Is Small Wind growing up?

Renewable UK, the British Wind Energy Trade Association, has published its report on the “State of the industry 2011” http://bit.ly/rM15lR. The headline reads that “Only 26 per cent of the onshore wind power capacity submitted for planning approval in England in 2010/11 was granted approval, according to new data.” However, more interesting than that, to my mind, is that the report notes a new trend in the increasing number of Small Wind developments being approved “…..particularly in England, where smaller schemes are receiving more favourable consideration, and larger schemes are increasingly likely to be rejected. In England in the year to July, none of the three schemes between 20-50MW were approved (compared to eight of 13 2009-10 and four of six 2008-9). Projects of 5-20MW achieved a 43% approval rate. However schemes below 5MW were much more successful, with 79% of capacity in projects between 2-5MW approved. This increased to an approval rate of 83% capacity for schemes below 2MW.”

Adverse public perception of Big Wind developments, centred around visual impacts, noise, efficiency, the (alleged) profiteering of developers and their “rampant spread across the land” (the wind farms, not developers, although…..?), as one observer recently described it, has led to an increased likelihood of Planning Refusal for Big Wind.

And this is where Small Wind schemes are benefiting, with their perception of eco-friendly efficient home-generation of electricity. Good luck to ’em I say.

And what about Permitted Development rights for domestic wind energy? Unless you’ve got a farm or large Country Estate with lots of exposed open land, forget it!

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Permitted Development for micro-wind turbines – clarification

Following my previous blog post of a couple of days ago about micro-wind permitted development, the muddy waters of government policy have clarified slightly, following a conversation with DECC; the impending permitted development rights for domestic micro-wind energy are accompanied by guidance which specifies that a 42 dB(A) noise limit condition will apply (at 1 metre from the nearest residential window), but this condition isn’t in the legislation (Statutory Instrument) – I have confirmed with DECC that the limit will be specified in a new (or updated) Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) Standard, the application of which is specified in the conditions in the SI, and this will be reviewed after a year – lets hope they do better with the review than they did with ETSU-R-97 The assessment and rating of noise from windfarms which was supposed to be reviewed after 2 years, but is still waiting for a proper review 14 years down the line. So, unless a domestic wind turbine has been installed according to the MCS Standard, and complies with the noise limit specified in the Standard, the local planning authority will be able to take enforcement action against the owner.

All well and good so far, but what happens under higher wind conditions, when many of these turbines can be noisier? How will a local authority Environmental Health Officer measure the turbine noise at the nearest house without the prevailing wind noise interfering – it’s fraught with danger this one.

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.