Hundreds of single wind farm turbine applications are being lodged in Scotland in a “feeding frenzy” for subsidies, which are at risk of escaping proper scrutiny in the planning system, experts have warned.
Councils across the country have been inundated with applications for single turbines up to 80 metres tall, which qualify for government subsidies that can net landowners profits of about £20,000 a year.
Farmers across Scotland are being approached by development companies who help install the turbine and deal with the planning process in return for a share of the subsidies.
However, experts have warned that these applications do not require the same level of scrutiny by local authorities as larger developments, with no need for detailed environmental impact assessments.
But when large numbers of applications are lodged for sites close together, the impact can be the same as a large wind farm.
Colin Anderson, managing director of Banks Renewables, thinks single-turbine applications should be given the same level of scrutiny as larger projects, which can take years to go through the planning system.
He described the current situation as a “feeding frenzy” for subsidies.
He said: “With the smaller-scale turbines it’s much more difficult for local authorities to resist them. They tend to fall as minor applications that fall under delegated powers.
“The level of information required to support a minor application is relatively modest and an assessment of cumulative impact wouldn’t necessarily be required as part of an application. I don’t think it’s good for Scotland. There should be the same level of control for these turbines as for larger projects.”
Single turbines up to five megawatts qualify for subsidy under the Feed In Tariff subsidy system, with a guaranteed income for 20 years. The amount that can be made by landowners works out as about double that given to larger projects, which fall under the Renewables Obligation subsidy system.
Mr Anderson does not think this represents good value for money for the taxpayer. “At the end of the day we have got to get bang out of our buck,” he said.
Areas that have seen particularly large numbers of single-turbine applications include the Kintyre Peninsular, parts of South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and Fife.
Gordon Watson, executive director of planning for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, was concerned when about a dozen applications for single turbines were lodged with Stirling Council for farms in an area on the outskirts of the national park known as the Carse of Stirling.
He said: “Companies were approaching landowners to put up a single turbines. Despite being single turbines, they were still quite big.
“A number of farms adjacent to each other had all been approached at the same time and there was a flurry of applications. The thing that’s difficult is the issue of cumulative impact if they were all granted permission..”
One company, Hamilton-based Intelligent Land Investments, which has said it aims to build 250 single turbines across Scotland in partnership with farmers, has used its website to point out that the planning process for large-scale wind-farms can be “extremely costly and lengthy” but that single turbines up to 80m “fall within consent levels and require less environmental impact reporting. As such planning can be expected to be granted within months, rather than years.”