Permitted Development for domestic wind energy: a step in the right direction or an ill wind?

At the beginning of September, in line with its commitment to increase the uptake of renewable energy generation and in line with their targets for renewable energy generation, the Government granted permitted development rights for the installation of domestic air-source heat pumps and wind turbines (The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2011 [“the GPDO amendment”] <http://bit.ly/p5EYD2>), although the enabling legislation doesn’t come into force until 1 December 2011. As a brief introduction and background, the planning system in the UK regulates ‘development‘, which can be crudely defined as the construction or significant alteration of any structure on land (I paraphrase, but you get the drift) and, technically, ALL development requires planning permission. However, in recognition of the fact that the costs, complexity and time involved in gaining planning permission are disproportionate to minor developments, such as the construction of a garden path or a two-foot high garden wall, the Government provides for certain classes of development to be undertaken without the requirement for planning consent through the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended) [“the GPDO”)] – this is ‘permitted development’ [PD].

The 2007 Government white paper “Planning for a sustainable future” <http://bit.ly/nL7kTR> and the 2008 Killian Pretty Review of the Planning System <http://bit.ly/nmIkwV> proposed that the planning system should be made more proportionate by reducing the need for planning applications for small-scale developments that have little impact beyond the host property: PD rights for solar panels and other non-noisy domestic renewables were granted back in 2008 but, following a horrified outcry by the acoustics community and local authority Environmental Protection Officers, PD rights for potentially noisy renewables were held in abeyance.

The GPDO amendment introduces PD rights for air source heat pumps and two new classes of permitted development rights for installation of micro-wind turbines by householders, under Class H and Class I:

  • Class H permits the installation, alteration or replacement of a wind turbine on a detached dwelling or building in the curtilage of a dwelling house or block of flats;
  • Class I permits the installation, alteration or replacement of a stand-alone wind turbine within the curtilage of a dwelling house or block of flats.

Mention wind turbines to someone and they immediately think 80 metre MW turbines. The spread of these has become highly contentious, as have the noise assessment methodologies, but I shall not go into that now. In addition to the ‘large’ wind turbines, there are ‘small’ wind turbines of the type you see on factory buildings and farms, and then there are ‘micro’ turbines which are the ones to which this Order refers, but some of them can be quite noisy, particularly if not properly maintained, which would probably be the case for most domestic turbines. There are of course ‘conditions’ specified in the Order, including for noise but, to be frank, the conditions pretty much preclude the installation of any wind turbine currently available on the market or for anyone with anything less than a very large garden.

Add to this the poor performance of micro-wind turbines in urban and suburban settings, as evidenced by the Warwick Wind Trials report <http://bit.ly/oFgcsF> and the Energy Saving Trust’s report of 2009 <http://bit.ly/o4ToJI> which found that “No urban or suburban building mounted site generated more than 200kWh or £26 per annum, corresponding to load factors of 3 per cent or less. In some cases, installations were found to be net consumers (my under-lining) of electricity due to the inverter taking its power (up to 10W) from the mains supply when a turbine was not generating“, one wonders precisely what the Government is hoping to achieve.

If you’ve a farm or small-holding on open land, particularly in Scotland, then small wind may be financially beneficial to you; if you live in a town or village and want to stick a wind turbine on your house, I would strongly suggest you don’t bother. Spend the money on solar panels, at least they work quite well these days.

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About echoacoustics
Independent environmental noise and vibration consultancy; we offer customer-focused, value-added environmental noise and vibration surveys and assessments for Development Planning, EIA, Environmental Permitting and any other issue where environmental noise and vibration interact with people, places and eco-systems

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