and Wight Trust for Natural History amongst many others have objected to… Read more »
Simon Perry
Re Thwart interview. Thwart were keen to be interview, picking a weekend that suited them. Over that weekend, they didn’t return the calls of the person who was going to interview them for VB. As we’ve said before, we were and still are happy to speak to them. We haven’t given up on Thwart … we’ve called them subsequently – most recently to get their views on… Read more »
James P

“they didn’t return the calls of the person who was going to interview them”

So ‘unavailable for comment’ then? I expect they’re still getting over the RSPB report!

Simon Perry

I had a long chat to the RSPB last week. If I get time, I will write it up into a story.

Here’s one of the things that was really surprising – they have only maintained objections to 7% of wind farm planning applications.

Clearly that’s 93% of them that they have no objection to.

james dawes
I agree with John – without a body like Thwart and of course the planning department, a company like Vestas would cover the Island in turbines because they are great CASH genarators not electricity generators. They couldn’t care where they shove them up. Let’s balance renewables with the need to preserve our landscape as well as the planet. What about some investment from Gordon and his cronies… Read more »
James P
“What about some investment from Gordon and his cronies in alternatives that might actually deliver like tidal and nuclear” So it’s OK for them to be subsidised, but not wind power? As I understand it, there is no direct subsidy of the CL&P scheme anyway, just a premium on the electricity sold. As I’ve said before on here, I’m all in favour of any renewable resources (and… Read more »

has the feasibility study for a nucleur generator on Cheverton Down been instigated yet?

V Bird
I strongly believe the Cheverton Down wind farm should go ahead, and that we on the Isle of Wight should be very proud of it, for several important reasons: 1. If we are all to use electricity we should be prepared to be responsible for the impact of generating it. Dumping pollution in someone else’s back yard when we could generate cleanly ourselves is not morally tenable.… Read more »
V Bird
Not sure what happened there, but: 3. The first time I cycled past the blade works at the back of the Medina Estate I was struck by how beautiful the blades are; I believe the wind farm would be amazing, not an eyesore, and am a regular walker on the Tennyson Trail at Cheverton. 4. Vestas are one of the largest and most prestigeous private sector employers… Read more »

ditto fellow V person

Wendy V

There’s coverage in this week’s County Press (27 March, p26) of Ray Harrington-Vail’s (Footprint Trust) impressions of the visit to Roskrow Barton.

James P

I saw that, Wendy. They might have given you a name-check!

Wendy V

It’s fair enough, James – theirs is the Footprint Trust and FoE viewpoint. Mine is my own… which I chose to write up for VentnorBlog!

Chris Welsford
Well done Wendy Varley! That is a brilliant account. I am sorry I missed it before. I am pro-renewables and pro-wind power but like most people I am worried about visual impact and cost efficiency. Your report makes me feel very much more reassured that we should embrace the proposal to site the new turbines at Cheverton and elsewhere too. No one can accuse you of being… Read more »
“I think we should count ourselves as being very lucky indeed and welcome wind power with more grace.” From this Islanders should accept turbines because they are not as bad as a coal/gas/nuclear power plant sited here??!? So it’s an either or between turbines or a power station? Glad that’s been qualified!!! “( and the turbines are not likely to be any more noisy than the old… Read more »
James P
“the old radar booms” I think you’re mixing up your booms! Chris was talking about masts and gantries, I believe… FWIW, I’m in favour of combined heat and power, too. There was a gas-powered CHP station on one of the nursery (greenhouse, not pre-school!) sites near Arreton that was intended to provide heat for the crops and electricity for the grid. This was installed and ready to… Read more »
Thank you James. So Chris was saying that these huge blades travelling at such a rapid velocity would produce no more noise than STATIONARY gantries and masts. So he suggests there would be ZERO noise. Right, and pigs will fly and swoop with glee between each blade as they zoom past the support tower. I think the only thing these turbines will produce at near negligible levels… Read more »
James P
No need to shout, T@4 – I was simply suggesting that you might have misinterpreted ‘boom’. Open framed masts can be quite noisy in wind, probably more so than streamlined wind turbines, in fact. I really don’t think noise is an issue here, and if turbines produce as little power as you suggest (hope?) then no-one will put them up and you won’t have much to worry… Read more »
Chris Welsford

T@4. Wendy’s article does not seem to support your scary view of wind power. For the record, I would be far keener to see CHP (Combined Heat & Power) units built for towns like Ventnor.


I was in Cambidgeshire recently on the road by the side of a wind farm with 8 turbines (maybe more)…the noise (if one could call it such) was minimal and didn’t stand out against traffic noise on a very quite country road..we could certainly still hear the sheep in the adjacent field