Will local incentives cut through wind farm planning problems?

One of the major issues facing renewables developers in the UK, especially those of onshore wind farms, is fighting through local planning problems. The British public (to generalise) has never been overly keen on the sight of mammoth wind turbines cluttering the green and pleasant land.

Previously, the answer to this has been national policy statements, which set out the national need for new energy infrastructure, so bypassing one test carried out by local planning authorities.

But the problem has never been that local authorities weren’t convinced by the need for nuclear plants or wind farms, but that local opposition was too strong.

This is why Charles Hendry, the energy minister, is proposing to allow local communities to benefit directly from the increased tax would flow from such a development.

“At present too often a community can see what it will lose by having a wind farm in its midst but it cannot see what it gains,” he will tell an audience at Westminster Hall.

If (and it’s a big if) the policy is agreed by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who is conducting a wider review of business rates, it is much more likely to succeed than national policy statements. But will it be enough to push through enough development to meet the target of having 15 per cent of energy generation from renewables by 2020?

Juliet Davenport of Good Energy, a supplier of electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources, thinks it will help:

We think Charles Hendry’s proposals make good sense. It’s right that local communities should share the benefits of living near wind farms.

But others in the industry acknowledge that tax breaks may still not be enough to cut through the Nimbyism that drives much of local policy. One industry exec told me yesterday that there was an endemic cultural antipathy towards wind turbines in the UK (perhaps unsurprisingly, he said such objections do not get raised in the Netherlands, where they are more used to windmills near their back gardens). He wasn’t sure whether a tax break would break through that, but admitted there weren’t many other options.

And judging by the reaction of the National Association of Wind Farm Action Groups, which campaigns against farms, his doubts are well founded. They told The Telegraph:

It is utterly naive of the energy minister to imagine that local communities, who have shown the strength of their opposition throughout the UK to inappropriately sited wind farms, to imagine that community funds can buy off their opposition.

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