Renewable energy projects 'are being held up by red tape'

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More than than 13,000 megawatts (mw) of energy capacity are stuck in the planning process, enough to power at least 7.5 million homes

More than than 13,000 megawatts (mw) of energy capacity are stuck in the planning process, enough to power at least 7.5 million homes, add some 17 per cent to UK electricity generation, and take the country half-way down the road to the 2020 renewable energy targets.

But as the government-backed Planning Bill designed to address bottlenecks in the regime moves to the next stage in its progress through Parliament this week, experts say the new legislation will do little to ease the congestion.

The latest figures, obtained by The Independent, tot up to almost 10,500mw of wind power and around 2,500mw from other renewable sources, tied up in red tape. If all the capacity came on stream, it would triple the UK’s renewable output from 5 to 15 per cent.

The problem is less that applications to build wind farms are being turned down, but that the process is so much slower than for other building schemes. Some 71 per cent of all other major development proposals, such as retail or general industrial, are turned around within the statutory 16-week target period. But a measly 7 per cent of wind farm plans get an answer in the same time period, and on average the process is now taking nearly two years.

The Planning Bill, which goes into the reporting stage in the House of Lords on Thursday, does nod in the direction of the problem. The proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), designed to expedite the process for developments of national importance, will take over the determination of applications for onshore wind farms of 50mw or above. But the vast majority of plans are for smaller installations, which will not be affected by the legislative overhaul.

Maria McCaffery, the chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association, said: “We have about 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity supply stuck in the planning system for onshore wind projects alone, and they won’t be helped one jot by the planning bill and that is because individually they are too small to be affected.”

The impact on developers’ costs is significant, and will feed through to consumers. Philip Wolfe, the director general of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “The issue is the sheer number of applications getting stuck in the system for so long. Typic-ally, planning delays might push up project costs by as much as £1m, which is just adding to everybody’s energy bills.”

Proposals not big enough to be taken on by the IPC will be left for consideration by local regimes. The results mean both continuing de-lays and wasted effort as local planners consider each application separat-ely, and re-investigate a host of issues already dealt with at a national level – such as whether wind turbines kill birds, or whether the farms are necessary. Mr Wolfe said: “We are not trying to take anything away from local planners, but to allow them to focus on local issues.”

Under the EU Renewables Directive, the UK is committed to delivering 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.

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