Councillors have approved plans for a 150m-tall, community-led wind turbine in Avonmouth against the advice of officers.
Members heard the chances of a “catastrophic failure” and collapse onto a neighbouring power station cooling tower were one in half-a-million years.
The risk was considered enough to warrant a recommendation of refusal, but Bristol City Council’s development control committee unanimously voted in favour of the proposals, which will now be sent to the secretary of state for a final decision.
Ambition Community Energy (ACE), a community interest company set up by charity Ambition Lawrence Weston, applied for permission for the £5.4million turbine off the A403 Severn Road.
It received 69 letters of support and one objection from Seabank Power Station citing safety fears.
The committee was told a safe separation distance from a turbine to the nearest building was deemed to be the height of the blade tip plus 10 per cent, so 165 metres in this case. The cooling tower is 160 metres away.
Officers had originally recommended approval but changed to refusal the day before the meeting on Wednesday, July 8 following legal opinions on planning law.
Royal Academy of Engineering fellow Andrew Garrad, who has spent 40 years working on wind turbine structural calculations, told the meeting: “I have calculated the probability of this event is one in 500,000 years and Seabank has not disagreed with that.
“If you were to sit on the Seabank fence, you would be 30 times more likely to be hit by lightning than to be struck by a blade.”
Lawrence Weston resident Roger Sabido said: “The power station is more at risk from low-flying Gloucester Old Spots than from us.”
Ambition Lawrence Weston development manager Mark Pepper said the health & safety executive agreed that safety was not a concern.
He said: “To reduce the size of the turbine will not enable enough revenue generated to pay back the build costs, let alone see a return come back to the community.
“Reducing or moving is not financially or ecologically viable.”
But city council head of development Gary Collins said: “A shorter turbine would be less viable but what hasn’t been demonstrated is that it would be unviable.
“There is so much to commend about this application in terms of green energy, community-led, so it is with a heavy heart to have had to come to a late recommendation for refusal.
“What we have been unable to be satisfied with, unfortunately, is that appropriate mitigation has been taken to remove that risk.
“Any resolution to grant permission would have to go to the secretary of state because we do not have a Local Plan policy that includes specific locations for wind turbines.”
The meeting was told Seabank, which will be decommissioned in seven years, is owned by SSE. The firm plans to spend £4million a day on its own wind turbines over the next five years.
Steve Smith, a Tory councillor for Westbury-on-Trym & Henleaze, said: “The risk is a material consideration but it’s such a tiny risk and I’m struggling to think of an event that would cause a wind turbine to fall over that wouldn’t destroy a cooling tower next to it anyway.
“The risk is real but it’s outweighed by the many and considerable benefits this scheme brings.”
Stephen Clarke, a Green councillor for Southville, said: “This is a risk worth taking, particularly because of the impact this will have on the local community.
“This is a community that needs a lot of support and I am willing to take that risk to give that support.”
Mark Wright, a Lib Dem councillor for Hotwells & Harbourside, who works in disaster modelling for the Government, said: “Given the separation distance is 10 metres more than the height of the tip, it’s in the buffer zone, and given the building in range is a cooling tower and not a staff building I am satisfied the level of risk is acceptable.”
Afzal Shah, a Labour councillor for Easton, said: “It is something so beneficial to the community, we have declared a climate emergency here, the community wants it.
“The benefits outweigh the risks considerably.”
It is now up to the secretary of state to decide whether to “call in” the plans.
The 4.2 megawatt structure would generate enough electricity to power 3,850 homes a year and save 2,162 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually throughout its lifetime.
The project is the result of residents’ support for a turbine to provide affordable energy and is one of the objectives of the Lawrence Weston Community Development Plan.
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.
Main photo supplied by the local democracy reporting service.