Wind turbines at the centre of environmental battles

Wind turbines at the centre of environmental battles

Keith Davidson, Head of Environment PSL at LexisNexis looks at the latest court decisions on wind turbine developments and questions why many “environmentalists” place more importance on landscape enjoyment than the urgent need for emissions reduction.

The need for clean energy

Onshore wind is the UK’s largest source of renewable energy generation. Wind farms help to reduce CO2 emissions, provide energy security and contribute to the local and national economy.

The Committee for Climate Change has warned that we need a “step change” in renewables deployment to meet the UK carbon budgets and climate targets.

To encourage the transition to clean(er) energy (renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage), the government has introduced a fast track planning process for major infrastructure projects and a new financial framework with contracts for difference to replace the renewables obligation.

Not in my back yard

Despite the clear environmental and economic benefits, wind farms are opposed by many environmentalist and local pressure groups.

  1. In September 2014, Powys County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a 34m turbine was quashed by the High Court. Over 50 residents and the Campaign for the Protection Rural Wales complained that the turbine was “inappropriate for such an unspoilt location”. Legal flaws in the planning process were highlighted, including the landowner building the turbine before the planning decision had actually been granted.
  2. In December 2013 the Court of Appeal held that an objector to a 66m wind turbine in the Nottingham Greenbelt had permission to appeal on grounds that (a) permission could set a precedent for other wind turbine developments nearby (b) the turbine would not generate a significant amount of electricity and (c) the proposal would only benefit the applicant financially.

[Christopher James Holder v Gedling Borough Council 2014 EWCA Civic 599]

  1. In January 2013, the High Court agreed with campaigners from Anglesey Against Wind Turbines that Anglesey County Council’s decision to grant permission for a 40m turbine in an area of natural beauty was ill-considered and unlawful.

[Victoria Glynne Gregory and Welsh Ministers [2013] EWHC 63 Admin]

Why do environmentalists oppose the wind developments?

The above cases relate to single turbines rather than large windfarm projects. However, there are many common concerns, including damage to landscape quality, noise nuisance, the impact on birds, the effect on the local economy and the precedent for further applications.

In the latest Powys case, campaigners against the wind turbine argued that the Council has an overwhelming obligation to protect the area for “future generations”.

This is where the “environmental” arguments against wind turbines lose credibility.

Wind farms and other forms of renewable energy are essential for future generations and the future prosperity and energy security of the UK.

Dilemma for environmentalists and policy makers

In 2009 Ed Milliband (as Climate Change Secretary) said that opposition to wind farms should become as socially unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt.

The greater environmental goals need to prevail, although this is controversial with residents at Powys, who are concerned about overhead pylons.

Britain’s biggest windfarm inquiry

Powys County Council has been at the centre of environmental battles for the last three years with the planned 50 megawatt large scale windfarm developments at Llaithddu, Llandinam, Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen.

The Council’s £2.8 million public inquiry closed in May and the final decision is expected later in the year.

Who will come out on top – local residents, CPRW (the Campaign to Publicly Rubbish Wind) or the environment?

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