Industry body Renewable UK says local planning authorities have not been consistent in their application of guidelines on noise pollution from wind turbines, leading to the rejection of some projects that would not have broken acceptable noise thresholds.
The comments follow an announcement to the UK parliament by renewable energy minister Charles Hendry in July that he had ordered a review of the Energy Technology Support Unit's ETSU-R-97 guidance, a tool for assessing the noise from proposed wind turbines against existing background noise.
Hendry said that while he had no reason to believe the ETSU guidance did not provide adequate protection from wind turbine noise, he also wanted to ensure local planning authorities were using the tool properly.
"I have commissioned an analysis of how noise impacts are considered in the determination of wind farm planning applications in England," he said. "The project will seek to establish best practice in assessing and rating the wind turbine noise by investigating previous decisions. Our aim is to ensure that ETSU-R-97 is applied in a consistent and effective manner and that it is implemented in a way that provides the intended level of protection."
Noise and acoustics consultancy Hayes McKenzie has won a competitive bid to undertake the study and is expected to complete the work by the end of the year.
ETSU provides a means by which planners can assess the likely noise impact of a proposed wind farm against existing background noise levels, such as road and air traffic, and agricultural machinery. As such it has proved to be a robust tool, according to Renewable UK spokesman Nick Medic.
"ETSU tries to establish what level above the average background noise level is acceptable for a wind turbine application," Medic says. "So far it has proven very effective; we know this by how many noise-nuisance complaints (about wind farms) there have been in the UK. Research shows only a couple of complaints, only one upheld, in terms of people complaining about onshore wind turbines."
But Medic says there is a degree of confusion among planners about how to use ETSU, leading to some applications being turned down. He hopes the review will lead to greater consistency across planning authorities. "If the outcome is designed to make local councils more consistent in applying ETSU, then it is good news," he says, adding that Renewable UK would not support any attempt to go beyond evidence-based cases to make the planning regime more restrictive.