Article

Can wind farm developers halt the 'march of the buffer zones'?

Renewable energy developers are hoping the government will prevent a growing number of county councils from imposing wind farm buffer zones, which could severely restrict developments across the country. Buffer zones are designed to prevent turbines from being installed too close to people's homes.

Renewable energy developers are hoping the government will prevent a growing number of county councils from imposing wind farm buffer zones, which could severely restrict developments across the country.

Buffer zones are designed to prevent turbines from being installed too close to people's homes, but developers fear that stringent restrictions could effectively block the development of wind farms in potentially suitable locations.

At least eight local authorities in England either already have formal buffer zones in place or are seeking to mark out areas of up to two kilometres around residential properties where turbines cannot be built.

Lincolnshire County Council is among those seeking a buffer zone of 700 metres, and South Cambridgeshire has consulted on a 2km restriction, while Hampshire last week confirmed a blanket ban on new wind farms built on council land.

Stratford on Avon District Council, Northumberland County Council, Cherwell District Council, Wiltshire Council, Milton Keynes and Rutland also have buffer zones planned or imposed already.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservative Party yesterday launched a report calling for... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Renewable energy developers are hoping the government will prevent a growing number of county councils from imposing wind farm buffer zones, which could severely restrict developments across the country.

Buffer zones are designed to prevent turbines from being installed too close to people's homes, but developers fear that stringent restrictions could effectively block the development of wind farms in potentially suitable locations.

At least eight local authorities in England either already have formal buffer zones in place or are seeking to mark out areas of up to two kilometres around residential properties where turbines cannot be built.

Lincolnshire County Council is among those seeking a buffer zone of 700 metres, and South Cambridgeshire has consulted on a 2km restriction, while Hampshire last week confirmed a blanket ban on new wind farms built on council land.

Stratford on Avon District Council, Northumberland County Council, Cherwell District Council, Wiltshire Council, Milton Keynes and Rutland also have buffer zones planned or imposed already.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservative Party yesterday launched a report calling for councils to be given the power to end the "march of the wind farms".

The wide-ranging paper, says councils should have to power to impose a one year moratorium on new wind turbine developments in Scotland, and encourages them to enforce existing planning guidance restricting wind farms that are closer than 2km to residential areas.

The document also calls for a 50 per cent cut in the subsidy for onshore wind farms and greater "local democracy" in planning decisions, at the same time as calling for more investment in shale gas exploration and nuclear power plants.

However, renewable energy developers have warned that buffer zones are too blunt a tool for ensuring governments strike the right balance between encouraging renewable energy generation and giving communities a voice.

Jenny Hogan, director of policy for Scottish Renewables, pointed out that the Scottish Government's existing 2km guideline was designed to ensure that each wind farm application was judged on its own merits.

"The 2km proposal is a guideline and not a rule," she said. "This is an important distinction because it's imperative that communities, developers and decision makers are given the opportunity to make the case for or against any application. This avoids recommendations being made on the basis of imposed rules which may not be relevant to local circumstances."

Jennifer Webber, of RenewableUK, also warned that proposals for buffer zones across the UK were creating uncertainty among both developers and their suppliers over the future of wind energy in certain regions.

RWE has already threatened Milton Keynes with legal action over the council's decision to increase an existing 350m buffer zone to 600m-1km zone depending on the size of the turbine.

The utility, which has two wind farms that could fall in the new buffer zone, maintains the proposed rules clash with national guidance that sets out the need for renewable energy, as well as Milton Keynes Council's own existing policies on wind energy.

Developers are now hoping that the Planning Inspectorate will refuse to give the go-ahead to new buffer zones, when local authorities submit their Local Plans for approval in March.

Webber said the Planning Inspectorate could yet dismiss the buffer zones in favour of the need to meet national renewable energy targets, adding that a recent increase in planning approval rates suggested most councils are taking a more strategic approach to onshore wind decisions.

But, outside of their formal Local Plans, councils can still include buffer zones in their planning guidance. There is also the risk an increasing number of councils will adopt a blanket ban similar to that confirmed in Hampshire last Thursday.

The decision to exclude wind turbines from land owned by Hampshire County Council last Thursday was not debated by the full council, despite concerns raised by opposition councillors and protests from local residents.

Instead, the Council Leader Ken Thornber took sole responsibility for the decision, based on a report that warned large wind turbines would have an adverse impact on the landscape.

Unlike a buffer zone, Hampshire Council has decided not to build on its own land, but will still allow private landowners to press on with their own wind farm plans - a move that Webber condemned as illogical.

RenewableUK last year commissioned an independent study that showed that each megawatt of onshore power installed brings £100,000 of value to the local community over the lifetime of the project.

"Hampshire has decided that it won't build turbines on its own land, which it is entitled to do in the same way that you or I might decide not to build a wind turbine on our land," Webber explained. "But it seems an odd thing to do as they are restricting the benefits that they might get from them."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has already dismissed proposals from their Conservative opponents as "ill thought through", and contradictory to UK government policy.

"In Scotland we have enviable green energy resources which are delivering jobs and investment to communities across the country. It's ironic these plans are announced on the day Scottish Renewables figures show £165m has been invested in Scotland's offshore wind sector," said Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.

"Far from approving every application, this Government supports more than two thirds of local decisions on windfarm applications on appeal. We provide clear guidance on the location of energy developments and already suggest a separation distance of up to two km between areas for wind farms and settlements."

He added that the government was aiming to ensure Scotland continues to be a leader in the development of renewables in order to cut emissions, boost energy security, and tackle spiralling energy bills.


Source: http://www.businessgreen.co...

JAN 30 2013
http://www.windaction.org/posts/36046-can-wind-farm-developers-halt-the-march-of-the-buffer-zones
back to top