Utility Week

UTILITY Week 13th June 2014

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12 | 13th - 19th June 2014 | utILItY WeeK Special report Analysis W hich do you prefer: onshore wind or shale gas? It is a false dichotomy, of course – they are not in direct com- petition. One is a renewable power source; the other is a fossil fuel newly made acces- sible by technological advance. The main- stream consensus is that both have a place in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Still, everyone has a favourite. It is a litmus test of your energy priorities: climate change or security of supply? The two sectors have enough in com- mon to invite comparison. Both are backed by government policy yet must navigate the assault course of protest groups, environ- mental permits and local councils to get any- thing done. Accordingly, it is revealing to see how government treatment of the two energy sources diverges when it comes to planning. In the past year, communities secretary Eric Pickles has personally blocked 11 wind- farms in mainland Britain. Local authorities have followed his lead and rejected two out of three windfarms in the first five months of 2014. Meanwhile, the government is stream- lining the planning process for shale gas exploration, prompting wind developers to complain of double standards. Pickles awarded himself powers in Octo- ber last year to "call in" contentious wind- farm planning applications. This was to be a temporary measure, to make sure local authorities were following the spirit of new guidelines on renewable projects. In April, he extended this period by 12 months, tak- ing him up to the next general election. The Conservative Party is now saying it will stop onshore wind development completely if it gets a majority next May. Of the 13 projects Pickles has decided on to date, he rejected 11, in five cases going against the advice of planning officials. Another 24 projects hang in the balance. The main reason given for rejecting the proposals was to protect the character and quality of the landscape. Tensions between national energy policy and local concerns are nothing new. The country needs energy but communities are not always delighted to play host to the windfarms, power stations and fracking rigs that entails. It is part of Pickles' brief at the Depart- ment for Communities and Local Govern- ment (DCLG) to empower people to shape what goes on in their area. That sometimes sets him at odds with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), among others. The remarkable thing about Pickles' latest series of interventions is that he is overruling local authorities, including where they had voted to approve a scheme. Developers are not happy with this state of affairs. RWE Innogy's ten-turbine East Heslerton windfarm is one of the latest victims. Mike Parker, head of onshore wind, asks: "Why, when we have a democratic planning pro- cess, supported by experts, does the minister feel he is better qualified to make these deci- sions? According to the planning inspector, our project ticked all the boxes." Parker expresses frustration at the block to investment. RWE Innogy is "still very committed to the UK", which could be "an extremely strong market", he says. "We have the supply chain, the desire, the capital, the financial partnerships to continue to invest Planning gets political The government is using the planning system to block new onshore wind and encourage shale fracking, even though the public would rather it did the exact opposite, says Megan Darby. LocaL pLanning authority decisions on onshore wind sites 2013 sites approved rejected approval rate England 105 76 58% Wales 14 8 64% Scotland 87 81 52% Northern Ireland 166 15 92% uK total 372 180 67% January to May 2014 inclusive sites approved rejected approval rate England 29 58 33% Wales 4 10 29% Scotland 19 45 30% Northern Ireland 37 6 86% uK total 89 119 43% approval rate, 2013 approval rate, Jan to May 2014 inclusive 80%+ 60-79% 40-59% less than 39% 80%+ 60-79% 40-59% less than 39%

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