Villagers up in arms about wind farm in south-eastern Turkey

After plans for the wind farms were drawn up, Aknehir villagers set up a platform to lobby against the construction of turbines in their area.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Wind turbines near the town of Susurluk in Turkey's Balikesir province. (Reuters)
Wind turbines near the town of Susurluk in Turkey's Balikesir province. (Reuters)

AKNEHIR, Turkey - Wind power is a clean and renewable energy source that is widely seen as better for the environment than nuclear and fossil fuel plants. In Turkey, the pursuit of low costs has led companies to build wind turbines close to populated areas, angering those living nearby.

When turbines were built ten years ago in the Aknehir area Hatay province in south-eastern Turkey, the site encroached on protected areas, olive groves and farmland.

The wind farm was set close to the Christian monastery of Saint Simon and the tomb of Al-Arabi, a place of great significance to Alawites. The area is particularly rich in plant life and lies on one of the world’s most important bird migration routes.

“The mayor and village headman have sold Aknehir. A lot of money is being made out of this,” said Aknehir resident Mevlut Oruc.

Many villagers accepted offers for their land to build the wind farms on, Oruc said, but the mayor used his clout to convince locals who rejected the offers. “In Europe, they build the wind farms in areas without human inhabitants but here they’ve been built right where we live,” he said.

Erdem Sogan, a local farmer, said he has watched his olive harvest steadily decline, and that his olive oil production has fallen 90% since before the wind farm was built.

Sogan blamed the nearby turbines, linking their construction to a decrease in soil fertility. This first became apparent three years after the turbines were built and crop yields have lessened every year since. The soil is now almost completely unproductive, he said.

Environmental activist Emine Beyza Ustun said the damage done to the environment around wind farms did not come from the turbines alone. Producing 1 megawatt of wind energy can damage the productivity of 1,000 sq. metres of land, Ustun said, because of the turbines and the cables and roads that must be built around them.

“All this ruins soil structure. The destruction happens not just during the production of energy, it continues when that energy is transmitted,” said Ustun.

The turbines also emit sound at a frequency inaudible to humans but is still thought to cause harm, Ustun said, noting that this causes some wildlife to abandon the area. The sounds can be fatal to animals such as bats that rely on sound to navigate.

Research has shown that the presence of wind turbines causes goats to stop breeding and Ustun said that wind farms affect all life in their vicinity, including people. Migrating birds are at particular risk from turbines, she added.

Villager Sami Mum described questionable methods employed by the local mayor and energy company to secure locals’ assent for the wind farm project back in 2008.

The mayor approached villagers individually, promising them they would profit from the wind farms. Meetings to discuss the environmental effects of the project with locals were attended by directors from Ziyaret RES, the company responsible for the wind farm project, Mum said.

Mum described how the villagers noticed a rising number of new problems since the wind farm was built. The soil, he said, had become almost completely barren, a new fungal infection struck crops, livestock became sick and villagers are almost unable to sit outside because of the constant noise from the turbines.

“If we’d known they would cause this much harm, we never would have agreed,” said Mum.

After plans for the wind farms were drawn up, Aknehir villagers set up a platform to lobby against the construction of turbines in their area. As platform member Orhan Cabir said, they are not against wind farms in principle but want them built far from residential areas, places of worship and farmland.

While they were too late to prevent the first round of turbines being built, they have taken heart from the experiences of nearby villagers, who reportedly stopped attempts to build wind farms in the area through stiff resistance. The Aknehir villagers hope they can do the same to stop the construction of additional turbines.

Behzat Can, a founding member of the anti-wind power platform, however, is less optimistic. “Even if the public reacts (against the wind farms), it won’t do any good,” he said. “They’ll either coerce (villagers into agreeing) or rob them.”

Can said the city plans to extend the wind farm further into neighbourhoods. “I’ve seen the project map. Forget about building the turbines close to inhabited areas, for this project our settlements will be demolished,” he said.

Mehmet Horus, a lawyer working on the Aknehir villagers’ case, said the area was protected and permission should never have been granted to build the wind farm. Horus cited the presence of the Christian and Alevi holy places, places of importance for worshippers of those religions and for archaeologists.

The villagers’ case has gone before an administrative court and the Turkish Council of State and was rejected both times. It is on its way to Turkey’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court.

Horus said they have a chance not only to prevent the construction of new turbines but also to remove those in the area.

“You can’t just say that the wind farms have already been set up so they’re hard to remove,” he said. “Environmental law is directly tied to the right to life and when it comes to the right to life, the company has no right to say it has already won the case.”