Solar array

Renewables rethink?

Commercial-scale wind turbines and solar power schemes continue to generate as much controversy as electricity, and the latest signals from government add another layer of complexity to the issue.

Spurred on by the feed-in tariffs, landowners and energy companies are understandably pursuing wind turbine and solar pv schemes at a wide range of scales and locations all over the country, backed up by the government’s 2012 National Planning Policy Framework which states that schemes should be approved if their impacts can be made acceptable.

However, the government is clearly concerned about the groundswell of opposition and has taken the unusual step of announcing that it will “call in” a number of planning appeals for larger applications to make sure that environmental and community issues are fully taken account of. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has directly intervened and over-ridden the Planning Inspectorate in throwing out an application for a 24MW extension to an already approved solar pv scheme in Suffolk. In the decision letter issued last month, the Secretary of State acknowledged that the impacts of the extended scheme would be “limited” and not be “significantly adverse”, but nevertheless rejected the proposal because there would still be an adverse effect on the character of the site and because of the  representations of the local community.

The position has been re-enforced in a subsequent Ministerial letter to planning authorities (1st November) stating that the focus for solar pv growth should be firmly on commercial and domestic roof space and previously-used land. He is “determined to crack down on” inappropriately sited solar pv farms.  The renewables planning guidance published in July stressed that “protecting local amenity is an important consideration which should be given proper weight in planning decisions”.

 

It will be a while before the impacts of these Government statements and decisions work their way in to the system. The South Devon AONB Partnership’s position statement on renewables aims to be supportive of small scale and appropriately sited schemes  while resisting large scale commercial installations. Inside the AONB boundary, a small number of wind turbines (mostly up to 20m in height to blade tip) have been approved and installed over the last two years, and the first field-scale solar pv scheme (250KW in one field) has been approved on appeal. However, it is outside but close to the AONB boundary where the applications for large commercial sized turbines and solar farms are appearing, which in some cases can still seriously impact on the setting of the AONB.

 

For more information contact Robin Toogood, AONB Manager.