Green energy leaders have blamed councils for holding back the growth of renewables in the Westcountry after new figures indicated the region is falling short of targets, the WMN has learned.
According to renewable energy agency Regen SW, just 2 per cent of the power used to heat and run homes and buildings in the South West comes from “clean” sources such as wind, water and sun.
By 2010, the regional goal has been set at between 11 and 15 per cent.
With energy consumption increasing, Regen SW admitted it was “less likely” that the target would be met.
The government-funded body says that despite green energy being central to the battle against climate change, the planning system has rejected “more schemes than it has approved”. It believes politicians are reluctant to get behind renewables with the same gusto as other areas in the country.
However, environmental groups and councils claim a number of applications, especially for controversial wind turbines, have been “inappropriate”, especially when close to protected areas of the countryside.
Regen SW chief executive Matthew Spencer said: “In the last year we’ve seen a sea change in public attitudes to climate change but this is still not being reflected in planning decisions on renewable energy by councils.”
With harnessing substantial amounts of energy from waves and tides off the Westcountry coast still years away, Mr Spencer added that wind turbines, which at times stand twice the 185ft height of Nelson’s Column, would continue to form the backbone.
Onshore wind projects represent 31 per cent of the regional renewables output and the proportion is set to increase for targets to be met. Other technologies include biogas, such as the Holsworthy manure-fired power plant in North Devon, and small hydro schemes.
Mr Spencer said: “While we’d encourage local councils to support a range of renewable technologies it is their attitude to wind farms in the next two years which will be a crucial test of their commitment. It remains the cheapest and most powerful renewable technology available to us in the short-term.”
In the last year, the amount of green power generated in the South West has risen by 14.4 megawatts (MW) – or nearly 12 per cent – to 137 MW, chiefly from increasing capacity at existing power schemes. It is enough to run 120,000 homes.
By providing an alternative to oil and gas power stations, renewables also annually save more than 420,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being blasted into the atmosphere.
More than half of the South West’s renewable output comes from Devon and Cornwall. While Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset are falling many megawatts short of their own targets, Regen SW says big schemes in the planning system could bridge the gap if supported by councils.
Devon, for example, could be within reach of its goal. This includes clearing the path for 22 turbines, each 360ft tall, at Fullabrook Down in North Devon, which could provide 40 per cent of Devon’s 2010 target. The scheme is being considered by the Department of Trade and Industry.
A spokesman for North Cornwall District Council, which has approved four windfarm schemes within its authority since being home to the first commercial wind turbine in 1991, hit back at Regen’s claims, saying: “We support renewable energy in principle and in practice but this does not mean that councillors will, as a matter of course, approve every renewable energy application submitted.
“Some applications are just inappropriate for the location because of their adverse impact on the landscape, the community and wildlife, and it is the prerogative of locally elected councillors to refuse renewable energy developments that they consider are unsuitable.”
Coun John Travis, North Devon District Council’s lead member for the environment, said the council recognised the need “use energy wisely and efficiently”.
He said: “Our council is gaining wide recognition for its initiatives in the field of renewable energy. In addition to developing our own renewable energy action plan we have, for example, actively supported the marine current turbine project at Lynmouth, we are funding a detailed feasibility survey of potential sites for hydro electricity schemes on both the East and West Lyn and we are partners with Torridge District Council in an exciting project to increase the uptake of domestic wind turbines and solar panels.”
Bob Barfoot, chairman of the North Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said it was incumbent upon green energy developers to find sites well away from protected landscapes such as Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks.
He said: “There must be areas in Devon that are suitable, but it is perverse that developers seem to find areas that are near protected areas. We support the drive for renewable energy but it’s got to be suitable schemes.
“We don’t see the need to meet targets as a factor for planning authorities approving unsuitable schemes.”
Jonathan Cardale, chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Society, said the targets were “artificial and short-termist” and that the three wind turbine schemes proposed just beyond the edge of national park should not have been considered because “the impact far outweighs the benefits”.
He said: “There are more reliability sources of renewable energy such as tidal. That is the thing that has the potential and the reliability.”
Nick Harvey, Lib-Dem MP for North Devon, strongly opposed the Fullabrook Down scheme but has supported plans to test turbines generating power from the sea’s currents off Lynmouth, North Devon.
Mr Harvey blamed the Government’s policy for the region’s renewables gulf, adding that more investment should have been poured into ensuring the viability of immature technology such as the wave hub off the north Cornish coast.
He went on: “The government has one string to its bow and that’s wind. Wind has a part to play, but it’s accepted that it has a certain viability. The government has not gone into it strategically, with inappropriate planning applications made here, there and everywhere. One of the areas where the South West could have made significant contribution is from harnessing the power in the sea.”
After experts estimated realistic renewables targets for the South West in 2001, each county council agreed to make a specific contribution. The strategy was initiated by the Government Office for the South West and the South West Regional Assembly and echoes similar regional policies across the country.
17 April 2007
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