The massive demand for wind power sites in Cornwall has been revealed by official maps which have been released for the first time.
Cornwall was at the forefront of the fledgling renewable energy industry almost 20 years ago when Britain’s first commercial wind farm was installed at Deli Farm, at Delabole, North Cornwall.
There are now nine operational wind farms in the county, stretching from Morwenstow in the north to Goonhilly in the west. Some now boast 328ft (100m) turbines.
Despite the planning hurdles, and often well- founded opposition from affected communities, some 120 sites across the county are currently being pursued. A register compiled by Cornwall Council of screening requests – a preliminary stage of the planning process – show a range of possible developments.
They include large commercial proposals, including one for 20 turbines, each 415ft (126.5m) tall, to small single turbine projects from homeowners.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen SW, said there was growing interest in schemes in which companies erected smaller turbines and then paid rent to landowners.
The companies then make money through the feed-in-tariff which rewards electricity generated through renewable sources.
“The small and medium-size sites attract the feed-in tariff which can mean a good rate of return,” Mr Hyman said. “Landowners are being told they can make the most of the resources on their doorstep, make some money and not lose any land.
“In terms of landowners, they are seeing energy prices going up and clearly they are thinking of ways of insulating themselves against that in the future.”
Among the larger schemes on Cornwall Council’s register are early proposals for 20 turbines at Davidstow and ten on land at Indian Queens.
However, commercial developers currently appear less willing to risk hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to get schemes through.
Government proposals on changing the planning system would put the onus on local authorities to decide policy, particularly on issues such as renewable energy, rather than officials in Whitehall.
“In a climate of rising energy prices and energy insecurity, it is common sense to make use of your own natural resources,” Mr Hyman added. “People are going to want to continue to do that.
“Common sense also means that people will want to make the best of those resources without putting things in silly places.
“However hard it [the planning process] is there is always going to be interest in these sites. But we do think that we need to see a much more community-based process where people are more actively engaged in saying where they want to see sites.
“The impact and scale of these operations means you can only go beyond a certain point without having the support of the community.”
Cornwall Council records show there are currently 120 sites where “screening” requests have been made. They take three to six weeks to resolve.
Adrian Lea, manager of the natural resources team, explained: “A screening opinion will essentially determine whether or not any planning application would need to be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
“If we decide that an EIA is not necessary, they can proceed with a planning application – although they still need to provide a lot of information with that.
“If it does require an EIA then we may be asked for a scoping opinion which establishes the scope of any assessment and the particular elements, depending on the individual site, that we would like to see considered.”
Of the 120 identified sites, 35 sites are subject to planning applications. A further 30, totalling 48 turbines of varying sizes, already have planning permission but have not yet been built.
Mr Lea said there was a “gradual whittling-down process” through the system, during which “a lot will fall by the wayside”. Even those with permission, he added, “for a variety of reasons may never materialise”.
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