Renewable energy: boosted or becalmed?

“… in terms of the electricity market we are at a moment of significant transition. The economics of every other potential source of supply will be measured against the falling costs of wind and solar…”
– Financial Times, 16 October 2017

“Spending on renewables in the UK is set to plummet 95% over the next three years…”
– New Scientist, 5 August 2017

So, who’s right? Are we entering a golden age of renewable energy, or is the growth of renewables faltering?

Falling short

One view, characterised by a New Scientist article published in August, is that renewable energy isn’t taking off fast enough to avoid major global warming. While acknowledging that globally renewables are growing extremely fast, largely thanks to China, the article notes that wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy supply just 8% of the world’s electricity, and only 3% of total global energy use:

“Even counting hydro and nuclear, just 14% of or our energy isn’t from fossil fuels – and this figure has barely changed over the past 25 years.”

The article goes on to point out that most subsidy-free renewable projects remain unprofitable, even as they scale up. And the intermittent and variable nature of renewables calls into question the feasibility of getting all our electricity from wind and solar power.

An “unprecedented acceleration”

Others see the future of renewables in a rosier light. The International Energy Agency’s 2017 review of renewables noted that, as costs decline, wind and solar are becoming increasingly comparable to new-build fossil fuel alternatives in a growing number of countries.

The report highlighted the dominant role of China, which is responsible for 40% of global renewable capacity growth, and is also the world market leader in hydropower and, bioenergy for electricity and heat, as well as electric vehicles. But the IEA also noted the strong growth of renewables in India and the United States. And although the report indicated that renewables growth in the European Union would be 40% lower between 2017-22, compared with the previous five-year period, it pointed to significant progress in some EU countries concerning wind and solar power:

“By 2022, Denmark is expected to be the world leader, with almost 70% of its electricity generation coming from variable renewables. In some European countries (Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom), the share of wind and solar in total generation will exceed 25%.”

Falling costs

Further signs that renewables are reaching a tipping point came in September, when the cost of offshore wind power in the UK reached a record low. The results of competitive auctions for new wind farm contracts to provide clean electricity showed that, for the first time, the cost of generating energy from offshore wind farms fell below the price that nuclear reactors will charge in future. The new wind farms will power the equivalent of more than 3.3 million homes.

The news prompted Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable to call for a radical reappraisal of the government’s energy policy, while The Economist Intelligence Unit said the development showed “the trajectory of cheaper renewable technologies is irreversible”.

Government policy

However, while welcoming the announcement, cautious voices argue that renewables will not fulfil their potential without significant increases in government support. The Green Alliance – a UK environmental policy think tank – has called on the UK government for a rethink on renewables:

“…we are still in the midst of a renewables policy freeze, in place since 2015, under which onshore wind has been banned, solar auctions have been curtailed and energy efficiency measures have slowed. A rapid thaw is needed soon, the government can allocate the final five per cent it needs to spend to meet its climate targets (roughly £0.6 billion) to avoid the clean power gap that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned of in its recent progress report.”

In October, the government published its Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out its proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the 2020s. While the Green Alliance welcomed the strategy’s aim to “secure the most industrial and economic advantage from the global transition to a low carbon economy”, the renewables sector was disappointed that the document contained little on the role of onshore wind to help move the UK towards its goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Putting things into perspective

Nearly a third of the UK’s electricity between April and June this year was generated from renewable sources – a new record, and up a quarter on the same period last year. But, while it’s clear that renewables are playing a greater role in UK energy generation, it’s important to maintain a sense of proportion. As the Financial Times has noted:

“Wind and solar are focused almost entirely on the production of electricity, which represents around 40 per cent of final energy demand worldwide and accounts for a slightly higher proportion of total emissions. The main areas of energy consumption — heat, transport beyond light vehicles and industrial use including the production of steel, cement and petrochemicals — are as yet largely unaffected.”

The outlook for renewable sources appears bright, but there’s clearly a long way to go before renewables can overturn the dominant position of fossil fuels in powering the planet.


If you enjoyed this article, you might also find this blog post of interest:

Is the sun setting on the UK’s onshore wind industry?

