Wind power to grow at double predicted rate

Onshore wind turbines will be generating twice as much electricity by 2010 as previously thought, despite planning permission setbacks, new research has found.

Wind farms built between now and 2010 will contribute an extra 6000MW to the electricity grid, giving 5% of the UK’s total expected electricity needs by 2010, research published on Monday by the British Wind Energy Association concluded.

A day before the Climate Change Programme review is due, the research shows that onshore wind power alone could deliver almost half of the Government’s 10% renewables target for 2010.

But the surge in new-built wind farms will only be possible if “the pace of the planning system does not deteriorate beyond the current decision times,” the BWEA notes.

The study assumed that planning delay times and approval rates would remain at their current levels. The average time for a wind farm to obtain approval now ranges from 10 months for England to 28 months in Northern Ireland, while success rates for planning permission requests span from 59 to 100% depending on the region.

But for the biggest wind farms, producing 50MW and more, researchers took a more conservative 50% estimate of planning success.

These projects, requiring permission under Section 36 of the 1989 Electricity Act, are more likely to be opposed on the basis that they disfigure the landscape, and delayed or rejected, as the recent case of the Whinash development (see related story) demonstrates.

Scotland is to play a crucial role in the wind power expansion, accounting for 3,397MW of the predicted 6000MW. But with only about a sixth of planning requests approved for 50MW-plus wind farms in Scotland over the past two years, uncertainties remain.

The BWEA urges the Scottish Executive to speed up decision making for Section 36 applications. “Not all decisions are expected to be favourable, but they must be made in realistic timescales,” the report reads.

The report, which the BWEA describes as “the most comprehensive and realistic assessment ever undertaken of the UK’s onshore wind industry,” aims to feed into the on-going energy review.

Chris Tomlinson, BWEA’s Head of Onshore, said: “Onshore wind can play a hugely significant role in meeting renewable energy and climate change targets. Our research proves, very clearly, that onshore wind will deliver, bringing major benefits to the economy and the environment while securing our energy supplies.

“Wind is already firmly established as part of the UK’s energy mix and its continued expansion must be fully recognised in the Government’s Energy Review.”

Critics claim that onshore wind, which they oppose on the grounds of its effects on the landscape, is gaining ground at the expense of other renewable technologies.

Conservative shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth and shadow trade & industry secretary Alan Duncan said in a joint statement:

“We have repeatedly criticised the Renewables Obligation for the perverse incentives it produces. It promotes onshore wind, but makes it more difficult for other technologies to develop.

“This report show the fruit of this policy; wind doing well, but the Government failing to make progress on other technologies. That is why the Government is missing its ’10 per cent from renewables’ target and why CO2 emissions are higher today than in 1997.”

By Goska Romanowicz

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