From the Millennium Dome to the Wembley pitch and the National Health Service computer system, moaning about how badly the UK does when it comes to large public infrastructural works is a national pastime.
So it was axiomatic among the country’s renewable energy enthusiasts that Britain had one of the worst systems in the world for granting – or more often, not granting – planning permission to wind farms.
But that turns out to be far from the case: rather, the UK is among the better countries in Europe for gaining a planning decision quickly.
The UK ranks a very respectable eighth out of European Union member states, in terms of the average time taken for a wind farm to be decided upon. It takes about 27 months on average in the UK, according to a league table drawn up by the European Wind Energy Association. This is slower than Finland (the fastest, at only eight months), Austria (10) and Romania (15).
But it is a little bit faster than France (29), Germany (30), Ireland (33) and Sweden (43). And it is positively speedy compared with the slowcoaches of the EU wind farm race – Spain and Portugal, where it takes 58 months on average to get a wind farm approved.
This will surprise many people. Spain has been one of the most successful countries in building up its wind energy infrastructure, with a boom in wind farm construction that only petered out with the recession. Wind farm developers there also face what is in some ways an easier process than in other countries, because they have only 10 authorities they need to contact – a snip compared to Greece, where would-be generators need to deal with a staggering 41 different agencies. (In the UK, it is 15.)
As for Portugal, its prime minister has publicly staked his country’s future on a massive expansion of renewable energy, including wind, hydroelectricity, and wave and tidal power systems.
EWEA says countries must do better. “If Europe is serious about reaching 20 per cent renewables by 2020, some member states need to streamline their consent procedures for wind farms,” said Justin Wilkes, policy director at EWEA. “There are a number of actions all member states could take: creating a one-stop-shop approach for contacting the different authorities, writing clear guidelines for developers, and introducing better and streamlined spatial planning procedures.”
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