In the meantime, the government has been blamed for inadequate advice on noise from wind farms by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee after its wide ranging inquiry into wind energy (Windpower Monthly, September 1994). The members of parliament on the committee draw attention to the shortcomings in current planning guidance. "The advice to planners in the wind energy annex to PPG22 (Planning Policy Guidance Note on Renewable Energy) is less than helpful," they say, adding that the guidance was not issued until February 1993, "by which time it should have been clear that it was inadequate." The MPs also point out that the existing British Standard that comes nearest to dealing with noise from wind farms -- BS4142 -- is not suitable for typical wind farm sites. "A new standard is clearly necessary," the inquiry report states.
Until now local planners have had to develop their own methods for evaluating noise levels and setting limits on developers. Authorities have failed to adopt a standard approach. Instead they have each tended to set methods of evaluation and limits through negotiation with individual developers. As chairman of the working group, Bob Meir, comments: "Every time a planning authority is confronted for the first time with an application to build a wind farm, people tend to reinvent the wheel."
The working group now aims to address these deficiencies. However, as Meir points out, the group will not be producing a new British Standard for wind farms, but a "useful document" for both planners and developers. But he admitted to the Welsh MPs during their inquiry, "It has turned out to be rather more intractable a task (É) than I envisaged." Earlier he had told them, "We are trying to get some consensus between the wind farm developers represented on the working group and the Environmental Health Officers."
Meir stresses the group is not an official government committee and that the guidance will not be a government recommendation. "We have got together a group of independent experts. The DTI is just facilitating the process." He cautions against expecting a single recommended limit for all wind plant sites. "Do not expect the working group to publish a single number as a noise limit. What we are likely to see is a range of numbers within which it would be appropriate to select a standard to suit a particular site." Any range might be helpful to planners who before have not had anything to go on, he says.
When it was set up, the group had expected to produce a report by spring 1994. This turned out to be over ambitious. It now hopes to issue one before the end of this year.