The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) used its 16th annual conference in Stirling in June to announce a major initiative to create best practice guidelines for wind energy development. The initiative has been taken by the industry because it recognises it has a responsibility to address the general public's legitimate concerns about this development. The association believes that through sensitive planning and effective public consultation wind energy projects can form a new and welcome part of our cherished countryside -- as current projects demonstrate. The best practice guidelines are intended to aid this vital process by assisting the development of appropriate wind energy projects in the UK. It is a tangible demonstration of the commitment the industry has towards sensitive wind development.
The general public's feelings about wind energy development differ widely. In some instances entrenched positions have emerged, preventing constructive debate. Fully independent public attitude studies consistently indicate that a majority of people on a local and national basis welcome existing wind energy projects into the countryside because of their environmental benefits. A report by the government's Department of Trade and Industry about local attitudes to the National Wind Power Cemmaes wind farm was also launched at the Stirling Conference. It showed that after one year of operation, 86% of those living locally approved of the wind farm. Similar positive support was revealed recently in a report from the Countryside Commission for Wales (Windpower Monthly, May 1994) which showed that 70% of those questioned living around three wind farms in Wales favoured further wind energy development.
However, no two projects are identical and reactions in one area are no guide to how projects in other areas will be received. Where opposition has emerged towards individual projects, it has sometimes been vocal and confrontational. Within this context, the BWEA believes it is sensible to clarify what constitutes best practice for development. This will assist developers to proceed with appropriate projects and help planners and interested parties understand the development process, what considerations are involved, what procedures are followed and what can be expected from best practice.
The BWEA has invited an extensive range of groups to participate in developing the guidelines to ensure they are comprehensive and effective. This includes district and county planners, environmental groups (such as Friends of the Earth, Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), government organisations (such as the Department of the Environment, the Countryside Commission and English Nature), and others (lawyers, the National Farming Union, and environmental consultants). The association has also invited Country Guardian (a wind energy opposition group), but regrettably, it has declined to participate.
These participants will have an advisory and not a decision making role, though the BWEA is committed to ensuring that concerns are considered and responded to in the guidelines. The process involves two meetings of all the participants: the former to identify criteria for best practice guidelines and the latter to assess the guidelines as drafted by the BWEA. The process is specifically designed to ensure that the views of interested parties are properly considered (for example how communities are consulted and how sites are chosen).
The guidelines will cover the following areas: the site selection process; environmental assessment methodology; community consultation and communication; and community involvement.
As an example of how the guidelines might work in practice, consider community consultation. Often, local people have valid questions concerning proposed developments which need answering (for example, concerning the potential noise effects). When not answered (because the noise consultant's report is not completed), an information vacuum develops which can easily be filled by a mixture of misunderstanding, rumour or suspicion. By setting down a programme of consultation at the outset such suspicion is less likely to arise because people see when information concerning the project will become available and where they stand in the process. Siting of wind energy projects is another example. Though the guidelines will not be prescriptive, they will help all involved in the development process to understand the factors influencing how sites are chosen and how this relates to landscape considerations.
The British Wind Energy Association hopes that by this positive initiative wind energy projects will continue to receive the support of the great majority of people.