United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Wheels of planning reform grind slowly -- Target requires 1000 MW a year

A more positive planning regime is key to the UK being able to meet its 10% goal for renewable energy's share of electricity supply by 2010. This is the chief finding of an overview of assessments by all the UK regions of their ability to help meet the overall British target.

The report, by Oxera Environmental and Arup Economics & Planning, points out that by 2010, 32.3 TWh of renewable electricity generation will be needed if Britain is to meet its EU obligation. Together, the regions' proposed targets for renewable capacity will deliver between 21.3 TWh (66% of the UK target) and the full 32.3 TWh (100%).

The low end of the range assumes continued planning constraints, whereas the higher end is only achievable in a supportive planning environment. The report adds, however, that the certainty of reaching the 10% target is increased if the offshore wind resource beyond the first round of 18 initial projects is taken into account.

Wind is the technology identified by most regions as providing the bulk of their renewables output. Onshore and offshore wind together account for more than half of the total output, with landfill gas and biomass making up most of the remainder. Meeting the 10% target requires a build rate of just less than 1000 MW a year from 2002-2011. This means an annual build of 470 MW for onshore wind and 165 MW for offshore, compared with the total installed capacity for wind in the UK of just 500 MW since 1991.

The assessments of renewable energy resources were co-ordinated by regional government offices in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. They will eventually lead to agreed regional targets for renewable energy.

Warning

But the report warns that it may be several years for the planning system to incorporate the regional targets into its development frameworks. This could be too late to deliver the UK target by 2010. "Given that it can take up to six years from conception to commissioning of renewable energy installations, this change can be expected to have its full influence only in the run-up to and after 2010," states Oxera.

It recommends updating existing planning guidance to create a more positive basis for planning decisions on renewables projects, imposing on local authorities a duty to seek to meet a specified target for renewables, and requiring regions to add technology-specific policies to their development plans and identify areas of search.

Energy Minister Brian Wilson, who published the overview last month, remains upbeat. The report shows the government's 10% target is "challenging but achievable," he says. "The recent Scottish Renewables Study, published after this report was compiled, suggested that Scotland alone had the potential to supply even up to 30% of the UK's electricity supply from renewables." He adds the report does not take account of larger wind farms which are further offshore than the initial 18 allocated by the Crown Estate. "We cannot, however, expect offshore wind and Scotland to deliver our targets. I hope that every region will get involved in developing our renewable energy resources."

Wilson adds that targets are no use on their own if there is no understanding of the country's renewable energy potential. "Everyone working together, one step at a time, with the right investment, is the right way forward to progress the UK's green agenda."

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