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United Kingdom

Steadier pace reaps planning rewards

The rate of wind farm planning consent is gradually improving in Britain, with more wind projects emerging successfully from the country's tortuous permitting process than ever before, reveals the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Figures collated by the DTI's Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) demonstrate that some of the larger developers are taking full advantage of the five year window for development of their contracts. This allows them to make progress on their projects more slowly than in the past, when tight timetables for support put pressure on NFFO-1 and NFFO-2 developers to complete their projects at the expense of the consultation and development stage. The result has been an improved rate of planning consent.

The ETSU figures cover wind farm proposals awarded contracts under the third Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO-3) in 1994, and the first Scottish Renewables Order and Northern Ireland Obligation (SRO-1 and NI-NFFO-1). Although only 19 NFFO-3 schemes in England and Wales have been granted planning permission -- out of a total of 55 -- they nonetheless outnumber those that have been refused.

Of the 12 which failed to come though, appeals have been lodged in seven cases. Meantime, a further seven remain in limbo -- they are waiting for a decision from the local planning authority -- while 17 have not yet applied for consent. The approval rate translates to 23% of large schemes and a more impressive 45% for small projects. The rate of refusals shows a marked improvement on British Wind Energy Association figures for 1995. These had claimed that 77% of all wind farm applications between January and September of 1995 were rejected.

Even more encouragingly, in Scotland no SRO contracted wind schemes have yet been refused to date. Out of 12 schemes, six are already operational, one more has consent, while another five are awaiting determination. Interestingly, four of these were called in for a public inquiry by the Scottish Secretary after local planning committees had approved them against the recommendations of their officials. The picture in Northern Ireland is rosier still. All six contracted schemes won planning approval and are now operational.

What the statistics do not show is the full effect of the delays from the UK's long winded planning process and the need for considerable financial staying power. According to Tony Duffin at ETSU, five NFFO-3 wind farms took at least two years to come through the planning system -- and even then, were not necessarily approved. A further two, now awaiting appeals, are also likely to take over two years.

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