Wind farm projects that could supply power to one in six homes in the UK have been stuck in Britain’s controversial planning system – prompting warnings that renewable energy has effectively been ‘stopped in its tracks’.
The latest blow to the government’s energy and environment record comes as ministers are expected to admit within weeks that emissions of carbon dioxide rose again last year, despite repeated pledges to cut the main gas blamed for global warming.
Figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that wind farms capable of producing the equivalent of 11 gigawatts are delayed by planning disputes. Local residents say they are unsightly and there are fears over the noise they make.
The number of wind farms currently in planning limbo is equal to 8 per cent of UK electricity supply, or more than the output of the UK’s biggest coal-fired power station, Drax in north Yorkshire. Developers also face lengthy waits to be connected to the National Grid. One wind farm company has been offered connection after 2015.
Last week the Scottish Executive backed the world’s biggest wave farm off the coast of Orkney and a medium-sized wind project in Yorkshire got the go-ahead. Earlier this month a major offshore wind farm was approved. But the British Wind Energy Association says delays are mounting. Some projects have been stuck for six years and many for four or five years. Since May last year, only five of 21 decisions on wind farms have led to approval, said Maria McCaffery, the association’s chief executive.
Developers claim delays are costing them millions of pounds in extra costs, which ultimately will be passed on to customers, and warn that investors are threatening to move overseas. As a result, experts claim there is no hope the government will meet its pledge to have 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity powered by renewable energy by 2010; currently the figure is about 2 per cent and the vast majority of that is from wind farms. In what is seen as a likely precursor to admitting its strategy has so far failed, ministers recently announced a bigger 15 per cent target for 2015.
‘We’re extremely concerned,’ said Thomas Rottner, managing director of Platina Finance, an investment firm with £300m earmarked for wind power. ‘Fundamentally the planning system has stopped the renewable energy effort in the UK in its tracks.’
London-based Platina is now ‘barely maintaining a presence’ in the UK. Another UK-based developer, Renewable Energy Systems, owned by Sir Alfred McAlpine Enterprises, said overseas projects offered faster profits. ‘The risk is investment dries up and we don’t do what we need to do [to meet the 2010 target],’ said Chris Shears, RES’s development director and chairman of the British Wind Energy Association.
The wind farm figures follow a string of embarrassments for the government’s energy and environment record. Last week ministers delayed a promised climate change bill. Earlier this month an imminent energy white paper was delayed when the High Court ruled the government consultation was flawed.
The Department for Trade and Industry, which is in charge of energy policy, said it was sticking to the 2010 target, though an official hinted at growing acceptance it is unlikely to be met: ‘We’re making good progress, and we are hopeful of getting close to it.’
The DTI said it had instructed local authority planners to consider the ‘crucial national benefits’ of renewable energy, and promised further action in the energy and planning white papers.
Polls suggest that most Britons back the use of wind power, but critics of individual projects argue turbines are unsightly, noisy and do not generate enough power because of variable winds. Nick Schoon, communications director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: ‘We certainly don’t want them in national parks or areas of outstanding national beauty. There are other bits of so-called “ordinary” countryside where parking a wind farm would muck up the view, and we understand why our local groups object.’
Juliette Jowit, environment editor
25 February 2007
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