Reflections from the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference

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The theme of this year’s conference posed a question to speakers and delegates of the conference: is the current planning climate in Scotland presenting “new opportunities, or more of the same?”

Delegates came together in the COSLA building in Edinburgh to discuss all areas of planning and environmental law in Scotland. The gathering included a range of organisations and sectors, including lawyers and solicitors, planners, engineers, academics and civil servants.

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Image by Rebecca Jackson

The morning session focused on energy, infrastructure and economic development. Ross Martin (@SCDIChief), chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry kicked the day off with a discussion of place making in Scotland. He highlighted the economic benefit of good planning, noting that when it is done well planning has a core role in economic development strategies and can facilitate growth within an area.

This was followed by a discussion from Professor Becky Lunn from the University of Strathclyde who gave delegates some interesting food for thought in her discussion of the environmental, economic and moral consequences of Scotland’s energy choices.  A day after Ineos imported its first container of US shale gas to its Grangemouth refinery, Professor Lunn told delegates, that no energy solution is problem free, but “if we (Scotland) say no to the domestic production of gas and nuclear energy we are saying yes to something else”- the demand needs to be met regardless of whether the energy is produced in the UK or not. She questioned the moral arguments that it could be acceptable to import shale from elsewhere, while we are not content enough with the level of safety, the security of regulation and its wider environmental impact to do it ourselves (something which was picked up on by Ruth Davidson later that same day in FMQ’s). Professor Lunn advocated a strong public element to discussion, and a robust and well-informed debate around long term energy choices. She also warned against “crisis led” energy policy-making dictated by rhetoric of “fear and shortage”.

housing estate

 

Head of planning at Homes for Scotland, Tammy Adams (@TammyHFS) discussed the delivery of high quality homes in Scotland within the wider planning context. She highlighted the challenges and opportunities for house building, arguing that delivering new homes in Scotland should be “a golden thread” running through the Scottish planning system, and that an effort should be made to better align market realities and site strategy, but maintain flexibility of delivery.

The penultimate session of the morning was delivered by Sara Thiam, director of the Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland. She looked at the role of infrastructure and planning. Sara discussed the potential of devolution to city regions to grow the economy by allowing city regions to plan and build infrastructure which reflects their local social and economic needs. She also spoke about the need to be strategic about infrastructure choices, not just pushing increased finance for infrastructure, but targeting it strategically, investing in green infrastructure where possible, and thinking long-term about projects and desired outcomes.

The morning was brought to a close by event sponsors Terra Firma Chambers who provided some useful insights into  up-to-date case law, including notable cases that many delegates could draw on for their day to day decision making and planning submissions.

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Image by Rebecca Jackson

The afternoon session opened with a panel session which featured insights from four speakers: Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at Ulster University; Craig McLaren, RTPI Director of Scotland and Ireland; John McNairney, Chief Planner at the Scottish Government; and John Hamilton, CEO Winchburgh. The discussions focussed on the new opportunities presented in planning in Scotland, including the review of planning, building homes, creating more joined up planning and the planning process more generally. Discussions were wide ranging, generating a lot of interaction both within the panel and between the panel and the delegates. The discussions were wrapped up by a second case law update.

The final presentation of the day was delivered by Steve Rogers, Head of Planning and Regulatory Services at Dumfries and Galloway Council and Chair of Heads of Planning Scotland. He spoke about his experiences with smart resourcing and the importance of leadership in planning.

Overall it was a day full of insight and expertise, which provided everyone who attended with the opportunity to think critically about the state of planning in Scotland from a number of different positions. It posed questions to be considered, allowed delegates to reflect on their day to day practice and highlighted opportunities and potential barriers for planning in Scotland in the future.


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Is the sun setting on the UK’s onshore wind industry?

 

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In its 2015 election manifesto, the Conservative Party made a clear promise:

“We will halt the spread of onshore windfarms”

Soon after winning the election, the Conservative government followed through on this commitment, introducing three key changes concerning onshore wind in England and Wales:

  1. New planning guidance was issued stating that onshore wind farms must be sited in areas “identified as suitable for wind energy in a local or neighbourhood plan”, and that any objections from local communities to proposed developments must be “fully addressed”.
  2. Energy secretary Amber Rudd announced the phasing-out of renewables subsidies, with onshore wind subsidies ending a year earlier than planned, in April 2016.
  3. The government’s 2015 Energy Bill (England and Wales) included a measure to devolve powers to determine major onshore wind farm applications (with a capacity of more than 50 megawatts) to local authorities.

