The full extent of the pressure wind farm companies are putting on Scotland’s planning system to build on ‘unsuitable’ sites can be disclosed today.
Official figures obtained by the Daily Telegraph show they have quadrupled the number of appeals they have lodged against council decisions to reject planning permission.
Scotland’s local authorities received 14 appeals for rejected wind farm applications in 2008, a total that increased to 31 in 2011 and 60 so far this year.
Even where the appeals are also rejected, wind farm companies are increasingly demanding the SNP administration in Edinburgh overturn the decision.
The number of cases where a Scottish Government reporter has approved a wind farm has increased from a low of two in 2009 to five in 2011 to 19 so far this year.
Earlier this year planning chiefs warned MSPs Scotland’s countryside is in danger of becoming a “wind farm landscape” as ever more sensitive sites are targeted to achieve Alex Salmond’s green energy targets.
Councils have complained that many energy companies are submitting “opportunistic” applications in unsuitable areas in the hope that overstretched planning departments wave them through.
They are being forced to divert millions of pounds of council taxpayers’ money to deal with the influx after SNP ministers refused permission for a moratorium on wind farm applications.
Struan Stevenson, a Tory MEP, said the figures illustrated the “war of attrition” being waged by energy companies to force through wind farm applications.
“They are wearing down the planners and trampling over local democracy,” he said.
“It’s the poor old council taxpayer that has to meet the cost of this and it’s the poor old electricity bill payer paying the subsidy for wind farms.”
Mr Salmond wants to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade, a target that will require thousands more turbines.
The figures, which were published by Derek Mackay, the Local Government Minister, show five councils are bearing the brunt of the pressure from the renewables industry.
The number of planning appeals in Fife has increased from one in 2008 to five in 2011 to 15 so far this year. Alex Rowley, the council leader, led calls for a moratorium after complaining of a flood of unsuitable applications.
Meanwhile, the number of appeals received by Dumfries and Galloway Council has risen from one in 2008 to three last year to 10 so far in 2012.
Aberdeenshire, another area under pressure from wind farm developers, has received eight appeals so far this year compared to one in 2008.
East Lothian Council handled one such appeal in the four years between 2008 and 2011 but have received six so far this year. Precisely the same increase has been recorded in Moray.
Although SNP ministers recently announced a £300,000 fund to help councils deal with the cost of wind farm applications, anti-turbine campaigns said the money was a “drop in the ocean”
The Daily Telegraph disclosed last month that Perth and Kinross Council alone has spent almost precisely £1 million in recent years dealing with wind farm planning appeals.
But energy companies can also ask the Scottish Government to intervene if the council refuses the application, does not consider it swiftly enough or attaches conditions they find unacceptable.
Ministers assign a planning reporter who can conduct a full-scale public inquiry in particularly contentious cases.
According to the figures, a Scottish Government reporter approved one wind farm application in Dumfries and Galloway in the four years between 2008 and 2011. The total for this year alone is five.
East Lothian had never had such a case before this year, but has had two already in 2012. Scottish Government reporters have also approved two wind farms in Inverclyde having never done so since at least 2008.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said councils across the country have raised with ministers the problems raised by wind farm applications, including their number and “the cumulative visual impact on the natural landscape”.
But the Scottish Government said ministers want to see “the right developments in the right places” and the “great majority” of its decisions on major wind farms are supported by local planning authorities.
A spokesman said reporters do not overturn council rulings in two-thirds of cases and recent reforms to the planning system have reduced costs by streamlining the process.
Jenny Hogan, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, the energy company trade body, said: “The increase in planning activity is an indication of the renewable energy sector’s success in Scotland, an industry which is already supporting thousands of jobs.
“There’s a variety of reasons why planning applications go to appeal, and it’s important to remember that the appeals process is an essential part of any democratic planning system.”
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