Planning & Environment

The Scottish Government’s draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement accompanies the consultation on the draft Scottish Energy Strategy. Responses to both are invited by 30 May.

The existing policy of supporting deployment of onshore wind will continue, with the aim of achieving climate change targets at the lowest cost.

While the draft Statement supports the need to design new wind farms, including repowered sites, to maximise efficiency and increase viability, it does not explicitly support higher tip heights for turbines. It states only that efficiency can be achieved through well-sited developments and using the latest technologies, including larger turbines.

At the recent Scottish Renewables annual conference, Chris Stark (Director of Energy and Climate Change, Scottish Government) encouraged developers to provide evidence on which design efficiencies would be needed to deliver unsubsidised wind farms. Perhaps a strong response from industry to the draft Statement will encourage the Scottish Government to  show more concrete support for some specific design efficiencies.

We’ve noted before the important role for repowering. The omission which will disappoint the industry (although many expected it) was the position on repowering – every repowering application will continue to be assessed on its own merits, and not treated differently from a new application. Some developers were looking for a policy presumption in favour of continued use of the site as a windfarm, and clarity on the existing wind farm being the baseline for environmental impact assessment.

The draft Statement seeks views on the inclusion of wind farm efficiency as a material consideration in the section 36 consents guidance. Applications would continue to be assessed on their own merits, and any new approach would not imply a presumption of approval for larger turbines. Possible approaches mentioned are: a threshold for wind efficiency, the use of best practice guidelines, or approaches which vary according to the size of the development. Developers might have to explain how the design balances environmental impacts against the contribution to energy targets.

How would this work in practice? Efficiency would be one of the many factors weighed up in deciding whether to grant consent. It could assist developers seeking consent for higher tip heights; but it could also be used as grounds to refuse a project if the efficiency was not seen as high enough to outweigh the impacts of the scheme. Could it change the traditional approach, which focuses on the acceptability of development, not whether there could be a better (ie. more efficient) development?

There is no mention of whether efficiency could also be a material consideration for sub 50MW projects consented through the planning system. A common approach is always preferable. Why should efficiency be a relevant issue for a 50MW wind farm, but not for a 45MW scheme?

The draft Statement also discusses a strategic approach for onshore wind. It rules out a national spatial approach and regional targets, and seeks views on two options:

  • Locally coordinated approach – encouraging developers to work together to consider the most strategically efficient and cost-effective use of land and energy networks
  • Business as usual – retaining the current consenting process

Wind developers will welcome the continuing support for deployment of onshore wind, but will be disappointed at the lack of concrete support for higher tip heights or “presumption in favour” policies. Onshore wind development will continue to be about “location, location, location” – or maybe “location, location and efficiency”.

Neil Collar

Neil Collar

Neil is consistently rated as one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers. He is well known for both his planning inquiry advocacy and his advisory work. He has also written many books and articles and speaks regularly at conferences. Neil is a Legal Associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute. He is identified as a ranked individual for planning; “Neil Collar’s reputation precedes him”, says Chambers & Partners 2009/10, with clients feeding back on his “good sense and instinct”.
Neil Collar