New Scottish planning rules state that local authorities are not allowed to turn down wind farm applications on the grounds the National Grid has too little capacity for the electricity they generate.
SNP ministers have prevented councils from declaring a temporary ban on the construction of more wind farms even where the National Grid would struggle to carry the electricity they generate.
Following a public outcry, Derek Mackay, the Scottish Planning Minister, unveiled new guidelines forbidding the erection of turbines on land designated as a national park or a national scenic area.
He also published a new map showing 42 areas of “wild land” given extra, although not absolute, protection against wind farm development.
But the rules said it was “not appropriate” for councils to impose moratoriums on building more onshore wind farms despite some planning departments warning they have already reached “saturation point”.
The new Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) also stated that “grid capacity” should not be used as a reason to reject a wind farm planning application or to limit the areas set aside for turbines.
The transmission network lacks the capacity to transport some of the electricity generated by wind farms in rural Scotland to urban centres in England where it is most needed.
This has led to wind farm companies being handed millions of pounds a year in “constraint payments” to switch off their turbines when the National Grid is unable to cope with the power they produce, for example during periods of stormy weather.
However, Alex Salmond has set a target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade. The vast majority of the increase is expected to come from onshore wind.
Councils must draw up plans identifying those areas “most appropriate for onshore wind farms as a guide for developers”, the new SPP said.
It ordered them to identify where there was “strategic capacity” for more wind farms and “areas with the greatest potential for wind development”.
Companies who want to extract gas using fracking will have to consult local communities, the guidance said, and new buffer zones set up around sites to reduce the impact.
The SPP also ordered local authorities to ensure a “generous” supply of land for housing and, if necessary, to review the boundaries of their green belts.
Environmental groups and opposition parties welcomed the Scottish Government’s move to protect the 19 per cent of land classified as national park or national scenic area.
Unveiling the plans, Mr Mackay said: “The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to releasing Scotland’s onshore wind energy potential. However we have always made clear that we want the right developments in the right places.”
But Murdo Fraser, Scottish Tory energy spokesman, said: “People living in rural settings are still constantly subjected to the threat of developers – egged on by the Scottish Government – building massive turbines on their doorstep.
“And the SNP, in its unreasonable drive to generate 100 per cent of electricity from renewables, cannot be allowed to place more wind farms in other areas to make up for this announcement today.”
The John Muir Trust, an eminent conservation group, praised the new protection given to wild land as a “historic breakthrough”. Stuart Brooks, its chief executive, said the move had faced sustained opposition from “powerful vested interests”.
Scottish Renewables, the trade body representing wind farm companies, said it was essential to strike the right balance between “harnessing our fantastic wind resource and protecting Scotland’s most valued landscapes.”
Joss Blamire, its senior policy manager, said: “The Scottish Government needs to ensure the new planning framework does not rule out good quality proposals out with National Scenic Areas and National Parks, and we reaffirm our view that new developments are best judged on a case-by-case basis.”
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