United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Minister pacifies objectors with wind farms limit

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No more than 20 wind farms are likely to be built under Britain's forthcoming round of renewable energy subsidies. News of the limit to be placed on the number of wind farms was revealed by Energy Minister Tim Eggar as he released details of the latest bids for contracts in the third tranche of the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) on March 11. His announcement was accompanied by a stern warning to the wind energy industry that it must meet the environmental challenge to find wind farm sites acceptable to the public.

Over 650 renewable energy projects have been put forward for technical appraisal in the competition for between 300-400 MW of NFFO contracts. Although some 230 of these projects were submitted by wind energy developers, Eggar says he expects to see no more than 20 or so wind projects granted contracts. "But this will depend on developers' abilities to find sufficient windy sites which are acceptable in planning terms, particularly from the point of view of noise and visual impact," he warns. "If they fail to do so, or to get nominated projects up and running, this will count against wind energy in future rounds."

His challenge to the wind industry to find environmentally acceptable sites reflects recent intensive lobbying by politicians and pressure groups. They are worried by what appears to be a deluge of planning applications to build wind farms and erect anemometer masts for wind speed monitoring -- particularly in Wales and Yorkshire. Eggar acknowledges their concerns, but dismisses suggestions by "alarmists" that the government intends to cover the country with wind farms. He says the government's planning policy places as much emphasis on the need to protect the local environment as it does on the need for planners to take the environmental benefits of wind and renewables into account. Government planning advice on wind energy applications has so far been mostly confined to its Planning Policy Guidance Note 22 on renewable energy. Yet opponents of wind energy claim that some planning decisions have placed too much weight on the government's targets for renewable energy development to the detriment of the environment. They call for a review of the guidelines.

Eggar also renewed his demand for competition for new NFFO contracts to drive down the cost of renewable energy. "There is no role for an unlimited subsidy and this support can only be justified if we see convergence between renewable energy prices and the market price for electricity." Contracts to successful projects will run from November 1994 for up to 15 years.

The British Wind Energy Association says the figures released by Eggar were in line with their expectations. "The announcement that bids for wind projects accounted for 35% of the total bids under the current NFFO is what we would have expected given the success of existing wind projects and wind's relative competitiveness with other forms of renewable energy," says the BWEA's Ian Mays. "Competition amongst wind developers will help ensure that the most cost effective and environmentally acceptable projects will go ahead and if 20 of the 230 wind projects are approved this autumn then this would be consistent with wind's share of previous NFFO contracts."

The association is pleased Eggar has not been blown off-course by a vociferous minority of alarmists. According to Mays, a highly vocal minority with extreme views has in recent months sought to frustrate wind power development despite evidence from research showing that it enjoys majority support among people living near wind farms. "Noise and appearance are factors that need to be addressed locally," he says. "Developers are already working closely with local government and community groups to apply planning guidelines which will ensure that developments are sensitive to the needs of local communities."

The environment lobby group, Friends of the Earth, is not so magnanimous about the government's announcement to limit the number of wind farms. It denounces Eggar's limit. "By saying he will limit wind projects to less than a tenth of those proposed, Mr Eggar is ensuring that many environmentally suitable projects which would be welcomed by local communities will not even have the opportunity to progress," says FoE's Fiona Weightman. "We urge the minister to avoid the imposition of such an arbitrary limit before the local planning process has been given the chance to assess and identify suitable and acceptable projects."

FoE is conducting its own campaign to urge developers to adopt a more sensitive approach to wind power siting. It stresses the importance of local community consultation. This month the pressure group is to publish its own guidelines for planners and developers on the siting and operation of wind power projects. By following the guidelines, it should be possible to ensure that only suitable projects, supported by local people, progress through the planning system, FoE says.

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