U.K. to Share More Wind-Power Wealth With Local Residents

The U.K. will give residents more say over onshore wind farms and higher payments to communities affected by them, an effort to heal a rift over the technology that’s divided lawmakers and sparked local resistance.

Wind farm developers must pay 5,000 pounds ($7,721) a megawatt each year to communities that host projects, a five-fold increase from the current rate, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said in a statement today.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration is seeking to balance a need to boost renewable energy and meet climate goals with the wishes of voters who are concerned about noise and visibility of turbines. About 100 lawmakers in Cameron’s Conservative Party last year called for subsidy cuts for the machines, saying they’re a blight on the landscape.

“It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable -- economically, environmentally and socially,” Energy Secretary Ed Davey said. “Today’s announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm.”

New planning guidance will require that communities are consulted earlier on applications and that more weight is given to concerns about the impact on the landscape. For significant projects, such consultation will be compulsory before applications are lodged. Housing and Local Government Minister Mark Prisk said today in Parliament “significant” would depend on turbine height, size and density of plants and wouldn’t include a small turbine in a backyard.

Slippery Slope

Environmental group WWF urged government not to stifle onshore wind plans -- which it called the cheapest form of clean energy -- with the proposals “just to placate a vocal minority.” Some industry went further, calling the announcement an “attack” on the technology.

“This is just another government move against onshore wind dressed up as localism,” Dale Vince, founder of U.K. wind developer Ecotricity Group Ltd., said in a statement. “Will we see the same logic being applied to the new generation of gas plants and nuclear power stations? How about the third runway at Heathrow, waste incinerators, new roads or is it only wind power? This is a slippery slope.”

Industry will be expected to increase community benefit payments for the lifetime of the wind farm. Residents agreeing to a 20-megawatt park could receive 100,000 pounds a year, or as much as 400 pounds a year off household electricity bills, if local authorities decide to use the money that way.

Thwart Wind Parks

The requirements may thwart some wind parks that already require significant upfront investment, according to RenewableUK, an industry group.

“This guidance from government will help to shape the way our industry engages with local people even more closely in the future,” RenewableUK Chief Executive Officer Maria McCaffery said. Funds have already been used to pay for sports facilities and training programs for young people, she said. The rates apply to new projects in England, according to the group.

“Too many communities have felt under siege from wholly inappropriate applications and this brings them long-awaited relief,” Energy Minister Michael Fallon said in Parliament.

The new rules will not apply retrospectively to plants where decisions have already been made, Prisk said. For projects in the planning system, authorities must now consider the guidance, which does not amount to a veto on plans, he said.

“This government firmly believes renewables do have an important role to play in a balanced energy policy but we also feel that planning works best when local people are able to shape their local environment,” Prisk said.

The U.K. also plans to boost community ownership and investment in projects and will publish a strategy for that in autumn, DECC said. It also opened a consultation today on how local communities can manage and generate their own energy.

Britain is seeking to get about 30 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, up from almost 12 percent now. Onshore wind provided 3 percent of U.K. power in 2011, according to DECC. Planning approvals in England have dropped from about 70 percent of applications approved in 2008 and 2009 to 35 percent in 2012 and 2013, according to DECC.

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