The UK Government has produced its response to the Onshore Wind Call for Evidence (Community Engagement and Benefits). A number of measures have been recommended by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in relation to onshore wind farm developments in England. These include:
- A compulsory pre-application consultation with local communities in planning for onshore wind (this will require legislation to be promoted by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG))
- Empowering communities in planning, through various measures: - DECC will provide clear and reliable evidence on the impacts of onshore wind, through an “evidence toolkit” - DECC have commissioned a series of local seminars on the costs, benefits, impacts and opportunities for positive action on climate change - The Planning and Advisory Service will publish examples of local policies on renewable energy - DCLG will issue updated planning practice guidelines on renewable energy to assist local councils
- Publication of good practice guidance for developers, communities and local authorities, to be monitored through a community engagement register
- Fivefold increase in community benefit package, from £1,000/MW installed capacity to £5,000/MW installed capacity
- The introduction of a community benefits register, for transparency
- The publication, later this year, of a Community Energy Strategy
- The publication of new guidance for potential supply-chain business
Most of the measures look like “more of the same”, with a general theme of improved Government materials and access to information. The most noteworthy change, however, is the fivefold increase in the community benefits package, which is supported (and promoted) by UK Renewables. The trade body recognises that the scale of that increase may make some wind farm developments non-viable, and it is an interesting measure to promote when many commentators are predicting a slowdown in the rate of growth of onshore wind due to lack of suitable sites.
Nevertheless, the increase in the cost of providing community benefits will undoubtedly be adopted by the industry. This may encourage developers to be more creative with their benefits, and rather than creating pots of cash for the community to spend, developers may want to consider local electricity discounting schemes, where the cost of the benefit (a discount from electricity tariffs for residents in the vicinity of a wind farm if they switch to a new supplier) may be shared with the new supplier. This meets the industry obligation on community benefits, but may make the pain more bearable – and therefore, a project more viable.