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Lots Going On but Planning System “Must Do Better”

August 03, 2011

It’s just half a year since we opened our new state of the art hub in Glasgow, but an awful lot of stuff has happened since then!

From a starting point of around four small wind turbines per month we are well on our way to producing more than 350 small wind turbines in our first year here at Port Dundas - and our workforce has trebled. Less than a year since launching our US export drive, the Gaia-Wind 133-11kW turbine was given the best rating of the top 24 turbines available in the US; and our happy owner Malcolm Bronte-Stewart became the first Gaia-Wind turbine owner in the UK to generate more than 100 Megawatt hours of energy. 

Meanwhile the MCS Steering Group confirmed that the Microgeneration Certification Scheme is essentially closed to new small wind turbines. This is a validation of the substantial investment companies like Gaia-Wind have put into certification and ensuring consumer confidence. However, it does pose a dilemma for those who had planned to go with an uncertified turbine. They will now have to abandon their plans, switch to a certified small wind turbine or go ahead without the vital FIT subsidies.

Given Scotland’s Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing’s commitment to deliver 500 MW of community and locally-owned renewable energy by 2020, one of the biggest challenges to the growth, not just of Gaia-Wind but of the small wind turbine sector is the planning situation across the UK.  It might be true to say that the small wind turbine sector is catching the breeze from the nationwide debate about siting of large scale onshore wind projects. Harsh words and polarised opinions are characteristics of this debate and not often conducive to clarity: So we should be careful to in how we as a sector and our customers set about this discussion.

This is not just my complaint; NFU Scotland had this to say:

“Here in Scotland, more often than not, it is planning authorities who are central to the future of any renewable energy schemes being planned for the Scottish countryside… the level of inconsistency with regards to approval of projects can only drive frustration.”

More recently they have called for an independent expert group on renewables saying “a major stumbling blocks to progress ... is that the present regional planning approach can be unclear, and is nearing overload. We have a growing list of incidents where members believe planning authorities have failed to provide proportionate pathways for micro and major developments, and have been inconsistent in the standards demanded from applications.

On a wider level the UK Government has just launched a consultation on a Draft National Planning Policy Framework.  This may provide the impetus for a better planning environment.   NFU Vice President Gwyn Jones’s response was positive: “I’m pleased that the government appears to have recognised the need for a positive approach to development in rural areas as well as urban.”

Fergus Ewing has pledged a Scottish Renewables Advisory Themed Group, to provide expert advice from industry and other stakeholders. He has also weighed in with what has been described as a strongly-worded warning to Scotland’s regulators, pledging to champion the cause of business against public officials, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and the local planning apparatus.

This is encouraging, but as ever, we in the small wind turbine sector need to make sure that our issues and more importantly our customers’ issues are not drowned out by the “Big Guns”.  

Whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England, it is vital that farmers, small businesses and home owners with plans to install small wind turbines are able to move forward in a stable and unambiguous planning environment. This is a big investment and we at Gaia-wind work very hard to deliver to our customers with the minimum of complications and barriers. The planning process is clearly an important element of local democracy, so we want to work with planners and others to help develop a common sense approach to make this fantastic technology more readily available to as wide a spectrum as possible.

 

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