Local referendums would delay or kill most onshore wind projects
Thousands of jobs in the wind farm industry could be lost and Britain may fail to meet new climate change targets for 2020 under tough new planning proposals.
Renewable UK, which represents the wind farm industry, said the possible introduction of local referendums in the Localism Bill could cause massive delays and lead to thousands of projects being abandoned.
Robert Norris, head of communications at Renewable UK, said: ‘We believe planning should be excluded from such referendums as there is a danger they might be routinely and frequently used as a tool by our opponents to delay any onshore wind farm applications.
‘Such referendums would have a potentially catastrophic impact on the industry as they could delay projects for at least 18 months.’
Under the Localism Bill, now nearing the Report Stage in the House of Lords, an initial six months would be allowed to determine whether enough signatures have been collected for a referendum on a wind farm proposal (five per cent of the local population) and a further 12 months is specified as the limit within which it must be held by the local authority.
Wind farm operators are waiting on average for two years to get projects approved and nearly half of all applications are turned down.
Opposition to onshore wind farms is hardening and becoming more effective. In 2005, only 29 per cent of onshore projects were refused planning permission, but this rose to 33 per cent in 2009 and 48 per cent last year.
Mr Norris said: ‘Wind farm developers could find that pursuing their applications becomes utterly impractical. For some developers, this could be the last straw.’
Wind Farm Backlash: Growing Public Opposition Thwarts Green Energy Drive
Unpopular: Nearly half of all onshore wind farms in England and Wales are being refused planning permission, new figures have revealed
According to data obtained by law firm McGrigors, in 2005 29 per cent were turned down by planners – rising to 33 per cent in 2009 and 48 per cent last year.
The increase in objections is partly the result of the volume of wind turbine applications being proposed by energy companies.
Under European climate change targets, around a third of all Britain’s electricity will have to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2020.
The majority of that green power will come from 10,000 new wind turbines at sea and on land.
But according to McGrigors, 32 out of 66 applications for onshore wind farms were rejected in 2010. Britain has 305 onshore wind farms and 3,360 turbines.
McGrigors, a leading commercial law firm which represents wind farm developers, claims energy companies will become increasingly frustrated with local planners refusing to give the go-ahead to money-spinning turbines.
However, Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is sceptical of the Government’s climate change policy, including its plans for building wind farms, said: ‘The public backlash against wind farms is not surprising.
‘It is the inevitable and inexorable consequence of a costly, unpopular and completely pointless policy that is butchering Britain’s green and pleasant landscape without having any effect on the climate.
‘These green projects are only viable because of multi-million subsidies supporting a few hundred wealthy landowners and a handful of energy companies.
‘By opposing wind farms, a growing number of neighbourhoods and communities are protecting both their local environments and their purses from blind exploitation.’
Jacqueline Harris, a partner at McGrigors, said wind farm developers believe they are not getting a ‘balanced hearing’ at local level. She said: ‘The feeling is that local authorities are too often prioritising local concerns.
‘There is little willingness to consider the benefits of renewable energy generation in context.’
She added: ‘Objections based around the visual impact of wind turbines are overriding the wider need to deliver energy security and mitigate the impact of climate change. The visual impact of wind turbines is a common complaint and often successful grounds for objection.
‘This applies even where the benefits of the development greatly outweigh the downsides to a small but vocal minority.
‘Even single turbines, which can generate enough electricity for a few thousand houses, are being rejected because of the visual impact on a handful of properties.’
The Government’s Localism Bill – which gives more power to local communities over planning decisions – could make it even more difficult for the wind farm developers to push through planning permission.
According to Mr Peiser, the Bill has ‘helped to empower individuals, councils and communities to oppose and halt wind farms’.
A spokesman for Renewables UK, which represents the wind farm industry, claimed: ‘Wind farms bring real economic benefits to local communities.
‘Every refused wind farm planning application is a missed opportunity to secure employment and business benefits at a local level, and further deliver on our energy security and climate change targets.