An expert’s view of the wind farm issue

New laws could boost onshore wind farm approvals, say experts

Borrowed from article by Susanna Gillman Monday, 09 May 2011 (hope they don’t mind!)

New planning legislation could be used to boost the approval of onshore wind farms under a recommendation from the Government’s climate change committee.

The committee has told the Government that further approvals will be required to deliver the onshore wind ambition in its renewable energy strategy.

The Government has set a target of 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020.

But approval rates for onshore wind projects have historically been low, with less than 50 per cent of schemes getting the go ahead and the planning period taking around two years.

In its renewable energy review, the Committee on Climate Change said even with a push for more community-led wind farm projects, there is a “significant risk that onshore wind and transmission investments will not gain local public support, given high levels of resistance from some groups”.

It concludes that achieving higher rates of approval will need central government decisions, “possibly under new planning legislation that explicitly sets this out”.

The committee, which was requested to advise on the scope to increase ambition for green energy, said renewables should make a 30-45 per cent contribution by 2030. More than 6GW could come from onshore wind through the 2020s, it suggests.

Onshore wind is also likely to be one of the cheapest low-carbon options, according to the committee. Offshore wind schemes are still expensive and should not be increased unless there is clear evidence of cost reduction, it warned.

Nuclear power is currently the most cost-effective of the low carbon technologies, and should form part of the mix assuming safety concerns can be addressed, it added.

Nick Medic, spokesman for Renewable UK, trade body for the wind and marine renewables industries, said rather than creating more legislation a better approach would be to make a case for the economic benefits of onshore wind to local communities.

A DECC spokesman said energy secretary Charles Hendry has stressed the need for greater local ownership so communities can see the benefits of wind farms as part of the future energy mix.

Wind turbine flicker is a problem

Even the Daily Telegraph finds it difficult to resist the occasional Sun newspaper type pun when the opportunity presents itself.  In this case, ‘Flicker of hope for the wind turbine victims’ might seem slightly flippant given the impact on peoples’ lives this issue has.

However, not wishing to be churlish about this rare attempt at humour, I hope what they’ve reported is accurate and can be used as a guide for those of us wrestling with the issue of wind turbine development.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), commissioned a report that has come back with recommendation regarding the flicker caused by the rotation of turbine blades when the sun is low in the sky, especially in the winter months, which is often a time of the strongest winds.

Of course a report is one thing, the government updating their guidance is another thing altogether and we can all think of at least one or two government commissioned reports that were the subject of great fanfares of publicity, but then disappeared without trace.

The report recommends that wind turbines should not be located closer than 10 times the diameter of the turbine rotor disc, to a dwelling or office building.  Unfortunately, they also suggest a tolerance level where turbines can be put closer, with a distance of 500 meters as long, as long as the flicker doesn’t last for more than 30 minutes a day!  I suppose that makes some sense, given that the sun (or rather the Earth) is constantly moving, the flicker should at least move away from those being ‘flickered’ after a short period of time.  However, 30 minutes could feel a lot longer if you aren’t actually able to leave the room affected, as might happen in a workplace.

Here in the very flat lands of the Lincolnshire Fens, people are also concerned about the visual impact and unfortunately this recommendation won’t really help us with that issue.  Unlike many other parts of the country, turbines are visible over much greater distances and even when you do the numbers on turbine with a diameter of 80 meters (800 meters clearance) a turbine of that size will still be very visible to the local community.  In the case of the Fens, I also wonder if 10 times the diameter is actually enough.