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Question of the Week: Is red tape a major threat to wind development

Reports issued last week by trade body RenewableUK suggesting government bureaucracy is driving up the cost of offshore wind and doubled consenting time frames.

The UK department of communities and local government can rule on planning decisions for onshore projects
The UK department of communities and local government can rule on planning decisions for onshore projects

Windpower Monthly asks Vattenfall, Wind Prospect, the East of England Energy Group and Siemens whether government regulation on areas like planning and consenting has the potential to set back the development of wind power. 

Question: How much of a problem is red tape to the industry?

Rob Baylis, Head of Onshore Development England and Wales, Vattenfall

Let us consider the regulatory roll call for wind energy in the UK: One system operator. One regulator. Four or more planning frameworks with dozens of statutory consultees. One licensing body. Two financial support mechanisms for large wind farms. Multiple government departments. Several international bodies. Three legal systems. I could go on...

A strong case can always be made for individual regulations. Collectively though, the wind industry has to deal with a significant and at times complex framework. Officials might argue that the UK wind industry has an exceptional record in developing good, safe, well designed wind farms due to the 'public' proscribing what is acceptable. It could be argued that this has helped maintain strong public support for wind. The industry may not agree with all of it, and opportunities to improve should always be explored, but the frameworks are necessary to manage the sector.

Yet, there is significant pressure, rightly, to cut the cost of wind generation so would streamlining help? Or are regulations okay but have poorly resourced departments managing them?

In my experience, with evidence, Government does listen, even if the machine moves slowly. So RenewableUK is right, with more evidence from operating schemes, making regulations work better for the industry, the public and the consumer should be possible even if the roll call stays long.

Guy Lavarack, head of business development, Wind Prospect

In keeping with many other industries, renewables has more than its fair share of red-tape to understand, to administer and ultimately to comply with; however, I think what sets our industry apart is the complexity and the pace at which it changes. An awful lot of time and resources is invested by Wind Prospect and our clients in understanding the requirements, but just when we think we have mastered it, an aspect of it moves on. This creates a whole industry in itself.

The key frustration that the whole industry feels is when politics intervenes to cut across aspects of Policy and red-tape that developers have already worked so hard to adhere to. The same could also be said of the application of Policy and inconsistency in approach seen by various Statutory consultees. Often this leads to uncertain time delays and further cost which only serves to undermine the investment case for that particular project and investor confidence in the sector in general.

At the moment everybody is focused on understanding the impact of the EMR reforms; however, hot on its tail is the concept of Shared Ownership which we support in principle, but it will no doubt add a whole new set of requirements to be communicated, understood, administered and complied with.

Simon Gray, CEO, East of England Energy Group

We all have to expect a certain amount of red tape, form filing and bureaucracy when it comes to major offshore infrastructure projects or even smaller onshore renewable schemes where local consultation and planning consents can take up weeks of time.

What really sticks in the craw is the lack of clear, concise time-scaled strategy from government. As we see a supply chain willing to rise to the opportunity and invest to ensure they are fit for purpose we then learn of divisions in government with those wishing to nail their green credentials to the mast supporting these initiatives whilst others believing that a greener economy might be a block to economic growth and industrial development.

So my appeal would be take the politics out of energy. Rather than change direction every five years let’s have a long term strategy, worked out with industry and agreed by consumers. We did it with the bank of England and interest rates so why not with energy?

Matthew Knight, director of strategy and government affairs, Siemens Energy

I think there is good regulation and bad regulation in everything. The supply chain plans have been welcomed by respondents in the Chinn review as a positive development because they are making people think through the whole supply chain strategy. Where they are going to get things from and why they are choosing to use certain supplies. So things like that are positive.

I hear a lot of dissatisfaction from developers with some of the hurdles they have to jump through as part of the consenting process both onshore and offshore. It seems that partly through lack of clarity the consenting process becomes a self-perpetuating thing. You do a piece of fundamental research and you discover for the first time there is a particular species of something on your site and that then prompts the consenting authorities to ask you, "Now can you research the entire life-cycle of this animal?"

I think people are comfortable with due process if it is clear what you have to do to get an outcome in that process. When it becomes unhelpful is when you do something and the goal posts move and you are asked to do something else.

In the consenting process it is about the consenting authorities being clearer. What does "good" looks like? What is an acceptable standard for things? In terms of developing safety standards for offshore, I think with have the legislation that we need it is very clear right back to the health and safety work act in 1974. We need to do a lot more as an industry. We have done massive things, but we need to go on doing things to really develop what best practice is and then spread it. Safety is one of those areas where everybody is very happy to share what they know and everybody should be very happy to learn, hopefully not from mistakes, but the best practice of others.

When I speak to colleagues in Denmark or Germany, they have their own difficulties with local issues there. Every country has a degree of bureaucracy that you have to work with. The challenge is to make it worthwhile, to make it regulation that has a definite purpose.

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