United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Permitting process obstacle grows

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Just over 50 MW of wind generation from seven new projects was added in Britain last year -- bringing the UK's wind capacity up to more than 310 MW. Yet 1997 also proved to be a year that saw many more wind projects either stumble at the planning hurdle or be delayed by it than proceed to construction.

All of the latest crop of projects (table) have premium priced power purchase contracts under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) programmes in Northern Ireland, in England and Wales, and under the Scottish Renewables Obligation (SRO). Wind farm construction in 1997 has been undertaken by a spread of developers, but in terms of capacity National Wind Power's 37 MW reinforces strongly its position as the UK's leading wind energy developer. Bonus of Denmark is confirmed as the UK's most popular turbine supplier in terms of installed capacity. This is due largely to its success in clinching some large contracts to supply the bulk of National Wind Power's NFFO-3 and SRO wind farms.

In Northern Ireland, the Owenreagh wind farm is the sixth and last scheme to be completed under the province's first round of support, representing a 100% completion rate for Northern Ireland NFFO-1 wind schemes. Contracts for the other six UK projects were awarded at the end of 1994 under the third round of subsidies in England and Wales (NFFO-3) and the first SRO. Proposals for wind farms in Britain, however, have fared conspicuously worse than in Northern Ireland. Out of the 500 MW of NFFO-3 and SRO-1 wind contracts from December 1994, only 140 MW is now operational. A further five schemes totalling 30 MW were granted planning permission in 1997, with one wind farm now under construction. But during the year, around 150 MW of NFFO wind capacity was either refused consent or was engaged in the lengthy process of seeking planning approval.

In evidence to the government's Trade and Industry Select Committee in January, the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) pointed out that securing planning permission is the single most significant hurdle to wind energy. Permitting takes typically over two years and costs developers more than £100,000, it claimed. This can be more than doubled if a refusal is then appealed. According to BWEA, the delays and uncertainty will reduce interest in developing wind power, while increased planning costs will affect its cost.

Rise in refusals

Indeed, the rate of refusals of UK wind farm applications which go to public inquiries has been rising. An analysis of inquiry decisions finds that government inspectors are increasingly putting visual impact before the national need for clean energy. The analysis, by solicitors Peter Wilbraham and Company of Leeds, was commissioned by National Wind Power (NWP). It studies the results of all 36 planning inquiries to date into appeals against local authority rejections of proposed wind projects.

It appears the tide turned against appeals by wind developers in 1994. Before March 1 of that year, 12 out of 18 inquiry decisions (67%) found in favour of the wind projects. Yet after that date the number of planning inspectors' recommendations in favour has fallen to an astonishingly low four out of 18 (22%). Further study of the results reveals that after March 1994 all applications for larger wind projects -- of ten or more turbines -- were given the thumbs down by planning inspectors.

"If you look at the inspectors' reports before 1994, concern over the need for clean energy was seen as positive and of primary importance," comments Peter Musgrove of NWP. "From 1994 the need for clean energy was seen as positive, but was only of secondary importance, outweighed by the appearance of wind turbines in the landscape."

Musgrove claims that inspectors and planning authorities are ducking the real issue -- the government's target to provide 10% of electricity from renewables by 2010. "Planners cannot always assume that it will be provided somewhere else," he says. He believes it is time for the government to send some clear signals to planning authorities reinforcing the need for more wind energy. "Until the government makes it clear that they want wind farms to help them achieve their 10% by 2010, the easy option for planners in the face of Country Guardian's scare stories is to vote against them on the basis that it is the safe thing to do," says Musgrove, referring to the actions of Britain's anti wind farm lobby group. He fears that the trend in surprisingly negative decisions -- such as those for projects proposed for Worthyvale and Drigg (Windpower Monthly August 1996 and January 1997) -- will encourage a pattern of refusing planning permission for wind farms. "If they are to set the pattern, they send the message that the government is not really serious about its targets," he warns.

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