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United Kingdom

LOCAL OPINION PARAMOUNT

Responsibility for decisions on wind farm applications must rest with local planning authorities. Each case should be judged individually and national policy observed. This is the essence of the British government's affirmation of the report by Parliament's Welsh Affairs Committee. In its response, the government also draws attention to its own initiatives to encourage sensitive projects and to extend research into environmental impact as well as to produce an assessment of the Welsh renewable energy potential. British Wind Energy Association and Friends of the Earth both welcome the government's response as an encouraging acknowledgement.

The British government has affirmed the role of local communities in deciding the acceptability of wind farms. In its response to the report of the UK parliament's Welsh Affairs Committee on wind energy (Windpower Monthly, September 1994), the government agrees that responsibility for deciding wind farm applications must rest with local planning authorities, looking at each case on its merits and taking account of national policy.

The government's response was presented in a paper by Secretary of State for Wales John Redwood. It welcomes the committee's report -- published in July -- which supported wind energy development provided it is carried out in an environmentally acceptable way.

In its response the government reveals a commendable reluctance to be too prescriptive in laying down criteria for development, believing local planners to be better placed to judge schemes in accordance with local constraints. "It is more appropriate for the planning authority to show in their local plan the circumstances, however limited, in which development proposals might be permitted," is the government's reply to the committee's proposal that wind farms should generally be banned from sites in or near areas with landscape designations.

Responding to the criticisms of the Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs), the government draws attention to some of its initiatives to encourage sensitive wind energy development. Ongoing research into the environmental impacts of wind energy is likely to be expanded to include a study of the effects of long term exposure to low levels of mechanical noise, it says. It is looking at ways to encourage wind energy related manufacturing to Wales and expects to produce a national assessment of renewable energy potential in Wales. The paper also points to government steps to increase the availability of private sector financing of schemes.

The government defends the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) -- its system of financial support for renewable schemes -- which came under fire from the Welsh MPs. "The NFFO process encourages the most efficient developers with the most economic projects," it says in response to the charge that NFFO must bear the blame for much of the unpopularity of wind energy. It denies the NFFO process is too bureaucratic, but it concedes that the 1998 cut-off date for contracts under the first two NFFO rounds was "undesirable" and says this has now been rectified.

Answering the accusation that the NFFO has led to most wind turbines in the UK being of foreign manufacture, it says: "The NFFO process does not provide a privileged position for UK equipment suppliers but the government believes this is as it should be. Suppliers must be able to compete in world markets if they are to succeed so, ultimately, it does not help to protect them at home." However, this reply effectively ignores the reasoning of the MPs behind their criticism -- namely that it was as a direct result of the short time scales for contracts in previous NFFO rounds that most developers were obliged to look to overseas manufacturers at the expense of the emerging indigenous industry.

The British Wind Energy Association welcomes the government's response. It gives firm backing to appropriate development, says the BWEA's Michael Harper. "This is welcome news for the young UK wind energy industry. Wind energy makes economic and environmental sense and it is encouraging that this is now being acknowledged."

Environment group Friends of the Earth also agrees with the government's view that the local planning system is best placed to weigh up the benefits of wind. But it claims the government is not doing enough to encourage a more diverse industry. In particular FoE believes it should not have discontinued research on longer term technologies such as offshore wind, and that the government should do more to encourage smaller, community-based projects.

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