United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Doubts Wales can rise to the challenge

UK: The Welsh Assembly Government's new aim to double Wales' renewable energy generating capacity by 2025 may seem ambitious.

North Hoyle: Wales wants 6GW more offshore
North Hoyle: Wales wants 6GW more offshore

But its abject failure to deliver the existing 2010 targets casts serious doubts over whether the country will be able to rise to the even bigger challenge the new target presents.

Just 284MW of the 800MW target for Welsh onshore wind has been approved or built, points out Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK. Fifteen projects totalling 540MW are awaiting decisions at the local level.

"Planning decisions are coming at a snail's pace if at all and, when they are given, they can all too often appear to have little basis in local or national policy," she said at RenewableUK's annual Wales conference at the end of May.

There is an urgent need to speed up the local planning system, resolve local transport access issues and put a new grid network in Mid-Wales, McCaffery added.

The Welsh government's new target was announced in its energy policy statement in March. It proposes a total of 48TWh of renewables-generated electricity by 2025: around 22TWh from onshore and offshore wind, 7TWh from biomass and 18TWh from marine energy. The remaining 1TWh will come from small-scale electricity generation - mainly solar photovoltaics, wind and hydro.

The wind goal will be achieved through 2GW of installed capacity onshore and 6GW offshore. The government increased its targets due to developments in offshore wind - in particular Round 3, where a major proportion of the Atlantic Array and Irish Sea projects are located in Welsh waters.

But it is the 2GW of onshore capacity that is causing most concern to the wind industry. McCaffery noted that the government has quietly dropped a previous commitment to revise areas allocated to wind development.

This means that all 2GW will have to be built in areas the government has already identified as having sufficient unconstrained land to build wind farms - known as Strategic Search Areas (SSAs).

This raised concerns about cumulative impact, transport access and grid connections, she said.

Too much, too soon

Seven SSAs were identified for large-scale wind in the government's 2005 Technical Advice Note on renewable energy, known as Tan 8.

"The Welsh government's plans may end up trying to cram too many projects into the SSAs," said McCaffery. "If the planning system is struggling to accommodate 800MW in the SSAs, how can we have any confidence that it will be able to deliver two-and-a-half times that figure?

It is clear that the assembly must revisit its decision to keep Tan 8 as it is." New smaller sites are needed, she added.

But Welsh environment minister Jane Davidson was resolute in refusing to consider new areas for wind development.

"We are not opening up the agenda around the SSAs," she maintained. Instead, the Welsh government is hoping to have an updated planning policy in place by the end of the year to help deliver the targets.

Davidson defended Wales' shortcomings in meeting its existing 800MW target for 2010. There is 1.2GW of smalland large-scale wind in the planning system, she noted.

"So, though we may not meet the targets in terms of on the ground delivery in 2010, we are likely to vastly exceed our targets for the future.

The point of setting targets is to have a trend to deliver more and more renewable energy." She added: "I am entirely happy we are demonstrating a major commitment to renewable energy."

As a precursor to the planning review, the government has commissioned a technical appraisal of the SSAs, looking at what additional capacity there is and what capacity is in the consenting process.

Saturation point

Piers Guy, head of development at Nuon Renewables, was sceptical about the scope for further development in the Tan 8 areas.

"I don't think there's any serious developer who doesn't think that most of the SSAs, except perhaps SSA F (in South Wales), are already at saturation point and that we have very carefully considered all options for further development in those areas within our own businesses."

Simon Power, associate director at Arup, the consultants undertaking the technical appraisal of Tan 8 areas, said that they had found just 300MW of additional wind potential from land within the SSAs - including in areas up to five kilometres beyond the SSA boundaries where some development is allowed by local authorities.

He claimed that between 1.9-2.3GW of projects are in planning or at an advanced stage of discussion.

This capacity could result in about 1GW in 2014 and 2.4GW by 2020, he said, "plus 300MW potentially from remaining land in SSAs, so that gives you overall about 2.5GW in 2020-2025."

But he warned: "This is a best-case scenario taking account of rapid resolution to some of the issues around access, transport and grid."

Grid is a major issue in Mid Wales, where many projects are waiting for transmission reinforcement by National Grid, expected to be completed in 2016. Any delay in energising the new line will push projects outside the government's goals in its energy policy statement, said Power.

He cautioned against developing new planning policy that merely encouraged more development in Mid-Wales.

"Nothing is going to happen any quicker; the grid is going to take as long as the grid is going to take. It's a logical conclusion that any tweaking (of planning policy) should acknowledge the potential contribution from projects in north, west and south Wales which could come on stream before 2020."

FINLAND'S WIND TO GO WHERE?

  • The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has identified the Gulf of Botnia, the area of sea which lies between Sweden and Finland, as a significant location for the construction of new onshore and offshore wind farms, based on 2008-2010 planning applications. If these become actual projects, there will be 3GW to 5GW of new wind generation in this region by 2016, the MoF notes. Finland currently has less than 150MW of wind capacity. The MoF's optimism for wind power investment in the Gulf of Botnia area is shared by Metsahallitus, a state enterprise which manages 12 million hectares of land. "We are talking about a scale of overall investment and development above the state's own targets," said Erkki Kunnari, the head of Metsahallitus' wind energy department
  • The Northern Centre for Economic Development, Transport and Environment (NCEDT&E) is currently evaluating the possible environmental impact of large-scale wind farm development in the Gulf of Botnia region, and is expected to deliver its assessment to government by year-end.

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