Thursday, 13 June 2013

New rules on wind turbines

Last week the government announced a shake-up of planning laws surrounding wind turbines so that local objections from a planning authority will now be given far greater weight and with a requirement for green energy companies to share their income with local communities rather than just hording all the profits for themselves.

The changes will be welcome here in Cornwall where the sudden proliferation of random, single turbines is starting to blight our countryside. There is no uniformity to their design. Some turbines are tall, some short. Some have two blades, some three. Some are black, some are white. And they are everywhere. I first raised this issue a year ago and, to be fair to Cornwall Council, they did introduce some detailed planning guidance last July and have used this as a basis to refuse permission on a number of applications. In particular, where a planning committee judges that the cumulative impact of lots of turbines on the countryside is too great, they have been able to refuse permission. However, too many applications have then been winning on appeal and that is why the national planning guidance that planning inspectors use as their reference point needs to be changed too so that far greater weight is given to local views.

I remember when one of the first wind farms in Britain was built at Carland Cross some twenty five years ago, there seemed to be potential for proportionate projects of that kind. They were of a uniform design and in one concentrated area. However, over time, a general sense has set in that we have reached saturation point. As little as five years ago, people talked about the potential for so called “micro-generation” projects where small single wind turbines could be attached to farm buildings or small factories to help contribute to their own energy needs. Few people objected to such limited additions to existing buildings and it was an approach that could contribute to our energy needs. However, what has evolved suddenly over the last eighteen months in Cornwall is a completely different sort of industry where “micro-generation” now often means a random, single turbine in the middle of a field on an 80 metre high tower with all of the electricity going into the national grid rather than being used on the buildings in the immediate locality and that unintended consequence of a well intentioned idea has forced a rethink.

There are no easy answers or magic bullets when it comes to our future energy supply. In reality, we are probably going to require a mixture of different sources. Onshore wind is the most mature of all renewable energy technologies and is certainly far cheaper than offshore wind, but developments must be done with local communities, not to them.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.