Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Renewable industry getting the wind up

An attempt to adopt a "cautious approach" towards future wind turbine developments to mitigate the impact of wind farms on the Scottish Borders landscape has come under heavy fire from no fewer than nine renewable energy companies who are demanding that entire passages of the policy should either be ripped up or radically re-written.

The bid by Borders planners to check the speed of turbine development "due to the potential for adverse and cumulative impacts on landscape" is contained in the council's proposed Local Development Plan (LDP) which was recently the subject of public consultation.

Although the more restrictive approach may seem justified following the approval for more than 550 turbines in over 120 separate planning applications affecting some of the most attractive countryside in southern Scotland, the suggested measures fly in the face of the Scottish Government's Planning Policy (SPP).

In a series of submissions to the local planning authority some of the major players in the wind farm sector have expressed their displeasure at the LDP proposals which, it is claimed, could hamper progress in achieving Scottish Government renewable energy targets.

RES UK & Ireland Ltd, one of the world's leading independent wind turbine developers, has told the local authority: "We strongly object to the council's approach to onshore wind energy development. There is no national planning guidance support for any such precautionary approach".

The company is calling for chunks of the proposed policy to be withdrawn and for other parts to be reworded.

Meanwhile a submission from Coriolis Energy warns: "The reliance on landscape capacity inevitably rules out the suitability of huge swathes of the Scottish Borders area for wind farm development."

EDF Energy Renewables dismiss the proposed cautious approach as overly negative. Their scathing written response adds: "The outputs of the study do not embrace the strong policy support for renewables development at the Scottish Government level. The test of acceptability has been set unattainably high". Those sentiments are echoed by Fred Olsen Renewables who express concern over the negative stance towards future onshore wind energy development.

And Infinis set out their criticisms in a 35-page submission which asserts the LDP is lacking in its commitment to progress renewable energy development. Infinis, which currently has three active wind farm applications in the region, requests that Scottish Borders Council amends the 'Key Outcome' to ensure it is actively in alignment with SPP.

There's a warning too from Oxford-based TCI Renewables that the report on which the policy is derived has not been subjected to public consultation, and this is considered a serious flaw meaning the policy cannot be afforded any material weight and is open to challenge.

West Coast Energy, from Mold, Flintshire, state: "The landscape capacity study does not match the ambition and aspiration of the Scottish Government to be a truly low carbon country. The strategy results in a confusing message for developers and the public".

It will be interesting to see whether the local planning authority maintains its "cautious" position or backs down in the face of such a concerted lobbying effort on the part of the wind farm industry. And could the council's ruling group, which is partly populated by SNP elected members, receive a sharp dig in the ribs from "up the road" in Edinburgh instructing them to get back into line with Nationalist SPP guidelines?

If no-one blinks it has the makings of a gripping stand-off.

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