Landscape campaigners have described the latest Government moves to help communities obtain financial benefits from wind farms as a guide to bribery.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has set out new standards for wind energy schemes to work with local communities.
The guidance, written by the industry body Regen South West, focuses on how communities can best obtain and use cash funds of up to £5,000 per megawatt (MW).
Opponents of turbines say windfalls under the new rules – worth £1.1 million over the life cycle of a large project up for decision in Cornwall later this month – are simply designed to “buy off” local discontent.
Campaign group Cornwall Protect said the only way the Government can achieve its renewable energy targets is to “extend the gravy train beyond developers and landowners to communities”.
Spokesman Danny Mageean said there was a danger that so-called community leaders may be keen to win “brownie points” even if they live “at the other end of the village”.
“I live five hundred metres from a 77-metre turbine so I know the problems, and I don’t think giving our parish council a few thousand would compensate for the devaluing of our property and the noise,” he added.
Ministers unveiled a raft of measures last year in response to growing anger in the rural Conservative heartlands at turbines and solar farms.
The new guidance was billed as giving more protection to the landscape and a stronger voice to locals who opposed unpopular renewable energy schemes.
In addition, the recommended community benefit package in England was increased fivefold from £1,000 per MW of installed capacity to £5,000 per MW.
DECC has published the guidance on how wind schemes should work with communities, calling for partnerships between the two.
It gives examples of different ways in which funds and other investments by developers have been used by local groups, from the provision of care services to mountain bike trails.
The guidance is expected to be followed shortly be a community “right to invest” in new renewable energy projects that will also apply to solar schemes.
Jodie Giles, communities project manager at Regen South West, authors of the document, said “We are delighted that more communities are getting involved with sustainable energy, and in particular onshore wind projects – one of the most efficient and cost effective renewables technologies available.”
Examples of how benefits have been used will soon be recorded on DECC’s new community benefits register for England.
This month, a decision will be made on plans for one of the biggest wind farms in the region – 11 turbines producing 25MW at Week St Mary in Cornwall.
Developers Good Energy are proposing a fund of £2,000 per MW, totalling more than £44,000 a year for the life of the project, available to people living within three miles of the plant.
A local electricity tariff scheme is also proposed, offering discount for locals living within the three-mile radius who sign up to receive electricity from the scheme.
The firm is also exploring the possibility of the community owning one of the turbines.
Bob Barfoot, a member of the CPRE in Devon and a planning expert who has helped prepare a report from the group Communities Against Rural Exploitation (CARE) for the planning meeting on October 23, said community benefits cannot be taken into account by councillors.
He says this point has been made by a number of planning inspectors in recent appeals, including a decision this June to uphold the refusal of a 77-metre turbine at Ladock.
In dismissing the appeal, planning inspector Paul Jackson said plans to generate about a third of the parish’s annual electricity demand were “a laudable aim”
“However, as planning permission for the scheme was refused on landscape and visual amenity grounds, which remain the main concerns, it is unclear how the intended community benefits could make it acceptable,” he added.
Environment campaigner Jeremy Varcoe, of North Cornwall, said it was wrong to lavish cash on the girl guides rather than affected locals.
“What’s so unfair is the money goes to people not affected – rather than those whose lives are blighted by the turbines – it is little more than a bribe to the local parish or town council,” he added.
“It is a dishonest device to buy off the increasing resentment among people who are against these developments. Strictly speaking community benefits are not a material planning consideration but there is no doubt that the promise of large amounts of money has affected the decision of committees and council case officers.”