Call for clarity on wind turbines

Protest notice on farm gate Thornton Moor in Yorkshire has seen local protests about turbines in "Bronte Country"

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling on the government to say how many onshore wind turbines will be built and where they will be.

CPRE says local groups feel overwhelmed by the number of wind farm applications in beautiful countryside.

Just over 1,800 wind turbines more than 30 metres (100 feet) tall have been granted planning permission or are waiting for it.

Ministers say the planning system balances landscape and energy needs.

The CPRE's demands amplify the worries expressed in a letter from Conservative backbenchers to the Prime Minister in February.

The pressure group is asking the government to develop a strategic plan limiting the number of turbines in sensitive rural landscapes. It wants planning inspectors to put more weight on local concerns.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, said: "We accept onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations.

"Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of applications from big, well-funded developers. This risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change."

Start Quote

The very suggestion that it's so easy is really quite ridiculous”

End Quote Maria McCaffery RenewableUK

The trade body RenewableUK says there is enough emphasis on local opinion already.

It says that three-quarters of turbine applications are rejected by local councils, and only half of all applications are approved eventually after intervention from planning inspectors guided by government policies on clean energy.

"I'm astonished at the suggestion that it's so easy to secure planning permission for an onshore wind farm," said RenewableUK's chief executive Maria McCaffery.

"If you took a map of England and wiped out all the national parks, the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all the areas in line of sight of an aviation radar and the areas that don't have any wind speed, you've got tiny tiny little parcels left," she told BBC News.

"Then when you do apply in those areas you have to go through 22 statutory consultees - so the very suggestion that it's so easy is really quite ridiculous."

No plan

More than half of England's turbines are now planned offshore - partly in response to local difficulties with planning onshore.

The opposite is true for Scotland. Statistics for Wales were not available.

The government rejects the CPRE's notion of a top-down plan for siting wind farms.

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Its strategy is determined by the UK's legally binding EU target of achieving 15% of total energy from renewable sources by 2020. Within that framework it allows entrepreneurs to decide where turbines can be erected most economically.

The mid-range projection in the government's Renewable Energy Roadmap foresees up to around 13 gigawatts (GW) of UK onshore wind capacity by 2020.

RenewableUK figures show that 18GW is already built, being built, or up for planning permission - in other words, the plan may be more or less on target, even though the overall 15% figure remains very challenging.

This is a big turn-around from what was expected a few years ago when the industry appeared to be expanding slowly.

The government expects that the majority of the 13GW total from onshore wind will come from large projects over 5 megawatts (MW) in capacity.

This may go some way to address another of CPRE's concerns - that the countryside will be dotted with small farmers' turbines, radically altering the look of the landscape.

These small turbines are frequently rejected by local planning.

The launch of CPRE's report, which contains new maps showing wind farms dotted about the UK, was marred by errors in CPRE media releases that provoked an angry response from RenewableUK, which had supplied the relevant statistics.

After two days of confusion over contrasting figures, CPRE apologised for its error - but said that it would be better if clean energy statistics were not held by the industry body in question.

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