6 Jun 2013

Will more power to nimbys be the death of wind farms?

Many onshore wind farms may become uneconomic warn the renewables industry after the government announces new planning rules giving communities more power to object to new schemes.

To the delight of fellow Tory MPs, Housing Minister Mark Prisk told the House of Commons that the need to meet the UK’s energy targets does not justify “the wrong development in the wrong location.”

“We need to ensure that protecting the local environment is properly considered alongside protecting the global environment”.

The new guidance tells councils that local concerns must take precedence over renewable energy needs as well as giving more emphasis to the impact of turbines on the landscape.

The new package of measures will also significantly increase the amount of money communities receive for hosting wind farms, including discounted energy bills.

Developers will be expected to give residents five times what they currently pay for allowing turbines in their area, an increase from £1,000 per megawatt of installed power to £5,000. An area agreeing to a medium-sized 20 megawatt wind farm that might involve around 10 turbines could receive benefits worth £100,000 a year or see up £400 cut from each household’s bill.

Opposition dressed up as localism?

Developers will now be expected to meet higher standards in engaging with local communities. Those proposing more significant onshore wind schemes will be required to consult with local communities before submitting their application.

Green energy company Ecotricity’s founder Dale Vince has claimed this is “just another Government move against onshore wind dressed up as localism”.

“Britain has 40 per cent of Europe’s wind resource and onshore wind power is the cheapest form of renewable energy available today. The new planning guidelines introduced last year have already changed the balance against onshore wind.

“Planning approval rates plummeted to a historic low of 35 per cent over the last year, half of what they’ve traditionally been. Let’s not forget, that we will all benefit from lower energy bills in the long term by investing in wind power and weaning ourselves off imported fossil fuels.”

Onshore wind has provided 3 per cent of the UK’s electricity supplies in 2011. There are more than 4,000 turbines are in operation across the country, with almost 6,000 under or awaiting construction.

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, highlighted the cost of developing wind farms, which involves a lot of investment upfront.

“By following the government’s advice that we should pay substantially more into community funds for future projects, will unfortunately make some planned wind energy developments uneconomic in England.”

“That said, we recognise the need to ensure good practice across the industry and will continue to work with Government and local authorities to benefit communities right across the country which are hosting our clean energy future.”

Political hot potato

Onshore wind farms have proved a toxic political issue in the constituencies of many Conservative MPs. In the House of Commons on Thursday, Julian Smith, the MP for Skipton and Ripon, asked:

Would you agree with me that today is a victory for the Conservative Party, which has finally brought some sanity and good sense to a very dubious energy policy?”

Housing Minister Mr Prisk – a fellow Conservative – replied: “I think the sad part about this is that (Labour) seem to have no understanding about why local voices matter. (Tory) MPs have raised time and again local issues, and so I agree with you that this about localism. It’s about giving power back to local people and we will ensure that happens.”

However Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, has insisted the Government is still committed to “appropriately sited” wind farms as part of a low-carbon energy mix.

Mr Davey said: “It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable – economically, environmentally and socially, and today’s announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm.

“We remain committed to the deployment of appropriately sited onshore wind, as a key part of a diverse, low carbon and secure energy mix and committed to an evidence-based approach to supporting low carbon power.”