Proposals for at least six new wind farms in the North East look set to be scrapped with objectors in Sedgefield having the most to celebrate as a controversial 24-turbine scheme is now unlikely to proceed.
However, those hoping to see an end to any further schemes in Northumberland look set to be disappointed with work set to start on two major new developments.
In fact, at least eight new onshore wind farms look set to be built in the region in the coming months and years – adding to the 30-plus already operating – during what the Government has described as a ‘grace period’ for developers.
When announcing its policy U-turn in the Commons earlier this month, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said projects which ‘have planning consent, a grid connection offer and acceptance, and evidence of land rights for the site on which their project will be built’ can proceed during the grace period.
This equates to over 10 UK schemes, with seven of these in the North East including a 16 turbine development on the Ray Estate, just off the A696 at Kirkwhelpington, Northumberland.
A spokesperson for the developer Vattenfall said it was pushing ahead with its plans for this site: “Vattenfall has discharged all planning conditions associated with the Ray Wind Farm. As a result, we will set out a detailed forward programme to the local community shortly with a view to delivering first power in late 2016.”
Other schemes set to proceed include Peel Energy’s proposals for 13 Northumberland turbines – each up to 126 metres high – near the village of Widdrington, as well a number in the south of the region.
But energy giant E.on has put on hold its plans for the 24-turbine Isles wind farm, at Bradbury, near Sedgefield, County Durham
A spokesperson said: “We are currently reviewing some of our onshore wind farm development projects including the Isles, which if approved could feature up to 24 turbines with a capacity of up to 48MW.
“Onshore wind remains one of the cheapest low carbon technologies available to us and is an important part of our energy mix in the UK. We support the efforts across the industry to bring down costs and believe it is right that all technologies should ultimately stand on their own two feet without subsidy.
“While we are disappointed that DECC have decided to close the Renewable Obligation earlier than originally planned, we welcome the use of grace periods to mitigate some of the impact for investors.”
Hartlepool company Seneca Global Energy looks set to see its proposals for three schemes in the town fall short.
It did not respond to request for a comment from Journal Energy but it will feel aggrieved as its proposals were called in by former Local Government Minister Eric Pickles in March, and had not progressed since.
The Conservative Party Manifesto for this May’s election outlined the Government’s proposals to halt to subsidies for onshore wind farms.
Last month Ms Rudd told the Commons that the main subsidy scheme, the Renewables Obligation (RO), would be shut down for schemes over 5MW a year earlier than planned, in April 2016.
While new schemes can bid for subsidies through the new Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime, the Government is likely to favour other renewable technologies – offshore wind and solar – in these competitive auctions. Although it is unlikely to openly admit this due to concerns it may fall foul of EU state aid rules.
Ms Rudd told MPs last week that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimated that about 7.1GW (gigawatts) of the onshore wind capacity proposed across the UK “will not be eligible for the grace period and is therefore unlikely to go ahead”.
“That equates to about 250 projects, totalling about 2,500 turbines, that are unlikely to be built,” she said. “The onshore wind projects that are unlikely to go ahead could have cost hundreds of millions of pounds,” she said.
However, Ms Rudd said that an estimated 4GW of new onshore wind will still be developed by 2020, bringing the UK’s total capacity to 12.3GW.
The U-turn, whilst delighting many objectors, has come under fire from the renewable lobby, which argues onshore wind is one of the cheapest sustainable technologies and should be deployed further to hit low carbon emission targets.
RenewableUK’s chief executive, Maria McCaffery said: “The Government’s decision to end prematurely financial support for onshore wind sends a chilling signal not just to the renewable energy industry, but to all investors’ right across the UK’s infrastructure sectors.
“It means this Government is quite prepared to pull the rug from under the feet of investors even when this country desperately needs to clean up the way we generate electricity at the lowest possible cost – which is onshore wind.”
She also highlighted how the subsidy axe would impact on jobs. “19,000 people owe their livelihoods to the UK’s onshore wind industry – this could have increased to more than 37,000 by 2023 if Government policy had remained supportive.”
Dr John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, a UK charity that has been a long-term critic of subsidies to renewables in general and onshore winds in particular.
He said: “This is a long overdue correction to more than a decade of misguided political intervention in the markets and the planning system that has forced onshore wind farms onto unwilling consumers and local populations, harming the reputation of renewable energy and rewarding speculative investors for mass deployment of inadequate technologies.”
“This may not be quite the end of the story; the onshore wind industry has received nearly £4bn in subsidy since 2002, and was counting on many billions more. They are well-funded, and are unlikely to give up without a fight in the courts.”
One North East company affected by the announcement is the Durham-based Banks Group with its developments in Guisborough, North Yorkshire, falling outside the grace period.
However it won contracts to develop three schemes in the first ever CfD auction, and will proceed with these along with a further two in the North East which meet the grace period criteria.
Richard Dunkley, executive director at Banks Renewables said: “We will be considering the implications of the Government’s announcement and proposed legislation over the next few months.
“Onshore wind is clearly the cheapest form of scalable renewable energy. The recent CfD auction awarded three of our sites contracts to supply electricity for £82.50/MWh. In the same auction, offshore wind secured contracts at £114/MWh.
“The government policy to stop onshore wind forces consumers to pay for more expensive technologies like offshore wind, instead of onshore wind, which can only result in higher bills for these consumers.”
At the weekend energy minster Andrea Leadsom said future onshore wind farms could be built without any Governemnt subsidy. Many operating in the North East onshore wind industry will hope so – objectors will hope not.
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