United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Dismal year in the UK as planning infrastructure fails

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A mere 14 MW of new wind capacity was installed in the UK in 1998 -- a year that turned out to be the worst the industry has known since the beginnings of commercial wind energy in Britain. Of the few projects that did get built, the largest was a 10 MW wind farm at Mynydd Gorddu in Ceredigion where National Wind Power installed 12, 500 kW and seven 600 kW NEG Micon machines.

In Cumbria, four 600 kW Wind World turbines were built in an extension to an existing wind farm on a disused airfield at Haverigg. The project -- a joint venture between The Wind Fund and the Wind Company -- promises to be Britain's first 100% community owned wind project. The Baywind Energy Co-operative -- which already owns part of Harlock Hill wind farm -- has launched a share issue to buy one of the Haverigg turbines. The three other machines are owned by The Wind Fund, a renewable energy investment company funded through public share offers.

The two other projects completed in 1998 are both single turbines: Renewable Energy Systems' 1 MW demonstration turbine at Slievenahanaghan in Antrim, Northern Ireland, which is owned by Eastern Electricity, and a 600 kW Vestas turbine installed by independent developer Huw Smallwood on his farm at Hafoty Ucha in Clwyd.

Meanwhile, three further projects are under construction. At Beinn Ghlas in Argyll, National Wind Power is building an 8 MW wind farm of Bonus 600 kW turbines. The other two projects are both being developed by Wind Prospect. At Askham in Cumbria, the company is installing seven 660 kW Vestas machines, while at the Royal Seaforth Docks at Liverpool, it helped develop a 3.6 MW wind farm which is being built by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Six 600 kW Vestas turbines are being installed along the sea wall and are expected to begin operation in March.

Tip of the iceberg

These successful projects represent, however, no more than a small proportion of the capacity contracted to wind developers under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation system of renewables support. Ironically, British wind farm developers possess more NFFO power purchase contracts than ever before. During 1998, the potential for wind energy development was boosted by a further 856 MW with the fifth round of NFFO contracts. This brings the amount of contracted capacity secured under the last three rounds of NFFO contracts by wind developers to over 2000 MW since 1994, of which only 160 MW is either operating or under construction.

When NFFO-3 and SRO-1 contracts were first awarded, developers congratulated themselves on having up to five years to allow for development and for obtaining consents before their contracts take effect. Today that five year window appears less generous; unless projects granted contracts in 1994 are up and running by the end of this year, they will eat into their 15 year power purchase contract jeopardising the economics of the project.

The blame for this dismal rate of progress in installation lies with the UK planning system. Throughout the country, local authorities are turning down applications for wind farms in defiance of government policy on renewable energy. Planners also choose to ignore the increasing body of evidence that shows consistent public support for operational wind farms.

The planning crisis was brought to a head during 1998 by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's refusal of National Wind Power's wind farm at High Moor in County Durham. NWP is now taking the unusual step of putting its case before the High Court in London. The industry appears solidly behind NWP, which claims the conclusions of the planning inspector who chaired the public inquiry cannot go unchallenged. In his recommendation for refusal, the inspector said: "It seems to me that the individual contribution to energy generation needs from High Moor would be insignificant and unreliable, and that pollution savings would be both correspondingly small, and uncertain." The inspector added that in a global context, the wind farm's contribution may be readily overwhelmed by increased pollution from other countries. These conclusions were seemingly endorsed by Prescott when he rubber stamped the inspector's recommendation for refusal.

Ministerial concern

Ministers are concerned by the crisis in wind energy -- with reason. Wind is expected to be a key technology in helping the government achieve its ambitious target of 10% of electricity from renewables by 2010. Nonetheless, they have been slow to act to ease the planning system's stranglehold on the market. Meetings between ministers from the industry and environment departments have resulted in a determination to find a way through the planning impasse. But the industry department stresses that "progress towards something different" takes time.

Meanwhile, the effect of the High Moor decision has already been felt on the other side of the country when a planning authority in Cumbria used the findings to justify its refusal of two quite different wind energy projects. Wind developers all over the country can only anxiously await the outcome of NWP's High Court appeal.

Out in the open

One of the most significant developments of the year was the end of support for the UK's earliest wind farms. As contracts under the first two NFFO rounds expired at the end of 1998, renewable energy operators had to negotiate sales of their output directly with electricity suppliers. This meant that 325 MW of renewable generated electricity -- including some 150 MW from wind -- moved from the protection of NFFO-1 and 2 contracts onto the open electricity market. Most renewable developers, accounting for 312 MW, joined the new Renewable Generators Consortium (RGC). This negotiated collectively with electricity suppliers and secured power purchase offers for all its members. The contract prices achieved are a matter of commercial confidence. RGC will only confirm that they do include a premium.

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