Over the last two years Britain has seen the highest rate of installation in the world. Yet despite this progress, wind energy's contribution could have been nearly doubled if all the projects awarded contracts under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation renewable energy subsidy had been realised. Under the first two NFFO rounds in 1990 and 1991, the Non Fossil Purchasing Agency (NFPA) entered into a total of 197 renewable energy contracts. Wind energy accounted for nearly a third of these contracts with 58 schemes -- including 43 wind farms totalling some 220 MW installed capacity. To date, 18 wind farms have been built (116 MW), work has started on a further three (16 MW) and four more wind farms (20 MW) will go in the ground this year. That leaves some 70 MW of wind farm contracts which are never likely to be developed.
A major reason why 1994 begins with less than half the wind energy NFFO contracts realised is due to problems or delays with obtaining planning permission. Of the 22 wind farms not built, 20 have been either delayed or blocked by planners. Developer Ecogen heads this list, with nine projects in south west England having encountered planning difficulties. Of these, the company expects to go ahead with two -- at Four Burrows and St Breock in Cornwall -- both delayed by planning inquiries. Five of its other planning applications in Cornwall and Devon were turned down and a further two were withdrawn by the compan when it became clear that planning delays would affect their viability. In Wales, Ecogen withdrew its application for 12 turbines at Aber Leri for "ecological reasons."
The problems caused for some developers by planning delays have been compounded by the tightness of the 1998 cut-off date when all existing NFFO contracts expire and schemes cease to be paid at premium prices. Despite the attractive price paid for electricity from wind -- £0.11 per unit under the second round of NFFO -- this leaves little time for investors to achieve a viable return on their investment. With the sands of time steadily running out, Whitendale Generation, a small prospective wind plant developer based in Lancashire, is one of a couple of companies who have decided to re-apply for contracts under the forthcoming NFFO round to take advantage of the new 15 year contracts. The company had expected to proceed this autumn with its plans for ten British made Windharvester turbines at Caton Moor in Lancashire, even after a planning inquiry delayed the project by a year. However, indications from the local area electricity utility that grid connection could take up to a further 12 months, effectively dashed the company's hopes of completing the project with its current NFFO 2 contract. Windharvester took over Howden's wind turbine technology when the Scottish company pulled out of the wind business. Another developer which will be applying for a contract under the third round of the NFFO is Century Steels at Penistone, near Sheffield. Its application to build 13, 400 kW turbines finally looks set to be passed by the local authority, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, provided the two parties can agree on some form of visitor parking facility.
In Wales two planning inquiries during 1993 produced very different results. Anglesey Mining's hopes of building eight turbines at Parys Mountain on Anglesey, north Wales were dashed when the planning inspector dismissed the company's case. Developer Renewable Energy Systems (RES) on the other hand won its appeal to build a 12 turbine wind farm at Penrhys, in Mid Glamorgan, south Wales. The company says it is "very optimistic" that it will proceed with the project under its current NFFO contract.
In deciding whether or not to proceed with projects holding 1991 NFFO contracts, or wait for the longer contracts promised this year under NFFO III, more than contract length is at stake. Although the long delay means that NFFO 1 contracts have little time left to run, their terms are known. This is not the case with future NFFOs. Both Ecogen and RES have very real concerns that under future tranches, developers will see some form of generator capping imposed on the number and capacity of contracts awarded.
Also in Wales, after applying for planning permission to build 24 machines at Lluest Dolgwiail in Powys, National Wind Power later withdrew its application. Results from wind monitoring and the length of transmission line needed to connect the site to the local grid led the company to doubt the viability of the project. Wind Power Systems, though, managed with relative ease to obtain planning consent for 14 turbines at Dyffryn Brodyn, Dyfed, but subsequently sold out its interests to the American owned company New World Power Corporation which still plans to take the project forward under its current NFFO contract.
American interests also figure in another series of 1991 NFFO projects, proposed by Windstar Turbines using vertical axis technology developed by Californian company Wind Harvest. In 1991, Windstar secured contracts for four wind farms -- each of 20, 12-bladed vertical axis machines. Three of these were for Cornwall while the other is under construction in South Wales. The projects proposed for the beautiful St Just area of south west Cornwall were dropped by the company and its attempt to test the waters by applying for just one turbine at Caer Bran was given the cold shoulder by the planning authority. At Windstar's south Wales site at Werfa in Glamorgan progress has also been slow. Although construction began in 1992, so far only five of the 20 Chinese manufactured machines have been installed. According to Bob Thomas of Windstar's American parent company there has been an interruption to project financing. "That's getting straightened out and we're back on track," he says. "We hope to have the rest in (the ground) in early spring of 1994," says Thomas who is based in Ventura County, California.
The south west county of Devon has so far managed to resist any proliferation of wind farms on its soil. As well as seeing off two applications from Ecogen, Devon planners successfully fought two planning inquiries into wind farms at Fullabrook near Ilfracombe and Waywind Farm, Way Barton.
One project which has never had to come up against the planning process is at Kexgill, near Harrogate in North Yorkshire. Would-be developer Chris Riddell from Yorkshire Wind Turbines says the proposal for 20, 450 kW Nordtank turbines had to be scrubbed because the landowner would not agree to the number of machines and the layout. A smaller wind farm on the site would not have been viable in view of the £2 million charge for grid connection and a 10 km length of overhead transmission line, he explains.