The rapid spread of wind turbines across Scotland could accelerate, after SNP ministers issued new guidance promising a ‘smoother’ planning process.
A new ‘good practice guide’ has been developed as part of a Scottish Government-led project, containing tips about how to overcome opposition to the schemes.
Ministers say the guidance is designed to ‘make planning applications for wind energy developments run more smoothly’.
It includes a section on ‘optimising social acceptance’, which features advice on how to communicate the benefits of any scheme to the local community.
Campaigners say the document is the latest attempt by the SNP to ‘fast-track’ new wind farms as quickly as it can, to help achieve its green energy targets.
Fears have been raised that a smoother process will benefit developers at the expense of local communities, where there are concerns about the impact that the spread of unsightly wind turbines will have on Scotland’s countryside.
Susan Crosthwaite, chairman of the Communities Against Turbines Scotland pressure group, said: ‘This is a huge concern because they are putting pressure on planning departments and councils to make more areas available and push things through. The whole system is being pushed in the developer’s favour.
‘The Scottish Government is pressurising all the councils about passing more wind turbines and the sad thing is it will push more people into fuel poverty and it’s all for nothing.
‘The Scottish Government put out its renewables route map for consultation earlier this year and we found it to be a wanting document. They are pushing out all these things to try to fast track them but they are not making sure the environmental impact work and ground works are done properly and it will lead them into a lot of trouble.’
The guidance has been issued following the Good Practice Wind Project, an EU-funded scheme that was led by the Scottish Government and looked at how to address the barriers to wind energy development in order to meet targets aimed at increasing the amount of renewable energy produced in Scotland.
The Good Practice Guide urges developers to take part in ‘effective, meaningful and early communication’ about new schemes.
It recommends promoting the features of a wind farm that are attractive to tourists, such as a visitor centre, as ‘an original way of contributing to the optimisation of social acceptance’.
The SNP has previously been criticised f or ordering all councils to set aside more land suitable for wind farm developments. Already, up to a third of some council areas have been earmarked for wind turbines.
Scottish Tory energy spokesman Mary Scanlon said: ‘While it is welcome that the Scottish Government wants a planning system which runs smoothly for all, at some stage developers and communities will disagree, and it is not clear how this will be overcome.
‘Other than reiterate its ambitious renewable energy target, the SNP has not said what it will do to ease the fears of communities across the country. Guidance may be useful but the fact is the SNP wants to continue developing wind farms across Scotland, often in the face of strong local opposition.
‘Spinning the facts to make it sound positive is not a solution.’
The SNP Government is desperate for more turbines to help it achieve its target of the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs coming from green energy by 2020. But opponents say it is focusing too much on onshore wind and not enough on offshore wind and other renewable energy types.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: ‘I’m delighted to launch these materials, which aim to make the planning process for wind developments go more smoothly for everyone involved.
‘The Scottish Government wants to see the right developments in the right places and this guidance will help to ensure that – while also making sure there are fewer unsuitable applications and that communities are properly consulted and informed.
‘We have set an ambitious, but achievable, renewable energy target and we are determined to ensure that communities all over Scotland benefit from our renewable energy revolution, which is already bringing jobs and investment.
‘But we are determined that this should be done in a sustainable way, sympathetic to the needs of communities and protecting the environment and our fantastic natural heritage.
‘This project supports our drive to promote engagement with communities from the very beginning of a plan’s development.’