Head's plan for wind of change suffers a blow

11th April 2008 at 01:00
Opposition from worried residents highlights pitfalls for schools that try to go green

Head Pattrick Frean has a dream: the white sails of two elegant turbines swishing calmly over the roof of his Devon comprehensive.

The 15-metre high structures will save the school about 20 per cent - some pound;10,000 - on its annual electricity bill: almost enough for a new teaching assistant.

But his vision for Coombe Dean School in Plymouth may never become reality if local campaigners get their way.

When the school first consulted local residents on a plan for a single 25-metre high turbine last summer, protesters said it would disrupt their TV reception, and create flickering lights and excess noise. Some even suggested the blades would fall off and kill someone.

The new, scaled-down plans have met with similar objections. They will not be music to the ears of the Government as it prepares to launch a task force later this month to deliver 100 per cent carbon-neutral schools by 2016.

"We are fighting entrenched ideas in a city which hasn't seen much of this kind of development," said a frustrated Mr Frean.

"The opposition is using complete scare tactics. These turbines are not in anything like the same category as those on industrial wind farms. I didn't expect it to be this difficult. I expected people to be more rational."

To get the proposals through the planning committee, the school has employed consultants to disprove opponents' claims.

The struggle has come to national attention since Lord Turner, the Government's climate change tsar, said he wanted to see a wind turbine outside all schools.

There are successful large-scale turbines in a few schools, but many have been thwarted by the anti-wind brigade.

In Somerset, the Windy Schools initiative, launched in 2002, aimed to install financially viable turbines at eight schools, but residents' objections have put a stop to all but one project.

Keith Wheaton-Green, climate change officer at South Somerset district council, said: "There was a lot of enthusiasm, but governors are not courageous enough to go ahead following complaints. For some reason there are individuals who are terrified of wind turbines."

Money is also a problem, he added. Funding schemes, such as the Government's low-carbon building programme, usually only provide part of the money needed.

Mr Wheaton-Green said many schools had installed smaller wall- and roof-mounted turbines that have educational value, but are "little more than useless" financially.

Solar panels and other renewable energy systems are popular, but the pay-back is nowhere near as fast as with a substantial turbine, he said.

In Dorset, the council has successfully promoted alternative heating using ground-source heat pumps. But there has been little success on the wind front.

On the Isle of Portland, near Weymouth, a primary and a secondary hoping to make huge savings through wind power have had their plans dashed by objections.

Cassop Primary in County Durham was the first school to feed wind-generated power into the National Grid in 1999. The turbine there is temporarily out of action while the school awaits new parts.

But some areas of the country have had notable successes. At Gorran Primary, near St Austell in Cornwall, a 15-metre high turbine has been installed and is generating 90 per cent of the school's power.

At Frith Manor Primary in north London, a 12-metre high turbine provided the final piece in the school's sustainable jigsaw when it took its place alongside 38 solar panels which already help provide the school with electricity.


- Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, told The TES that the Government will announce a task force later this month to help make schools carbon neutral by 2016.

- The government-funded Carbon Buildings Trust has approved 27 grants for school wind turbines since it started in 2006.

- In its Sustainable Schools Framework, launched in 2006, the Government said all schools should be "sustainable" by 2020.

- Construction of new schools will only be funded under the Building Schools for the Future programme if they are designed to produce no carbon footprint, it was announced last year.

- There are 9,579 official eco-schools in England, where pupils are put in charge of making their schools greener by running a campaign to switch off lights, install solar panels or recycle biodiesel. The scheme is sponsored by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

- Early experiments with low-carbon schools have not been successful, with some found to be producing more CO2 than traditional designs.

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