A ‘new era’ for wind farms in Wales was declared yesterday by Rhodri Morgan when he signalled the release of Assembly government-owned forest land for development.
The first minister said Forestry Commission-managed land would be leased for the construction of wind turbines to step up Wales’ effort in combating climate change.
He told the Wales Forum on Europe sustainable energy event in Swansea that preferred bidders were invited to develop wind farms in suitable areas of government-owned forests.
If developers secured planning permission, the option would convert into a leasing agreement.
The announcement means bidders, who are assessed for commitment both to renewable energy and the local communities, will now be invited to sign option agreements enabling them to apply for planning permission.
Wind farm developments above 50MW will still need planning permission from the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the former Department of Trade and Industry, with the local authority having a major say.
Each proposal will be subject to scrutiny as part of the planning process in which the Assembly Government has no statutory role.
Mr Morgan said: “Climate change is the biggest challenge the world faces and there are difficult decisions to be made. Action over the next 10 years is absolutely vital.
“Wind energy is a renewable energy technology that is commercially viable on a large scale and our weather and geography here in Wales means we are well placed to use it.”
“I am extremely conscious of the debate on wind farms and I would like to reassure people that all the developments will be subject to the normal independent processes of planning approval.
“But I also want to stress that we must address climate change and we must accept that wind power is crucial in our drive to generate more electricity from renewable sources.”
Conservative shadow environment minister and Clwyd West AM Darren Millar said: “The Assembly Government’s decision is at best premature, at worst provocative given the concerns we raised in the Assembly. I am concerned this announcement will open the floodgates for more major wind farm developments on some of the most beautiful parts of Wales.”
by Tom Bodden
26 October 2007