THE gales that howl across the moors and into town earned Consett its 'Windy City' nickname.

The wind blows straight off the Pennines and in winter batters the hamlets which cling to the hillsides of the Derwent Valley and the former steel town which stands 800ft above sea level.

Now it is that very reputation which is attracting a booming wind power industry to the villages around Consett, with power companies hoping to tap energy from the elements.

The tall, white wind turbines are dramatically changing the picturesque landscape of lush green countryside since the first was built close to the A68 road in 2001.

Many of those who oppose them agree with the concept of renewable energy, but do not feel they are efficient enough and create a towering blot on the horizon.

Supporters argue they are the future for generating the power we need.

There are currently eight wind turbines in and around Derwentside: two 100-metre high structures at Craghead, near Stanley; three at Tow Law, just across the border in neighbouring Wear Valley, and three more nearby at High Hedley, each 70-metres tall.

Another eight have planning permission and look likely to be built in the near future.

Four will be at Langley, near Lanchester, and four more at High Hedley. Derwentside District Council is currently considering another application for the biggest wind farm yet, 13 turbines not far from the hamlet of Satley, while just outside the district at Shotleyfield, overlooking Shotley Bridge, Npower has started consulting residents about plans to build eight more.

If all are approved there will be 37 turbines in a just a few square miles and drivers along the A68 road will pass no fewer than five wind farms in about eight miles.

The district council estimates that 40 turbines would generate enough power to fuel all Derwentside's 40,000 homes.

But the issue of wind power has created a storm among people in rural communities.

Sixty people attended a public meeting over plans to erect eight turbines up to 120 metres high at Shotleyfield.

Protestor Michelle Eagle said: "These areas are little spots of tranquillity and that is why people love them.

"This is not even the most efficient way of generating power because the wind is not always blowing. They should be offshore at sea because to build them inland is the rape of the countryside."

Power companies set up community funds for the areas surrounding the wind farms to finance worthy environmental projects.

Over the next 25 years the proposed schemes would generate £67,500 a year for four communities in Derwentside and this is index linked.

Banks Group has submitted a plan for the biggest wind farm in the area - for 13 near Satley.

Emma Young, communications manager of Banks Group, said: "Wind energy is the most proven form of renewable energy and provides us with an immediate way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

"It is likely to be the cheapest source of power generation in the UK; cheaper than coal, gas and nuclear."

The application is expected to be decided by Derwentside District Council in September.

Council leader Alex Watson said: "It is a case of accepting our responsibilities and Derwentside is anxious to play its part in reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions and saving energy.

"We have got to tackle climate change and global warming is something that everybody has got to take on board. It is one the greatest threats to the planet."