Scotland has almost as many wind turbines as the rest of the UK combined thanks to the willingness of SNP ministers to give them planning approval or overrule councils that refuse, according to new university research.
The two-year study, which compared the expansion of renewable energy schemes across all the home nations, found a much higher proportion of wind farms are consented in Scotland than south of the Border.
More than six out of ten applications for onshore wind farms are now approved and their installed capacity is almost the same as all the turbines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The research, conducted by five universities across the UK, highlighted the willingness of SNP ministers to take control of the planning process and work “intensively” to smooth the way for more turbines.
In particular, the academics found planning applications for the largest wind farms, which are referred to ministers rather than councils, have “higher consent rates”.
Even where decisions are taken by local authorities, the report said ministers regularly planning authorities to take a “positive stance” and “override” them if the council attempts to limit the area in which turbines can be built.
The study praised the SNP administration, and Alex Salmond in particular, for being much more effective than ministers in the rest of the UK at facilitating the expansion of renewable energy.
However, unlike other parts of the country, where a more balanced mix of technologies was used, the increase in renewables capacity in Scotland is almost entirely attributable to onshore wind.
The Tories said the study provided more evidence of Mr Salmond’s determination to force through applications for wind farms even where rural areas have already reached “saturation point”.
The Scottish Conservatives are publishing a new energy policy on Monday amid calls from some councils for a moratorium on new onshore turbines applications.
Murdo Fraser, convener of Holyrood’s energy committee, said: “This report simply verifies the command and control approach from SNP minsters to building new wind farms.”
The study was undertaken by Cardiff University, Queens University Belfast, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, the University of Aberdeen and Birmingham University.
It concluded devolution has played a “significant role” in the expansion of renewable energy across the UK and compared the differences in each of the four home nations.
Onshore wind farms account for the majority of the increase in green energy in Wales and Northern Ireland, while in England landfill gas and biomass make a greater contribution.
But land-based wind power makes up “almost all” of the rise in Scotland, with a tenfold increase in the potential capacity of wind farms between 2003 and 2011.
The total capacity of Scotland’s wind farms was 3,016MW in 2011, the report said, compared to 3,455MW for England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. A further 2,450MW of turbines were under construction or consented north of the Border.
As energy policy is reserved to Westminster, the academics highlighted the SNP’s control over planning as a key factor in its ability to maintain “industry confidence” among wind farm companies.
Citing the interviews they conducted as part of their research, they said they “regularly encountered claims that the Scottish Government instructs local planning authorities to take a positive stance towards renewable energy development.”
Scottish ministers were found to be “more content” than their English peers to be “active” in the planning process.
The SNP has also used its powers over local councils’ development plans to “override” those that allocate too little space for “wind power development zones”, the report said.
This contrasted markedly with the policies pursued by Welsh ministers, who set aside specific areas for wind development rather than have turbines “scattered” across the countryside.
Fergus Ewing, the SNP Energy Minister, said: “This report underlines the importance of the flexibility which Scotland has over energy policy, and the effective use to which that flexibility has been put since devolution.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding