August 24, 2022

East Ayrshire wind farm gets go ahead despite concerns over impact of bigger turbines

The site, south of Drongan, already had permission for nine 100-metre high turbines, but the developer admitted loss of subsidies mean they need to be bigger to be cost effective. | B yKevin Dyson, Local Democracy Reporter | Daily Record | 22 AUG 2022 |

A proposed wind farm near Drongan has finally been given the go ahead – the best part of a decade after it was first mooted.

The original planning application for Polquhairn wind farm was submitted back in November 2014. Just last week, the chief executive of developer Orsted criticised the length of time it takes to decide wind farm applications across the world.

That proposal would have had nine 100-metre high turbines which could generate 22.5MW of power. However, issues relating to potential interference with radar systems, led to both Prestwick Airport and the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) objecting to the application.

While Prestwick withdrew its objection provided certain conditions were met, NATS maintained theirs. This led East Ayrshire Council planners to recommend refusal when it came to committee in August 2017.

A subsequent appeal to the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division (DPEA) was upheld. Meanwhile, NATS joined Prestwick Airport in withdrawing its objection, allowing the application to be approved in September 2018.

A report to the planning committee stated that the company, Brookefield Renewable, taken over by Danish global giant Orsted in 2021, wished to make a fresh application, with the only change being the height of the turbines – increasing up to a maximum of 145m. Councillors were shown images showing the visual impact of the increase in size, with planners suggesting the increase would not be considered enough to warrant a refusal.

The applicant’s representative Tom Parkin said the new application would see output increased from 22.5MW to 34.2MW, or enough to power every home in Kilmarnock. The report outlined the applicant’s case for the changes: “They consider the ongoing requirements to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change mean that there is increasing importance for sites to maximise their energy yield and efficiency, and given advances in turbine technology nowadays, believe larger turbines would help achieve these goals.”

However, when SNP Doon Valley councillor Jennifer Hogg asked why the height of the turbines had to increase if the technology had improved, Mr Parkin indicated that the smaller turbines were not ‘economically viable’ without the governmental subsidy that used to be in place. He also pointed out that only one of the turbines would reach 145m – on the development website, there will be five at 125m and three under 120m.

A total of five people lodged objections, with two withdrawing them prior to Friday’s meeting. One objector, Alan Chapman, spoke to the planning committee in person.

He said he had raised an objection with the original application, including raising the issue of radar interference that would go on to be the main issue for the council. Mr Chapman argued that the scale of the increase in size of turbines was significant. He added that this would potentially ‘exacerbate some of the interference’.

He asked the committee to refuse the application until the different parties involved had reached an agreement on mitigating the affect on aviation. However, the committee was told that both Prestwick Airport and NATS had come to an agreement and were able to take the plan forward.

Ballochmyle councillor William Lennox was the only member of the committee who opposed the plans. He said that he believed the increased size of the turbines would have a significant visual impact on the closest communities like Sinclairston and Rankinston, adding he wanted to ‘take cognisance of the views of the people there’. However, he was unable to find a seconder and simply recorded his dissent.

It was also pointed out that a number of community groups had been engaged prior to the application being submitted last February, including Drongan, Ochiltree, and Patna community councils and Stair and Rankinston community associations, who formed the Polquhairn community liaison group.

It was also noted that only one community council, Auchinleck, formally responded to the consultation, expressing their support. The committee agreed to approve the application.

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