Onshore wind in context

Since the construction of the UK’s first commercial wind farm in 1991, onshore wind energy has grown to become the country’s largest source of renewable energy generation. With more than 8GW of operational capacity, onshore wind accounted for 11% of the country’s electricity last year, reaching a record 17% in December.

An Office for National Statistics survey reported that, in 2014, about 3,000 businesses were operating in the onshore wind sector, which employed 6,500 people across the UK – 3,000 in England, 2,500 in Scotland, and 500 each in Wales and Northern Ireland, generating £2.8bn.

Renewable UK, which represents the wind and marine energy sector, argues that onshore wind is an environmentally-friendly and cost effective form of energy:

“A modern 2.5MW (commercial scale) turbine, on a reasonable site, will generate 6.5 million units of electricity each year – enough to make 230 million cups of tea.”

In recent years, higher capacity turbines and improvements and reductions in installation, operation and maintenance costs have made onshore wind more economically attractive. The European Wind Energy Association claims that onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new power generation in Europe.

Responses to the policy changes

In its manifesto, the Conservative Party acknowledged that onshore wind makes a meaningful contribution to the country’s energy mix, but observed that onshore windfarms often fail to win public support, and are unable by themselves to provide the capacity that a stable energy system requires. The government has since underlined that there is no longer any need for subsidising onshore wind and that the £800m in subsidies added about £10.00 to an annual household energy bill.

An article in The Economist agreed that subsidies for renewables were too generous and pointed out that onshore wind is an unreliable energy source. This was echoed by former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who said:  “There is absolutely no place for subsidising wind – a failed medieval technology which during the coldest day of the year so far produced only 0.75 per cent of the electricity load.”

However, environmental campaigners, such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Jonathon Porritt, argued that scrapping support for wind turbines, rather than phasing them out, would increase the cost of meeting carbon reduction targets, or increase the risk of missing them. This, in turn, they said would lead the UK to pursue more expensive decarbonisation options, resulting in additional costs to consumers.

Meanwhile, energy companies warned that the policy changes had made some renewable power projects “uninvestable”.  In October 2015, the Financial Times reported that one renewable energy company had scrapped nine onshore wind projects in England in the previous four months, halting investments of more than £250m. The company said it had instead switched its investments to projects in the Netherlands and Germany.

In Scotland, which has 61% of the UK’s onshore wind capacity, the Scottish Government has stressed that it continues to support onshore wind and other sources of renewable energy. In December 2015, Scottish chief planner John McNairney wrote to Scotland’s heads of planning explaining that the administration has not changed its stance on onshore wind farms or energy targets.

The planning changes

With regard to the planning aspects of the policy reforms, the Royal Town Planning Institute questioned the need to enable major wind farm projects to be decided locally, given that local planning authorities already have final consenting power for onshore wind farms under 50 megawatts, which make up the majority of applications.

In July 2015, Planning Resource reported that the policy was already having an impact. Kieran Tarpy, managing director at planning consultancy Entrust, said that within days of the new guidance being announced one council had refused a planning application based on the need for community backing. He predicted that the policy changes would have a “dramatic impact” on the number of proposals going into the system.

However, last month, Planning Resource reported that some local authorities, including councils in Hull, Cumbria and Devon, have drawn up draft policies to allocate areas as suitable for wind energy.

The UK government may still be committed to halting the spread of onshore wind farms, but it appears that rumours of the death of onshore wind have been exaggerated.

Fossil fuel divestment:an idea whose time has come?

Introduction

Within just a few years, fossil fuel divestment has overtaken previous campaigns targeting apartheid in South Africa and tobacco advertising to become the fastest growing divestment movement in history.

In September, a report from Arabella Advisors found that 436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets had committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

What is Fossil Fuel Divestment?

Organisations, communities and individuals commit to fossil fuel divestment (FFD) by making a public pledge to stop buying stocks, bonds and investment funds from energy companies whose primary business relies upon coal, gas or oil. They also promise to invest in climate solutions, such as clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

Who’s involved in FFD?

