To all supporters of the Vestas workers and renewable energy…
See below for a correction to some of the myths and propaganda put around by the Vestas Corporation and the Government to avoid their own responsibility for the closure of the Isle of Wight wind-turbine plant. The facts, as set out below in an expert analysis by the highly regarded ENDS Report, are that local residents throughout the UK are not to blame for most of the lack of action to safeguard and expand wind-energy production.
Indeed the Government have tried to manipulate concerns over the Vestas closure in order to advance their own agenda of trying to suppress local democratic participation in major planning applications. The Government, despite opposition from almost all major non-governmental organisations involved in planning (led by Friends of the Earth), is trying to impose centralised planning dictat for major projects (nuclear power, motorways, airports etc) so that the views of local communities and the public in general can be over-ridden.
Please pass this information on.
Dave Morris, Sustainable Haringey
Planning system not a barrier for UK wind aims
ENDS Report 415, August 2009, p4
© 2009 Haymarket Business Media
The planning system does not appear to be a significant barrier to the UK getting enough onshore wind to meet its 2020 renewable electricity target. Enough onshore wind farms are receiving planning permission each year to meet the technology’s share of the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets four years early.
If the rate of planning approval over the past five years continues, the UK would build at least 17 gigawatts of peak capacity onshore wind by 2020. The government’s renewable energy strategy says 14GW is needed. What needs to speed up to deliver that figure is not planning consents but the rate at which onshore wind farms are financed and built.
The planning regime for onshore wind was heavily criticised during July and August following the workers’ occupation of Vestas’ blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight.
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate secretary, has been calling for more planning consents for onshore wind farms since he got the job. During the Vestas protest he told a meeting in Oxford: “The truth is that a vocal minority has stopped [projects] going ahead and the silent majority has not done enough to ensure they go ahead.”
Vestas’ chief executive Ditlev Engel repeatedly said the slowness of the UK planning system was one reason behind the plant’s closure. In April, Vestas said the plant was closing due to oversupply of turbines in Europe (ENDS Report 412, p 15 ). This followed a drop in demand caused by the recession. Vestas also cut production at seven factories in Denmark.
During the factory’s occupation, which has now ended, several wind farms “stuck in planning” received significant media attention. These included a 12-megawatt project in Silton, Dorset, rejected by councillors against planning officers’ recommendations.
Several reports were also published in July and August showing the poor performance of planning authorities in England. One, by engineering consultancy Arup for the communities department (DCLG), said there is “considerable work to do” for regions to meet their own renewable energy targets.1 These have been set far below the potential resource in any case.
However, although individual projects face considerable planning barriers, few people appear to be looking at the planning regime’s effectiveness in relation to the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets set under the EU renewables directive.
The UK needs 28GW peak capacity of both on and offshore wind to meet the target, according to the government’s renewable energy strategy (ENDS Report 414, pp 42-43 ). Half of this should be achieved onshore, it says.
There is already 3.1GW of peak capacity onshore wind operating in the UK, with about 1GW under construction. Another 3.2GW has planning consent, but has yet to secure finance or is in negotiations with councils over planning conditions. If all are built, the UK would have 7.3GW operating in 2020. This means it needs to get another 6.7GW through planning and built by then.
Since 2004, an average 1GW peak capacity has received planning approval per year (see table) according to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). If this continues, the UK would get enough extra wind through planning to meet its target by the end of 2015. This would allow five years for all projects to be built.
In any case, the government is changing the planning system to speed up handling of onshore wind power planning applications.
The UK may not actually need to build as much as 14GW. According to the government’s Renewables Advisory Board, 18GW of offshore wind could be built by 2020 (ENDS Report 400, p 15 ). BWEA has said 20GW is achievable.
If the latter figure is achieved, only an extra 0.9GW of onshore wind would need to get planning approval by 2020. There is already more than 7GW of applications awaiting decisions, although some are competing for the same sites. A conservative estimate would suggest half will receive approval.
“We’ve always said 14GW is achievable, but we’ve picked off the low-hanging fruit and that leaves us looking increasingly at smaller projects decided by councils,” said Charles Anglin, BWEA communications director. “At that level we have a planning system that is cumbersome, slow and expensive and could mean projects are unattractive to investors.”
Only 6% of onshore wind farm applications submitted to councils are determined in the 16-week statutory limit, he said.
The current high planning approval rate is due to large projects (above 50MW) being approved by the Scottish Government. Applications are expected over the next few years for 650-800MW of large-scale projects on Forestry Commission land in Wales, but few other sites suited to large projects are available, he said.
Gemma Grimes, BWEA’s planning adviser, said further planning reforms beyond those put forward in the Planning Act 2008 are needed. This should include a financial incentive for councils to determine wind projects within 16 weeks, similar to the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant.
In contrast to BWEA’s position, trade body Scotrenwables said planning applications are increasing north of the border. Northumberland council – which has seen the most onshore wind applications in England – also said it was also seeing no let-up.
“The fact there’s people who think we can do a lot of offshore wind isn’t a reason to pull back our ambitions onshore,” said Simon Roberts, chief executive of the Centre for Sustainable Energy, a charity promoting renewables.
CSE has been commissioned by government to train more than 2,200 planning officers in issues surrounding onshore wind over the past two years. It also runs an expert advisory service.
Planning officers are making better decisions, he said. But projects are still being delayed as “planning committees seem to think their role is to act as the mouthpiece for the mailbag”.
He recommends the government try to calculate what the 2020 target means for individual communities. “What does it mean for the number of hillsides that have to be developed? How many turbines will be needed and by when? It’s details like that which would help people’s understanding of the need for onshore wind.”?
* 1. Renewable energy capacity in regional spatial strategies (http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/renewableenergyreport)