Wales continues to trail behind the rest of the UK in developing its wind power potential with fewer than half the onshore wind farm projects that came before local authority planners being approved last year.
The approval rate of 46% for projects below 50MW (megawatts) in 2012-2013 was nevertheless a significant increase on the previous 12 months when just 18% were approved.
In England the approval rate for 2012-2013 was 59%, while in Northern Ireland it reached as high as 78%.
The length of time it took planners in Wales to decide on wind farm applications though was relatively short, just 13 months compared to a staggering 43 months in Northern Ireland.
Back in 2010-2011 it took 36 months for local authority planners in Wales to decide on onshore applications.
The figures come in the latest annual review of the sector, Wind Energy in the UK, published by industry body RenewableUK.
The study, which assesses the state of the wind industry from July 2012 to June 2013, reveals a step change in the offshore wind sector. UK installed capacity stood at 3,321MW at the end of June 2013, up from 1,858MW 12 months earlier – an increase of 79%.
Four large-scale offshore projects became operational during the 12-month period covered by the report – Greater Gabbard, Gunfleet Sands III, Sheringham Shoal and London Array, which is currently the biggest offshore wind farm in the world (630MW).
Work continues on Gwynt y Môr off the coast of North Wales. The 576MW wind farm is set for completion in 2015, with the bulk of construction work set to finish next year.
The 1,463MW installed offshore marks the first year in which offshore deployment has outstripped onshore wind. Onshore, 1,258MW of new capacity came into operation across the UK bringing the total installed onshore to 6,389MW – an increase of 25%.
In Wales, 58MW of onshore wind was commissioned, bringing the total operation to 481MW. A further 67MW is in construction.
Ten schemes totalling 156MW were consented in 2012-2013. A further 1,142MW remains in the planning system.
Onshore and offshore, a total of 2,721MW were installed between July 2012 and June 2013, taking the UK’s total wind capacity up from 6,856 to 9,710MW – a 40% increase – enough to power more than five and a half million UK homes. The new capacity brought £2bn of activity to the UK economy.
Onshore, project sizes across the UK are declining overall, due partly to the growth of the vibrant sub-5MW market under the feed-in tariff, with projects at this scale now making up two-thirds of new onshore submissions.
Other factors include a reduction in the availability of larger sites, and developers’ responses to changes in the planning system.
In Wales however the average project size for newly submitted schemes rose, from 10MW reported at the end of 2011-2012 to more than 13MW in 2012-2013 from 14 sites.
Most capacity continues to come forward from a small number of sites, with 144MW (77% of newly submitted capacity) coming from just two schemes.
In a new survey included in the report, a small majority of RenewableUK’s member companies (54%) said they expected to take on more staff over the next 18 months. The UK wind industry already employs more than 16,500 people in direct full-time jobs.
However, the report’s authors note concerns within the industry about levels of political support and the Government’s ambition for the sector, leading to a decline in confidence.
RenewableUK’s chief executive Maria McCaffery said: “We’ve smashed another record in the past year with more offshore wind installed than ever before – the 79% increase in capacity within 12 months is a terrific achievement.
“With onshore expanding by 25%, the wind industry as a whole has proved that it has the tenacity to achieve substantial growth.
“It’s tangible proof of the dedication of thousands of Britons who are working tirelessly to generate electricity from a clean, home-grown source at a cost that we can control, increasing the UK’s energy security.
“Tens of thousands more will be joining the industry over the rest of this decade as we build out the rest of the projects in the pipeline – as long as Government policy is supportive and provides the right framework for one of this country’s greatest modern industrial and environmental success stories to reach its full potential”.
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