The roots of the FFD movement may be found in the college campuses of the United States, where student campaigning has resulted in around 40 educational institutions (including the universities of California, Georgetown and Stanford) making full or partial divestments from fossil fuels.

The movement has spread rapidly beyond the education sector, taking in religious groups, municipalities, NGOs and healthcare organisations. While most divesting institutions are US-based, FFD has also become a worldwide movement, with the cities of Oslo in Norway and Uppsala in Sweden, and the Australian Capital Territory Government making their own commitments. Pledges to divest from fossil fuels have also been made by some surprising sources, including the Australian city of Newcastle (home to the largest coal port in the world) and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune).

In the UK, the FFD movement has also seen exponential growth. Last year, the University of Glasgow became the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Since then, other higher education institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Surrey and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have made pledges to reduce their fossil fuel investments.

Four UK local authorities – Oxford, Bristol, Kirklees and Cambridge – have committed to FFD, while councils in York, Bradford, Reading and Hackney are reviewing their fossil fuel investments.

Other high-profile organisations committing to FFD include the British Medical Association and the Environment Agency’s pension fund.

The factors driving FFD

Moral and economic arguments have converged to propel fossil fuel divestment. FFD advocates say it’s morally wrong to profit from climate change, a view powerfully expressed by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas, and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

There is also a growing recognition in the business world of the financial risks associated with investment in fossil fuels. As the Arabella Advisors report observed:

“Reports by Citigroup analysts, HSBC, Mercer, the International Energy Agency, Bank of England, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and others have offered evidence of a significant, quantifiable risk to portfolios exposed to fossil fuel assets in a carbon constrained world. The leaders of several of the largest institutions to divest in the past year have cited climate risk to investment portfolios as a key factor in their decisions.”

At the same time, falling costs have made renewable energy more attractive both to consumers and investors, although investment in clean energy is far from the estimated $1 trillion annually needed to limit global warming to 2˚C.

Resistance and resurgence

FFD is not without its critics, and some organisations have resisted pressure to change.  Last month the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) rejected calls to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Instead, MIT argued that engaging with the fossil fuels industry was a more effective way to address climate change. Similarly, Harvard University has declined to stop buying fossil fuel company stocks, claiming its research and teaching contributes to a better understanding of global warming.

But FFD campaigners are not backing down. In May the University of Edinburgh ruled out a wholesale sell-off of its £27m investments in oil, gas and coal companies. However, after a 10-day occupation by students the university clarified its position, and announced it would fully divest from three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers within six months.

There is also growing pressure on local authority pension funds to reduce their fossil fuel investments. In September, it was reported that UK local government pension funds hold over £14 billion in coal, oil and gas companies.

The focus now shifts to the UN Climate Change Conference, starting today in Paris. Divestment campaigners are making it clear that they expect governments attending the Paris summit to follow the lead of the FFD movement by committing to phase out support for the consumption and production of fossil fuels.


 

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in environment policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading

A beginner’s guide to fossil fuel divestment

The case for fossil-fuel divestment

Why the future of public transport has to be green

Image by flickr user Justin Pickard via Creative Commons

Image by flickr user Justin Pickard via Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

Ending our use of oil, coal and natural gas by the end of the century? It seems an impossible task, but this week’s G7 Summit closed with the announcement that the leaders of 7 leading industrial nations had agreed to phase out the use of fossil fuels. As one of the G7, the UK is part of this long-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also legally-bound, via The Climate Change Act (2008), to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

These national and international targets will only be met however if we all make practical changes to our patterns of energy consumption. Organisations like the Energy Saving Trust Foundation and NESTA have pointed out that providing new technologies is not enough to increase public engagement with alternative energy. Success is dependent on getting real people to use these technologies in everyday situations.

Use of renewable energy in public transport

Earlier this week I attended an event on the use of renewable energy in public transport. Not being a transport specialist, but interested from the point of view of community development and social exclusion, it was a useful introduction to some of the innovative work that is underway in Europe.

