The government has introduced changes to its planning guidance to grant local communities a greater stake in the planning process for onshore wind farms, ensuring local opposition are able to override national energy targets or benefit from them at a greater level where appropriate.
Their aim is to reduce the increasing number of onshore wind farm applications that are not being approved. In 2008 the percentage of approved applications was 70%, but there has been a rather dramatic drop, seeing it fall to 35% in 2012.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles says:
“We want to give local communities a greater say on planning, to give greater weight to the protection of landscape, heritage and local amenity”.
As well as an increase in the involvement of local communities, the changes will see the benefits paid by developers to communities increase five-fold. This is to provide a greater incentive for communities to accept onshore wind farm proposals.
Currently, communities see subsidies of £1,000 per megawatt of installed capacity per year and this is set to increase to £5,000 per megawatt per year. It will be up to communities and developers to decide how the money is best spent and could be used to reduce annual energy bills. A scheme run by RES at their site near Aberdeen will see local residents get a discount of £122 on their annual electricity bill and could become a template for further schemes across Britain.
As Energy Secretary Edward Davey states:
“It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable – economically, environmentally and socially and today’s announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm”
The changes have been received with mixed views, with the Chief Executive of RenewableUK not overly enthused as no doubt profits are likely to fall. She says:
“By following the government’s advice that we should pay substantially more into community funds for future projects, will unfortunately make some planned wind energy developments uneconomic in England”. She previously explains that developing wind farms requires ‘significant amounts of investment’ up front.
A new CPRE investigation however finds that most large wind farm schemes in England continue to offer local communities only a tiny fraction of the millions of pounds of profit that developers make from public subsidies and electricity sales to the grid. Wind farm developers in England also continue to offer consistently lower levels of community investment than in Scotland.
Some people however, have welcomed the changes. Paul Milner of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says:
“The Government’s report is a good start towards getting a fairer deal for rural England from major new renewables development. But if the industry thinks that it can go on doing the bare minimum, then it should think again.
“We want to see a fairer and more open planning process, more discussions before planning applications are submitted… but we also want to see wind farm developers spend far more money on community investment than they are in England at present,”