The SNP’s radical green energy targets can only be met if planning rules are loosened to allow wind farms that are 60 per cent taller, a major renewable power company has warned MSPs.
MEG Renewables said council planners are currently reluctant to approve medium-sized developments where the turbines are more than 50m (164ft) high because they are “well outside of their comfort zone”.
In a submission to a major Holyrood inquiry, Neil McGeoch, the company’s managing director, said this limit should be increased to 80m (262.5ft) as part of a “quantum shift” in the planning process.
Unless this increase is permitted, the firm warned that medium-sized wind farms “will struggle to deliver anything like” the electricity SNP ministers require to meet their targets.
MEG Renewables, which builds wind farms in conjunction with landowners and farmers, complained that councils “always (find) some way” to block planning applications for and urged “greater intervention by the Scottish government”.
But the testimony clashes with evidence from communities that the planning system is being swamped with applications from green energy companies for sites that are increasingly unsuitable and sensitive.
The organisation that represents the country’s most senior council planning officials has already warned MSPs Scotland will become a “wind farm landscape” as hundreds more turbines are erected.
Mr McGeoch praised the SNP’s “national policy” for the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity coming from green sources by 2020, including 500MW from smaller projects, but warned “there appears to be no such sentiment at local authority level”.
“There appears to be a broadly applied, but undeclared tip height limit of 50m for medium scale turbine applications,” his submission to Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee.
“There can be no doubt that being confronted with the prospect of a large structure, stretching up to several hundred feet in the air and with moving parts, takes the vast majority of planners well outside of their comfort zone.”
Mr McGeoch, who will appear before the committee today to give evidence, concluded that SNP ministers must overhaul the planning system “for there to be any realistic chance of us achieving our 2020 targets”.
He said banks are only willing to finance medium-sized wind farms with turbines more than 70m (230ft) tall because only at this height do they generate enough electricity to be financially viable.
“We would propose the creation of a planning band for mid-size turbines with a maximum tip height of no less than 80m, to be applied by all local planning authorities in Scotland,” he said.
Many green energy companies have detected “an inherent anti-wind mentality” in Scotland’s town halls, he warned, before complaining applications are being rejected on the basis of “unqualified” judgments about their visual impact.
Struan Stevenson, a Tory MEP campaigning against the rapid spread of wind farms, agreed with the company there is inconsistency between how different councils deal with applications.
But he said some are allowing medium-sized developments that are more than 80m high and loosening the planning rules further would be a “catastrophe”.
“Scotland is being vandalised already and anybody who suggests that should be exiled,” he added.
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