Organised to present the results of the REPUTE (Renewable Energy in Public Transport Enterprise) project, the event explored the challenges of ensuring accessible public transport in rural areas. People in rural areas typically travel 50% further than people living in urban areas. Travel which is essential to daily life such as going to school or work, going shopping or getting to doctors and hospitals all requires longer journeys, mostly by car or bus. A lack of integration between different modes of transport also makes travel by car more convenient in rural areas.

Pilot projects showcased at the event included personal travel planning in Fort William; solar-powered real-time bus information signs in the Highlands and Islands region; and electric vehicle rental in rural towns in Portugal.

A new guide written by Oxford Brookes University was also launched at the event and includes lots of examples of community-based transport and energy schemes.

Signs of progress

I picked up on a few heartening signs of a shift in attitudes. Many local authorities are publicly supporting alternative energy use in their fleets and providing charging points. A recent survey showed that Scottish councils in particular are leading the way in the UK in the adoption of electric vehicles, with Dundee placed in the number 1 spot and South Lanarkshire, Glasgow and Fife also in the top 5.

  • Aberdeen now has the largest fleet of hydrogen fuel buses of any authority in Europe.
  • 2 of Edinburgh’s bus routes have switched completely to low carbon hybrid vehicles.
  • There are more electric vehicles in Scottish car clubs than the total in car clubs in the rest of the UK.
  • Elsewhere in Europe, Oslo’s initiative to open up bus lanes to electric vehicles has become a victim of its own success with the announcement in May that the law is being changed. A fifth of new cars bought in Norway in the last 3 years have been electric.

A key aspect of pilot schemes is to introduce the public to new energy solutions in a way that is engaging. For example, visitors to the Brecon Beacons National Park can hire electric cars to travel around the area, turning eco travel into a fun activity in itself. A new ‘poo bus’ which runs in Bristol and is fuelled by bio-waste, is a witty way to spark debate about alternative fuel sources. And in Oxford, the city is transforming into a Living Lab for integrated transport experimentation.

Public transport as eco-transport

The need for a transport system which is cleaner and less-energy dependent is clear – the transport sector is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

However investing in innovative renewable energy technologies at a time of budget constraints, requires government and local authorities to show leadership and vision. More importantly, there won’t be a step change in behaviour and attitudes without imaginative approaches to community engagement. Locally-led projects such as those highlighted by REPUTE’s guide are a great way to do this.


The Knowledge Exchange specialises in public and social policy. To gain an insight into the commentary it offers, please explore our publications page on the Knowledge Exchange website.

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Building Britain’s future: how the Infrastructure Act will affect local authorities

By Steven McGinty

After several months of debate, the Infrastructure Act was given royal assent on the 12th February 2015, introducing a number of important changes. The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech with the intention to:

“bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness”.

On the day of its assent, Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, expanded on this, explaining that:

“This act will hugely boost Britain’s competitiveness in transport, energy provision, housing development and nationally significant infrastructure projects. Cost efficient infrastructure development is all part of the government’s long term economic plan, boosting competitiveness, jobs and growth.”

The Act has resulted in a number of policy changes.  The majority of these are relatively mundane and are unlikely to engender much public scrutiny; however, there are a few high profile and controversial changes. Below I’ve outlined some of the most important changes for local authorities, as well as communities.

Land Registry

The Act has introduced changes to Local Land Charges, transferring responsibility from individual local councils in England and Wales to the Land Registry, which will be providing a broader range of services. This was recommended in the ‘Land Registry, Wider Powers and Local Land Charges’ report, which suggested a need to standardise costs and provide a more predictable service.

This has been criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA), who have suggested that local councils are best placed to meet the needs of businesses and local residents.  They have also raised concerns about the costs involved in making technical changes to local council systems, as well as the disruption it would cause to the property market. It’s estimated that local councils have about 20 million entries on their registers of Local Land Charges, across 350 local councils.

Community Rights and energy exploration (fracking and renewable energy)

Individuals within or connected to a community have been given the rights to buy a stake in renewable electricity schemes.  This appears to have been well received, as local residents are now able to receive some of the financial benefits of local electricity production.

However, changes to hydraulic fracking have been a lot more controversial.  The Act allows energy companies the right to exploit petroleum or deep geothermal energy, without notifying the owners of the land, as long as it’s at least 300 meters below surface level. They also have the right to put any substance underground, to change the condition of the land, and to leave material behind.

