The Scottish government says the new planning framework should help Scotland meet its target of 40% of electricity from renewables by 2020, equivalent to 6 GW of capacity. The 40% should not be seen as a cap, it says. Scottish Planning Policy 6 (SPP6) requires local authorities to support and encourage the growth of renewables and to develop spatial policies for wind farms of 20 MW and larger, defining areas where developments are likely to be welcome. They must also identify green belts and areas of natural heritage which should be protected.
Perhaps the most innovatory aspect of SPP6 is its requirement that all new large industrial developments must incorporate on-site low carbon or renewable technologies to reduce carbon emissions to at least 15% below current building standards. "No other country in the UK has gone so far," says Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell. "But this is just a first step. We will look to increase this condition in future."
He adds: "We know that a balance must be struck between protecting our natural heritage and giving the go-ahead to new renewable schemes. But the bottom line is that we will not have an environment to protect if we do not take action on climate change."
From Scottish Renewables, Jason Ormiston says that SPP6 is vitally important and could help deliver the 40% target by 2015 -- five years early. But planning authorities need to embrace it. "Along with the provision of sufficient grid infrastructure for renewables, planning is the number one concern of renewable project developers, large or small. We ask ... that local planning authorities across Scotland are enablers of green energy, not blockers."
A few weeks before the Scottish policy was published, BWEA accused Britain's planners of failing to respond to the threat of climate change. It pointed out that since publication in October of the Stern Review urging immediate climate action, 12 out of 18 applications for onshore wind farms have been turned down -- an approval rate of only 33%. Even fewer projects emerged successfully from the appeals process; with just two out of seven decisions taken by a planning inspector resulting in consent -- a 28% approval rate. This compares with an average approval rate of 76% for all major commercial applications for building permits, such as offices, dwellings and supermarkets, points out BWEA.
Planning delays are seriously affecting confidence in the wind sector, the association maintains. Onshore projects that between them could generate 6% of UK electricity needs are currently in limbo. Some have been stuck in the planning system for more than five years.
The problem is not confined to local authorities. The national governments' own departments which deal with applications for large projects of 50 MW and over are the worst offenders -- particularly the Scottish Executive, whose resource-strapped officials have a backlog of some 35 applications totalling around 4500 MW to deal with.
BWEA's Maria McCaffery calls the planning process "a thorn in the side" of Britain's wind community. "We have proven as an industry that we can deliver on a large scale, here and now, but this momentum can only be maintained with more timely and consistent decision making in the UK." It is time for the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to respond to the urgency of the situation with more resources, monitoring and enforcement of the planning system, she says.
BWEA calls for action in six key areas. The governments must monitor and enforce their planning policies for energy projects and provide more commitment and resources to decision makers; more resources should be committed to permitting large-scale wind projects; clear planning policy statements from government are needed; decisions from planning authorities and appeal inspectors must reflect energy policy and the national need for renewable energy; more information should be provided to decision-makers about the need for wind energy; and there should be incentives for local authorities to reduce decision times -- and disincentives for delays.
Actions taken this year will determine whether the government's renewables target is met, the BWEA says. If projects are to contribute towards meeting the 10% goal, consents need to be awarded by the end of the year for developers to build by 2010.