Wind Turbine Policy
- One of Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council’s views are to protect the countryside. We recognise that onshore wind can contribute to meeting the UK’s requirements for energy from renewable sources but wind turbines, if inappropriately sited, can also damage the natural beauty of the countryside and adversely affect the experience of residents and visitors. Where these competing environmental objectives conflict, the planning system has to arbitrate. There is a growing lack of confidence within rural communities in the planning system’s ability to deliver fair and balanced outcomes. This risks undermining public support for measures to produce renewable energy and, consequently, to address climate change which is itself a threat to the countryside.
- Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council has always recognised that the countryside and its landscapes will change over time in response to human needs. The countryside as a source of energy is one such example. In principle, Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council will accept wind turbine proposals where they are appropriately located, but will oppose proposals where the balance between energy output and landscape and amenity harm is judged to be unfavourable. This note explains how the planning system should enable such judgements to be made fairly and transparently.
The growth in onshore wind turbines
- Several factors have combined to drive the increase in the number of applications to erect onshore wind turbines. The following are particularly significant.
- a) The 2009 Renewable Energy directive sets a target for the UK to achieve 15% of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. The Government is also committed by the Climate Change Act 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
- b) The 2011 UK Renewable Energy Roadmap outlines the planned contribution by eight key renewable energy technologies to meeting these targets. Based on an analysis of potential deployment scenarios provided by the industry, the government estimates that onshore wind could contribute up to around 13GW of capacity across the UK by 2020. The number of turbines implied by this target will vary according to the size of the turbines developers seek to build.
- c) Through charges on electricity consumers’ energy bills, the Government channels financial support to renewable and low-carbon energy technologies to make them attractive to investors and help them compete alongside fossil fuels. This contributes to onshore wind being currently one of the least expensive renewable technologies to develop and operate which means it is favoured by investors.
- d) New planning guidance places greater emphasis on the planning system actively supporting renewable energy infrastructure, including onshore wind turbines, although it recognises the need to address cumulative landscape and visual impacts.
- Taken together, these policies have led to a dramatic increase in the number of onshore wind proposals entering the planning system. The Government has stated that most of the turbines required to meet the current 13 GW target are either already built, have received planning permission, or are awaiting planning permission. How many more onshore wind proposals will come forward, however, remains uncertain because it is not guaranteed that all the current applications will be built. Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council’s approach to the siting of onshore wind turbines
- Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council’s objective is to protect its area of outstanding natural beauty for the benefit of all. While onshore wind energy can make a contribution to achieving the policy targets identified above, Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council believes this should not come at the expense of the beauty, character and tranquillity of the community.
- Wind turbines can, through their design and function, cause significant harm to the landscape by introducing (amongst other things): visual dominance and artificial conspicuous movement into the landscape and views of it; built development in undeveloped areas; vertical man-made structures affecting people’s perceptions of tranquil or otherwise unspoilt areas.
Decisions on the scale and location of wind turbine developments must be carefully controlled to minimise harm to all rural landscapes, residents and wildlife especially in areas designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Accordingly, planning policy for onshore wind turbines should be rooted in the following principles which should be taken as a whole when assessing the suitability of proposals to contribute to renewable energy targets.
(a) Work within a locally accountable, strategic plan-led system to steer wind turbine development to areas of least landscape sensitivity, taking account of community views. As part of the planning process, local planning authorities should utilise landscape character assessment in order to establish the relative capacity of landscape character areas to accommodate wind turbine development. Strategic Environmental Assessment and public consultation should be used to identify issues and help to resolve conflicts at an early stage, investigate alternative options, and ensure all relevant environmental issues are properly considered. Wind speed data will be relevant to an assessment. Plans should promote a diverse range of technologies (in line with the Roadmap) but should not set technology-specific targets for renewables as this could restrict the development of other more efficient, but currently less commercially attractive or viable, alternatives and result in an over-reliance on onshore wind, despite its potentially significant adverse impact on the landscape.
(b) Protect the character of the countryside – its landscape, tranquillity, wildlife, heritage and amenity. Wind turbines should be sensitively located to take account of their individual and cumulative impact on the countryside. Consideration should be given to both their simultaneous (within one field of vision) and sequential (as one travels through the landscape) impacts, and the impact of associated infrastructure. Landscape character assessment and associated studies should be used to determine what types and what scale of renewable energy generation can be accommodated in an area without threatening its distinctive landscape character or tranquillity. Bettws Y Crwyn Parish Council is in principle opposed to proposals for wind turbine development which would cause harm to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beautyand in locally important areas where they are judged to have an unacceptable impact on the landscape, tranquillity, wildlife, heritage and amenity.
(c) Require proposals for wind turbines to be assessed on their individual merits. There should be no planning policy presumption in favour of renewable energy development, or wind turbines in particular. The planning authority should nevertheless ensure that its normal development control process requires submission and evaluation of detailed, specialist, environmental studies (conducted by suitably accredited and independent experts). The studies should cover all aspects of the proposal, including:
- cumulative impacts on the landscape (see (f) below);
- the visual and landscape impacts (even if cumulative impact is not an issue);
- the design and construction of associated development, such as access roads and transmission pylons; and
- all issues surrounding decommissioning.
Other important issues include: the impacts on the wider natural and historic environments; the impacts on businesses, tourists and local people (for example, noise, light pollution and flicker, loss of outlook and overbearing impacts, disruption to rights of way and other access routes); and disturbance to wildlife. Incomplete applications which fail to provide relevant information should be rejected by the planning authority. If an incomplete application is progressed, the authority should seek evidence to substantiate claims made in the application. Such claims which require rigorous investigation often include:
- the claimed energy outputs and the supporting evidence (this is particularly important
given that turbines perform on average at 25.2% of installed capacity6 and bearing in mind the NPPF’s emphasis on ensuring effective delivery of developments);
- the suitability of the location (see above);
- noise effects;
- community support, and the processes that were used to try and identify such support;
- consistency with local and national planning policies.
(d) Require the onshore wind industry to take legal and financial responsibility for the removal of wind turbines and associated infrastructure from the landscape once they come to the end of their useful life. Requirements for decommissioning wind turbines, once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life, including the removal of works, underground foundations and reinstatement of land to its original condition should be subject to a legal agreement between the landowner and developer. These should be linked to enforceable planning conditions and obligations, the latter including financial guarantees (e.g. bonds) to ensure that funds for reinstatement remain available despite changes of ownership or other changed circumstances. A turbine which consistently fails to deliver the estimated output assumed when planning permission was granted may well have reached the end of its “useful life” and should be removed.