Amidst the battering that the renewable energy industry has been taking in recent months there is one technology which seems to have been hit harder than others. Arguably the cheapest source of renewable power, wind has faced subsidy cuts, retrospective changes to grandfathering provisions and significant changes to planning policy – which combine to undermine the profitability and stability of the technology.
One of the most aggressive changes to wind as a technology is the proposed removal under the (Energy Bill) of wind turbine developments of over 50 megawatts (MW) from the list of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) that fall to be determined through the development consent order process. NSIP applications benefit from a front loaded and fast(ish) track determination process, which exists alongside the well establish determination procedures for 'smaller' applications which require planning permission. NSIPs are handled by the Planning Inspectorate, with the final determination being made by the Secretary of State (following an inquiry held by Inspectors). Final decisions are made with reference to the national policy statements on energy and other matters relevant to the local area including local plans.
The proposals would remove onshore wind from the NSIP scheme, and place decision making back in the hands of the local authority. The new policy, as stated in a recent Ministerial Statement, is that local planning authorities should only grant planning permission for wind developments where:
- The development site is in an area identifies as suitable for wind energy development in a local or neighbourhood plan; and
- Following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.
Suitable areas for wind energy development will need to have been allocated clearly in a Local or Neighbourhood plan. Suitability based on other factors, such as wind resource, will not be sufficient and whether or not a proposed development has local backing will need to be decided by the planning authority.
Recent statements by Amber Rudd have also added to developers' fears – including a statement that that local people would have the final say on planning applications, implying either that there will not be a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate where developments are refused due to local concerns or that such appeals would be pointless as Inspectors would not overrule local decision makers.
Whilst there has been some backtracking on that issue, with a spokesperson for the DCLG confirming that there will still be a right to appeal, Inspectors are still required to take into account the new guidelines including whether the scheme has local backing in their determinations. Given the Government's clear stance, it is likely that this will result in Inspectors coming down against development where there are appreciable local objections – at least for as long as the Ministerial Statement stands.