The percentage of onshore windfarms being rejected rose dramatically in the UK last year, leading the renewable energy trade body to accuse the Conservative party of “heavy-handed intervention” in the planning process.
Last summer, Eric Pickles urged planners to give greater weight to local concerns over windfarm applications, saying “current planning decisions on onshore wind are not always reflecting a locally led planning system”.
The secretary of state for communities and local government has also taken 35 windfarm planning appeals out of the hands of the planning inspectorate since last June, and has so far refused eight and approved two, with the remaining applications awaiting judgment.
Figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) on Tuesday show a surge in both approvals and rejections for windfarms in 2013, but the percentage of all windfarms rejected jumped from 25-29% over the previous four years to 41%. A record 436 windfarms were approved and 310 rejected approved in 2013, up from 105 and 38, respectively, in 2009.
The Conservative party has pledged to drop subsidies for new onshore wind turbines if elected with an overall majority in 2015, despite the Royal of Academy Engineers saying such a move would push up bills by increasing reliance on offshore wind, which is around twice as expensive.
Liberal Democrat energy secretary, Ed Davey, has said: “Putting the brakes on onshore wind would be disastrous for business and jobs in our growing green economy.”
Gemma Grimes, director of onshore renewables at the trade body for wind power developers, RenewableUK, said: “We’re very concerned about the increasingly heavy-handed intervention of the Conservative party in the democratic planning process. We’ve seen this in the overtly political statements made by the communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles last year, in which he made it clear he’d use every avenue to block onshore wind projects.
“It’s a great pity that he felt it necessary to join the Conservatives’ reckless charge against onshore wind, as it’s the cheapest form of renewable energy we have at our disposal to keep people’s bills down as well as cleaning up the way we generate electricity.”
Kris Hopkins, communities minister, said: “This government has intentionally and openly changed planning guidance relating to on-shore wind farms, giving greater protection for local heritage and local landscape. We want to get the balance right between protecting the local environment and broader need for power generation. Planning is a quasi-judicial process, and all decisions are made with due process and a fair hearing.”
A Decc spokeswoman said: “Onshore windfarm projects are considered on an individual case-by-case basis by the local authority in accordance with the national planning policy framework, and communities & local government guidance. Windfarms will only get planning permission where the impacts – including visual impact, cumulative impact and impact on heritage sites – are acceptable.”