Not surprisingly, campaigners, such as Simon Clydesdale from Greenpeace UK, have criticised these changes, suggesting that the new legislation is encouraging fracking and is so loosely worded that it could possibly permit the burial of nuclear waste.

Discharge of Planning Conditions

The Act makes it clear that certain types of planning conditions can be discharged if on application to the local authority, the developer has not had a decision made within the prescribed period. It also allows the Secretary of State to make a development order relating to the discharge of a planning condition in an area. This would mean that local authorities would not be able to stop these developments for lack of written approval.

Mayoral Development Orders

These orders provide greater powers to the Mayor of London to grant planning permission for development on specified sites within Greater London. It’s been seen as a useful reform to make it easier for planning permission to be granted on complex sites that cross local authority boundaries. This has been viewed as important for tackling London’s housing shortage.

Although not all of the changes are as high profile as fracking, it’s important that local authorities take time to examine the Infrastructure Act, and to make sure that they are ready to respond to the new legislative environment.


Although many of the changes in the Infrastructure Act will not come into force until a later date, local authorities need to be aware of the possible impact on planning processes and procedures.

Over two thirds of UK local authorities use Idox solutions to effectively manage the property and development lifecycle.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on planning issues. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Blustery conditions: conflicting priorities in wind farm planning decisions

by Laura Dobie

The recent decision by the Secretary of State to refuse planning permission for Spring Farm Ridge wind farm brings into focus the tension between government policy and targets on renewable energy, and opponents of these schemes who are concerned about the possible negative effects of renewable energy developments, in particular on the environment.

Government policy on renewable energy

The UK government “is committed to supporting renewable energy as part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix.” (DECC, 2012, p.4), and recognises the contribution that renewables can make to energy security, the decarbonisation of the economy and sustainable growth. It has a target set out in the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive to deliver 15% of the UK’s energy demand from renewable sources by 2020, and it is anticipated that renewables will play a key role in the UK’s energy mix in subsequent decades.

The most recent update to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Renewable Energy Roadmap suggests that the UK is making good progress against this target, although it acknowledges that the siting of certain renewable energy projects has caused concern. It recommended that greater numbers of communities should be actively involved in small-scale renewable energy projects and emphasised the importance of ensuring that communities are properly engaged with, and can see the benefits of, renewable energy developments.

Public opposition to wind farm projects

While wind turbine developments can offer a range of community benefits, wind farms have faced considerable opposition from local residents and other stakeholders concerned with environmental and other costs of such developments, particularly their visual impact: optimal sites for developments tend to be in rural, coastal and remote locations in which the natural environment is prized.

While there has been much debate around nimbyism, with suggestions that people tend to favour wind power until schemes intrude upon their local areas, developments may well have an impact at the individual level: a recent study has found that operational wind farm developments reduce house prices in areas in which turbines are visible, in comparison with locations where they are not visible.

In its campaign against a wind farm development, Allt Duine, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, the Save the Monadhliath Mountains group has highlighted the potential impact of the scheme on the landscape and wildlife, and also on tourism: the development could have negative effects on the amenity of the area for those who visit the Cairngorms for leisure. While renewable energy schemes can create new jobs in communities, they could also have a negative effect on another major employment sector in rural areas.

It is clear that there are competing interests at stake in the siting and construction of wind farms: the need for a greater proportion of renewable energy in the UK’s energy mix, and the need to protect our natural landscape and heritage assets. The job creation potential of such schemes must also be weighed against the possible adverse impact on the tourism sector.

The Spring Farm Ridge Development

On 22nd December 2014 the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government refused planning permission for a commercial scale wind farm, Spring Farm Ridge, between Greatworth and Helmdon in Northamptonshire, overturning the recommendation of the Inspector.

He acknowledged that all communities have a duty to help to drive up the use and supply of green energy, but that this does not mean that the requirement for renewable energy will automatically take precedence over the environmental protection and planning concerns of local communities.

