Wind-Farm Aesthetics a Factor in U.K. Decisions, Minister Says

The British government should give more weight to aesthetics when deciding whether to approve wind farms, the nation’s new energy minister said.

The U.K., which is seeking to more than double its onshore wind capacity by 2020, should also work harder to assess the opinions of communities where the facilities will be built said John Hayes, who was named to the post in September. He said local residents must also consider the jobs, skills and economic benefits derived by cleaner forms of energy.

“There has to be much more done to engage communities and to ensure that wind goes where people want it,” Hayes said in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in London yesterday. Decisions on where to install turbines “must be shaped by both the effect of wind on the environment, the perfectly proper aesthetic consideration and a good practical argument.”

With many U.K. wind farms sited on hilltops in the countryside, the comments raise the prospect that wind-farm developers may find it harder to get planning permission. Almost a third of lawmakers in Hayes’s Conservative Party wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron in January calling wind turbines “inefficient and intermittent.”

While Hayes wasn’t among them, he opposed wind farms before his appointment in his own constituency in Lincolnshire, eastern England. The British Broadcasting Corp. in 2009 reported him as calling wind turbines a “terrible intrusion” on the landscape that fail to pass the “twin tests of environmental and economic sustainability.”

‘Aesthetic Considerations’

“I would neither want to nor can wipe the record clean with respect to my comments on wind, which are motivated by aesthetic considerations,” Hayes said. “I see all of life through an aesthetic prism, because beauty is what matters.”

Hayes’s Department of Energy and Climate Change on Sept. 20 started a consultation designed to ensure communities could derive benefits from wind farms built nearby, including through grants to build playgrounds. That was announced about two weeks after Hayes was appointed.

“There are good arguments around jobs and skills, and its value as a low carbon technology, and creating the mix we need to deliver resilience and sustainability of energy,” Hayes said about wind power. “Where development has high visibility buy-in, where it has real payback for the people where the development takes place, where the aesthetics are handled properly, then development can engender enthusiasm and support.”

Coalition Partners

The energy department is led by Secretary of State Ed Davey, a member of the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. Davey earlier this year won a battle with the Treasury over the scale of cuts to wind power support, securing a 10 percent reduction. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had sided with the 101 Conservative Party lawmakers who wrote to Cameron in January calling for a bigger cut.

Hayes said he’d support the government targets for renewable energy in general and for wind, since those were endorsed by the prime minister before he took his current post. The government targets 13 gigawatts of onshore wind capacity in 2020, up from 5 gigawatts now.

Hayes said the consultation announced last month is an opportunity to end the “pepper pot” approach Britain has taken to developing wind farms in favor of a more structured system.

‘Environmental Impact’

“They vary in terms of their productivity, they certainly vary in terms of their environmental impact, they vary massively in terms of the relationship they have with their local community,” Hayes said.

He said one wind farm outside Glasgow, Scotland, has become a “kind of local attraction,” while elsewhere “you’ve got wind turbines in rural areas where you have maybe only a handful, which are much less productive, and there is immense acrimony associated with it.”

“Now’s a chance to take a step back and to say how much does it matter, and if we acknowledge that it does matter, where do we put it and on what basis,” the minister said. “We need a new paradigm. We won’t get that until we settle some of the contentious wind arguments.”

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