The Ministry of Defence was last night accused of trying to put a “blanket ban” on onshore windfarm development in East Anglia.
And in the wake of a succession of high-profile MoD objections to turbines on the grounds of radar interference, leading developers warned they could be forced to scrap future windfarm plans in the region – at great cost to the local economy – unless the planning climate changes.
Representatives of four regional companies, Wind Power Renewables, Mellinsus Renewables, SLP Energy and Enertrag UK, will lobby MPs and officials for less prohibitive planning procedures.
Their move, decided at a meeting with officials from the East of England Energy Group (Eeegr), the industry’s regional voice, comes after an MoD letter was leaked to the EDP – sent to every planning authority in the UK – reminding them “of the importance of ensuring proposals from windfarm developers are submitted to the MoD at the pre-planning stage to ensure any concerns we have are adequately assessed and addressed”.
The letter gives the assurance that the MoD will try to work with developers but Andy Hilton, who runs Windpower Renewables from his home at Catfield, near Yarmouth, said practical evidence from the past three years did not support this.
He said: “I am currently working on five projects in Norfolk and Suffolk – at Catfield, Bacton, Wyverstone, Stalham and one near Norwich – and the MoD has raised concerns about them all. They say turbines at Wyverstone would affect their Trimingham radar -and that must be 70km away.
“Almost anywhere you put a planning application they say it will affect their radar. It seems they are trying to achieve a blanket ban on onshore windfarms in East Anglia.”
Mr Hilton said the MoD-prompted planning refusal for six turbines at Swaffham earlier this week had now left developers “disappointed” and “totally confused”.
He said: “What’s going on? If the MoD can live with the existing turbines in the area, surely it can live with six more. It highlights their total inconsistency concerning windfarm objections.”
Mr Hilton was project manager during construction of the Scroby Sands offshore windfarm, at Yarmouth, but insisted onshore wind was a vital part of the energy mix as offshore projects were three times as costly and “90pc of the UK coastline is totally unsuitable”.
Kerry Gauntt, a spokesman for Lowestoft-based SLP Energy – which has withdrawn its application for four turbines at Hemsby, near Yarmouth, for further consultation in the wake of concerns, including those raised by the MoD – said: “If we cannot change the planning climate in the next 12 months we will have to look outside the East of England for onshore wind development and that will be a real shame for the region, not least in terms of employment.”
In addition to problems posed by the MoD, she said the 18-month planning stalemate on their two-turbine project at Kessingland, near Lowestoft, highlighted the problem of winning over local residents concerning visual impact.
An MOD spokesman said: “We fully support the government’s renewable energy policies and targets, and treat each windfarm case on its merits. Objections are only raised when absolutely necessary, and we will always engage with landowners and developers to try to find solutions to any concerns we may have.
“However it is vital that we protect our air defence and air traffic control radar from interference from any development which would unacceptably jeopardise national security or the safe movement of aircraft.”
By Stephen Pullinger
18 January 2008
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