While the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector that the benefits and disadvantages of the proposal were finely balanced, he disagreed with the Inspector as to where the balance should lie. The proposal would not accord with the Development Plan and, although there were some material considerations which counted in favour of the proposal, including the renewable energy benefits, the Secretary of State did not consider those benefits to be sufficient to outweigh the likely negative effects of the development, notably identified harm to heritage assets, as well as to the character and visual amenity of the area.

This decision highlights the competing environmental priorities and stakeholder interests which are at play in proposals for new renewable energy developments, and the challenges in determining whether renewable energy benefits should override the negative environmental impacts of these schemes in planning decisions. Perhaps there is a need for greater community engagement and careful consideration of the siting of such developments in relation to the natural environment in order to gain wider public acceptance for such schemes and to improve their chances of approval in the future.

Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

Recovered appeal: land at Spring Farm Ridge, land to the north of Welsh Lane between Greatworth and Helmdon (ref 2165035, 22 December 2014) (2014). Department for Communities and Local Government

Gone with the wind: valuing the visual impacts of wind turbines through house prices (2014). Spatial Economics Research Centre

Renewable Energy Roadmap Update 2013 (2013). Department of Energy and Climate Change

Renewable Energy Roadmap Update 2012 (2012). Department of Energy and Climate Change

Breathing space (natural landscape protection and wind energy development), IN Holyrood, (Renewables No 6 Winter 2013 supplement), pp32-33

Wind trap (opposition to wind farms in Scotland, IN Urban Realm, Vol 3 No 12 Winter 2012, pp87-89,91

Energy infrastructure: a heated debate

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Image: Hugh Venables, via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons License

A country’s energy infrastructure is its central nervous system.  Gas and electricity transmission lines, power stations and renewable energy, are the drivers of economic development, as well as keeping our homes light and warm.

But in recent years, a growing sense of urgency has surfaced regarding the future of the UK’s energy infrastructure. Concerns about lack of investment in new power stations have fuelled media reports voicing fears about the challenges of keeping the lights on.

The headline writers may be guilty of some exaggeration, but their concerns are not without foundation. Forecasts by Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, indicate that the country’s energy margin (the difference between energy generation supply and peak usage) could fall from 6% at the peak of winter demand in 2014-15 to a possible low of less than 2% just a year later.

And just yesterday, National Grid was in the news with a warning that its capacity to supply electricity this winter will be at a seven-year low due to generator closures and breakdowns.

In stark terms, a report, published this year by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) set out the state of the UK’s energy infrastructure:

“Significant quantities of the UK’s existing electricity generation capacity are expected to be retired soon, with major implications for security of supply unless the conditions to attract investment in new generation are provided. This situation is expected to be further exacerbated as the use of electricity for transport and residential heat increases demand.

And that’s without taking the unexpected into account. The recent serious fire at Didcot power station in Oxfordshire was just the latest in a number of incidents affecting power supply this year. Fires put two power stations in Shropshire and Yorkshire out of action, and four nuclear reactors have been taken offline until at least the end of the year for safety reasons. At the same time, plans for the next generation of gas-powered stations have yet to be enacted, and uncertainty surrounds the commercial viability of new nuclear energy capacity. Added to this complex mix is the contentious issue of fracking, which we focused on in a recent blog post.

For some, the answer to the energy gap lies with renewables, in particular wind power. Proponents argue that large-scale deployment of wind farms offers dual benefits: generating increasing amounts of energy, as well as minimising the effects of climate change.

A report, published earlier this year by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) explored the implications of increasing the amount of wind energy on the electricity system. While acknowledging that large wind turbines have an impact on local communities, the RAE indicated that the installed capacity of wind could more than double to around 26GW, providing around 20% of electrical energy consumed. That might seem like a tall order, but figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show that in 2011 9.4% of UK electricity came from renewable sources, up on 2009, when just 6.7% of electricity was renewable.

Others are not so sure about the impact of renewables. Recently, former Environment Secretary of State Owen Paterson called for the ground-breaking Climate Change Act to be scrapped. He claims that the targets in the Act for cutting emissions are unachievable, too costly and will not provide the UK’s energy requirements:

“In the short and medium term, costs to consumers will rise dramatically, but there can only be one ultimate consequence of this policy: the lights will go out at some time in the future. Not because of a temporary shortfall, but because of structural failures, from which we will find it extremely difficult and expensive to recover.”

