If the companies take up their options for development leases, the next step is to apply for planning permission. Since all the projects are bigger than 50 MW, they will not be applying to the local authority but to the British government's Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR). Given the slippage in the timetable for awarding site options, however, it is unlikely that any of the sites could be operational in time to meet Wales' target of 800 MW of onshore wind power by 2010.
Ten companies had pre-qualified to take part in the bidding process to develop on land in the seven Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) identified by the Welsh government as suitable for large-scale wind projects of 25 MW and over. Only one preferred bidder was identified in each area. According to Jon Westlake of the Forestry Commission, the single developer approach was intended to minimise management costs of the wind farms program and speed delivery of new wind capacity. The bidding process only applies to Forestry Commission land; other sites within the SSAs can be developed as normal.
Consideration of benefits on offer to local communities was part of the bid assessment process, says Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan. When operational the wind farms could contribute up to £4 million in funding for community initiatives over a 25 year lifetime, the Welsh Assembly says. Bidders were required to provide statements of their detailed plans for the provision of community benefits and engagement with local stakeholders.
Of the three successful companies, only Airtricity has publicly revealed the details of its bid. It has secured an option to develop a 100 MW site at Nant y Moch, south of Machynlleth in Ceredigion, and is working to develop the project with local company Dulas. It also plans to submit a planning application for a 44 MW wind farm within the same SSA, to use 22 turbines between the village of Tal y Bont and Nant y Moch reservoir.
Iberdrola's project lies within the area known as Carno north in Powys which, according to Welsh Assembly guidance, could accommodate up to 140 MW. This means that RES's four sites probably account for over 700 MW. One of RES's projects is in north Wales: Clocaenog Forest on the Denbighshire/Conwy border, while the other three are in the south: Pontardawe, straddled across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, Coed Morgannwg in Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf, and Brechfa Forest in Carmarthenshire. No companies bid to develop within Area C, south of Newtown in Powys.
The companies say they are prevented from disclosing further details by strict confidentiality agreements insisted upon by the Welsh government. Westlake expects the successful bidders to sign their option agreements in December or January.