6 June 2013
Today marked the conclusion of the Government’s consultation on how wind farm developers should engage with local communities and share the economic benefits of onshore wind energy. The wind industry’s trade association, RenewableUK has agreed to recommend a fivefold increase in the future level of community benefit funds which onshore wind farms developers provide to local communities in England.
RenewableUK currently recommends that communities which host onshore wind farms in England should receive at least £1,000 per megawatt (MW) of wind energy installed every year for the lifetime of the project, under the trade association’s Community Benefits Protocol. Local people decide how that funding is to be spent. Following the Government’s review, the trade association’s recommended level for future projects will increase to £5,000 per megawatt per year, even though this may make some future projects unviable. RenewableUK said it wants to continue to work closely with Government and local communities to ensure they share more of the economic benefits of wind energy.
RenewableUK also welcomes the development of good practice guidance and a new Government register of community benefits, which follows the successful introduction of a similar register in Scotland. Further proposals include a duty for developers of larger projects to consult as early as possible with local people, local councils and organisations such as Natural England and National Heritage. Developers will need to do this before they put in formal application to build a wind farm. The wind industry sees this as good practice – and it is already widespread. Planning authorities are being reminded by Government that the need to develop renewable energy projects must be balanced carefully with any impact projects may have on local views or heritage sites, so that wind farms are located in the right places with community consent. The Energy Minister Michael Fallon said today that each application should be decided on a case by case basis. The industry already has best practice guidelines on all these issues. Any new guidance therefore needs to take into account the need to support continued development of much needed onshore wind.
RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Maria McCaffery said: “For a long time our members have worked closely with the communities in which they operate. This guidance from Government will help to shape the way our industry engages with local people even more closely in the future. Wind energy already brings many benefits to local communities; existing schemes have been used to fund everything from building sports facilities or village halls to financing training programmes for young people. We will have to re-examine the wind industry’s Community Benefits Protocol, devised by RenewableUK, and consult with our members to determine how we can achieve what the Government is asking us to provide”.
“Developing wind farms requires a significant amount of investment to be made upfront. Adding to this cost, by following the Government’s advice that we should pay substantially more into community funds for future projects, may unfortunately make some onshore wind energy developments uneconomic in England, so they will not go ahead and that is very disappointing. That said, we recognise the need to ensure good practice across the industry and will continue to work with Government and local authorities to benefit communities right across the country which are hosting our clean energy future. We also take on board Government announcements on pre-application consultation. Industry will comply with these new requirements fully. We await with interest the guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government on how the National Planning Policy Framework should be interpreted. When this guidance is drafted consideration needs to be given over the important role onshore wind has to play in our energy system”.
The new rates would apply to onshore wind farm projects in England which are yet to be built. RenewableUK estimates that, under the new guidelines, onshore projects already announced (i.e. those currently in planning, or approved but not under construction – nearly 1,500MW ), would contribute benefits worth nearly £147,850,000 over the 20-year lifetime of those schemes. This would represent a fivefold increase in the value of benefits to be funded by the onshore wind industry for local communities in England.
Each part of the UK sets its own guidelines on community consultation and benefits. Discussions on levels of community benefit funds in other parts of the UK are ongoing.