Instead of investing in wind power, Paterson argues, the UK should be looking at four alternative policies: shale gas, combined heat and power, small modular nuclear reactors and demand management.

As the energy debate heats up at national level, some local authorities are taking their own initiatives. Security of energy supply is of great concern to Southampton, a city keen to address strategic priorities, such as tackling fuel poverty, sustaining public services, generating economic development and reducing city-wide carbon emissions.

And so, Southampton City Council has taken a leading role in collaborating with other local authorities to build capacity through local energy generation schemes, large-scale energy efficiency works and local energy networks. The investment shows how seriously the council is taking energy resilience.

At the same time, along with local councils in six countries, Southampton has been a key partner in the European Union’s Leadership for Energy Action and Planning (LEAP) programme. LEAP aims to share expertise among partners to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and increase the use of renewable energy.

Measures such as these are relatively small in scale, but they might prove crucial as we head into another winter.


 

Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on a range of environmental issues. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

Low-carbon transitions and the reconfiguration of urban infrastructure

A new approach to electricity markets: how new, disruptive technologies change everything

Power blackouts in the information age: the impact on emergency services

Is there a future role for coal? (Energy supply)

Taking the lead in a low-carbon future (low-carbon redevelopment in Southampton)

When the lights go out (threats to energy infrastructure)

Crossed wires (energy infrastructure for property developments)

N.B. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

August issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) out now

Law and Legislation shutterstock_90378226The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country.

The latest edition of SPEL includes articles focusing on:

Key court cases examined in the August edition include:

An Ombudsman complaint against Highland Council (SPSO case no 200903131) is also covered.

SPEL was launched in 1980 as ‘Scottish Planning Law & Practice’, to be a journal of record of Scottish planning. When it became apparent that the emerging field of environmental law was strongly linked to land use planning, the name of our journal changed to reflect this.

Written by a wide range of subject experts, SPEL Journal includes accessible commentary on topical subjects and current issues; details of new legislation and significant court cases; expert comment on key planning appeal decisions, government circulars and guidance; as well as notes about ombudsman cases and book reviews.

SPEL Journal is read by decision makers in Scottish planning authorities, planning law practices, planning consultancies, architects, surveyors, civil engineers, environmental managers and developers across Scotland. It is also valued by many practitioners outside of Scotland who need to keep abreast of developments.

An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email christine.eccleson@idoxgroup.com.

Meeting ambitious targets: Scottish Planning & Environmental Law conference 2014

SPEL Conference brand image

There’s less than two months to go until this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference so we thought we’d flag up some of the expected highlights. We’ve been running the SPEL conference for nearly 20 years and in this time its gained a reputation for being a forum for open and critical debate about the operation of the planning system in Scotland.

This year’s conference focuses on the theme of “meeting ambitious targets”. Scotland has some of the most ambitious targets in Europe – if not the world – when it comes to addressing climate change issues. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is also facing challenges around ensuring adequate housing supply, especially affordable housing.

We expect that the conference will provide an ideal opportunity for discussing the implications of recent decisions on key renewable energy applications, as well as the intersection of the planning system with the housebuilding industry.

As usual we will also be reflecting on national planning policy, assessing the potential impact of NPF3 and Scottish Planning Policy on planning outcomes and performance, three months after they were laid before Parliament.

The programme features a broad range of speakers, bringing perspectives from the private sector, local government planning, academia and central government to bear on the issues.

Key speakers include:

  • Professor Greg Lloyd, Head of School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster
  • John McNairney, Chief Planner, The Scottish Government
  • Lindsey Nicoll, Chief Reporter, Directorate for Planning & Environmental Appeals
  • Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning and Junior Vice Convenor, RTPI Scotland
  • James Findlay, Advocate (QC England and Wales), Terra Firma Chambers
  • Michael McGlynn, Head of Planning & Building Standards Services, South Lanarkshire Council

We’re also delighted that Rt. Hon Sir Menzies Campbell will be chairing the conference for us.

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL 2014 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.

 

Note about the conference:

The 2014 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference is on 24 September at The Teacher Building in Glasgow.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.