The number of wind turbines is set to quadruple over the next decade under government plans to force through wind farm planning applications
Ministers have put wind power at the heart of a Renewable Energy Strategy, which is due to be released on Wednesday. It will outline how Britain is to meet its target of a 34 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2020.
The Government’s plans are likely to include more than 4,000 additional onshore turbines by 2020, many built at beauty spots and on high ground which would make them visible across miles of open countryside.
Another 3,000 turbines would be installed at sea — some of them visible from the coast, though others could be up to 100 miles offshore. Ministers are considering several measures to push wind farm planning applications through more quickly.
Of the 93 applications submitted for onshore wind farms in the past three years, only 35 were approved by local authorities. Another 14 were eventually passed after an appeal but almost half of the original applications failed.
In England, the South East, South West, East Midlands, London and the North West regions have all set targets for installing a combined total 1,310 megawatts of wind turbine capacity by 2010. So far they have installed only 340 megawatts (MW) and have another 66MW under construction.
The worst performing area is the South West, which has so far achieved only 15 per cent of its 2010 target of 355MW and has no wind farms under construction. There are 2,327 onshore wind turbines in Britain, each with an average capacity of 1.5MW — enough to power 840 homes. Offshore there are 210 larger turbines, the latest of which have a capacity of 5MW.
Critics of wind farms point out that they rely on an intermittent source of energy and have to be backed up by fossil fuel or nuclear power when there is no wind. They also object to the visual intrusion of many turbines.
Dustin Benton, policy officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Wind turbines need to be sensitively sited, because they are large industrial structures and inappropriate for certain landscapes.”
The CBI has also thrown its weight behind the anti-turbine lobby by calling on the Government to focus less on wind power and more on building new nuclear power stations and coal plants with carbon emission-capturing technology. It said Britain was sleepwalking towards an unhealthy reliance on gas for electricity generation if the wind targets could not be met.
The Government has already put pressure on councils to approve wind farms, issuing guidance which states that applicants should expect “expeditious and sympathetic” treatment.
The British Wind Energy Association, the trade body for suppliers and operators, wants ministers to adopt a “national presumption” in favour of all renewable energy developments and proposes a “flying squad” of experts to help councils to overcome objections.
Ministers will claim on Wednesday that 250,000 “green” jobs could be created as Britain increases renewable energy from 2 per cent to 15 per cent by 2020. Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: “We can lead in the green jobs of the future, making wind turbines, making parts for nuclear power stations.”
However, Britain’s only wind turbine factory, in Newport on the Isle of Wight, is due to close this month with the loss of 600 jobs. Any new turbines are likely to be made abroad.
The trade union Unison said: “It is criminal to actually have the only wind turbine factory close. The Government should be intervening now.”