Town planning implications when developing wind farms

As the UK transitions to renewable energy sources, wind power has become an increasingly important part of our energy mix. So, what are the town planning implications when developing wind farms?

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of wind energy, the town planning implications of developing wind farms, and what developers need to be aware of.

The pros of wind energy 

  • Zero carbon emissions - Wind farms produce virtually no greenhouse gases, helping the UK meet its net zero targets.
  • Economic benefits - Wind projects can create jobs during construction and operation, as well as income from land lease agreements.
  • Energy Return On Energy Invested – The efficiency of wind power technology continues to improve, meaning it now has a very favourable energy return for the energy inputs required during manufacturing and construction.
  • Reliable energy source – Wind is a predictable resource, making wind power a stable generator of electricity.
  • Water use – Wind farms have extremely low water requirements compared to alternatives like hydropower, solar thermal or bioenergy. This makes them suitable for more locations.
  • Land use - Onshore wind farms require relatively large areas of land but have a lower density of infrastructure compared to technologies like solar farms. Offshore wind farms use marine areas with less competing land use.

The cons of wind farms 

  • Visual impact – Wind turbines can significantly alter the landscape, especially in rural or scenic areas.  However, other large-scale renewable technologies also require extensive land areas and cause visual changes.
  • Noise pollution - The rotating blades and gearbox can generate low frequency sound that disturbs some residents.  However, noise levels tend to be lower than alternatives like hydropower plants.
  • Impact on wildlife – Wind farms can affect birds and bats through collision risk and habitat loss. However, studies show the effects are relatively localised. Technologies like hydropower and bioenergy tend to have greater impacts on aquatic and terrestrial habitats respectively.
  • Shadow flicker effect – Rotating blades can cast intermittent shadows that some find unpleasant.

How do we make the most of wind power? 

Wind farms can contribute towards our journey to net zero by generating clean, renewable energy. The UK government has a target of generating 100% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035. Wind farms will play a key role in meeting this target with the UK already one of the leading countries in the world for wind power.  In 2020, wind power generated 24% of the UK’s electricity, and this is expected to increase to 30% by 2030.

However, according to an article in England ‘4,700 years from building enough onshore windfarms’ | Energy industry | The Guardian earlier this year only 17 small-scale onshore windfarms have been approved in England since 2015 when the government changed planning laws to create a de facto ban on onshore windfarms. National Grid’s influential industry forecast report, the Future Energy Scenarios, estimates that onshore wind capacity needs to increase to more than 30 gigawatts across Great Britain by 2030. At the current pace, it would take 4,690 years for England to meet its share of this target.

What are the town planning implications of developing wind farms?

The development of wind farms in England has several town planning implications. Here are some key considerations:

National and Local Planning Policies: In England, wind farm development is guided by national planning policies outlined in documents such as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). These policies provide guidelines on sustainable energy development and emphasise the need to balance renewable energy goals with environmental and social considerations. Local planning authorities must align their policies with the NPPF and consider wind farm proposals accordingly.

Site Selection and Land Use: Town planning authorities need to identify suitable locations for wind farms based on factors such as wind resources, proximity to the electrical grid, and environmental impact. They should consider areas with good wind speeds and minimal constraints, such as residential areas, airports, and important wildlife habitats.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Prior to wind farm development, an EIA is typically required to assess the potential environmental effects. This assessment evaluates factors such as the impact on landscape character, wildlife, biodiversity, noise levels, and visual impact. Town planning authorities review the EIA findings to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and may impose conditions to mitigate any adverse impacts.

Visual and Landscape Impact: Wind farms can have a significant visual impact on the surrounding landscape. Town planning authorities need to consider the visual and aesthetic effects of wind turbines on scenic areas, heritage sites, and residential areas. They may establish visual impact assessments and design guidelines to minimize the visual intrusion and maintain the character of the landscape.

Consultation and Public Engagement: Engaging with local communities and stakeholders is crucial in the town planning process for wind farms. Developers are typically required to conduct public consultations to gather feedback and address concerns regarding the proposed wind farm. Town planning authorities consider public input and ensure that community interests and concerns are taken into account.

Grid Connection and Infrastructure: Wind farms require access to the electrical grid for power transmission. Town planning authorities need to consider the capacity of the existing grid infrastructure and determine the necessary upgrades or expansions to accommodate the increased electricity generation. Coordination with energy providers and infrastructure planning agencies is crucial to ensure a smooth integration of wind farm projects into the grid.

What developers need to be aware of?

It is crucial for developers to engage early with local planning authorities, consult with experts in relevant fields, and follow the established regulatory processes to increase the likelihood of successful wind farm development in England. Here are some important considerations:

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): Developers should familiarise themselves with the NPPF, which provides guidance on sustainable development and renewable energy. It outlines the government’s objectives for wind energy and emphasises the need to balance renewable energy goals with environmental and social considerations.

Local Planning Policies: Local planning authorities have their own policies and guidelines for wind farm development. Developers should review the local development plan and supplementary planning documents to understand specific requirements and criteria for wind farm proposals in the relevant area.

Site Selection and Constraints: Identifying suitable sites for wind farms is crucial. Developers should consider factors such as wind resource availability, proximity to the electrical grid, and environmental constraints. It is important to assess potential impacts on landscapes, heritage sites, residential areas, wildlife habitats, and aviation concerns, among others.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Developers need to conduct a thorough assessment of the potential environmental impacts, including landscape character, wildlife, biodiversity, noise, and visual impact. The EIA findings should be submitted as part of the planning application and address any mitigation measures required.

Community Engagement and Consultation: Engaging with local communities and stakeholders is essential. Developers should conduct public consultations to gather feedback, address concerns, and demonstrate how the proposed wind farm will benefit the community. Demonstrating local support and addressing community concerns can significantly enhance the chances of obtaining planning permission.

Grid Connection: Developers need to consider the grid connection options for the wind farm. They should liaise with relevant grid operators and assess the capacity of the existing electrical infrastructure to accommodate the additional power generation. Coordination with the grid operator is necessary to secure a grid connection agreement and ensure a smooth integration of the wind farm into the electricity network.

Noise and Shadow Flicker: Wind farms can generate noise and shadow flicker, which can impact nearby residents. Developers should assess the potential effects on noise levels and shadow flicker and propose appropriate mitigation measures to minimise these impacts, as required by planning policies.

Cumulative Impact: In areas with existing wind farms or planned developments, developers must consider the cumulative impact of multiple wind farms. The cumulative effects on the landscape, ecology, and local communities should be addressed in the planning application, including how the proposed development fits within the wider context.

Landscape and Visual Impact: Developers need to consider the visual impact of wind turbines on the landscape. Guidelines and design principles exist to minimise the visual intrusion and integrate wind farms harmoniously into the surroundings. Landscape and visual impact assessments should be conducted, and appropriate design solutions should be proposed to mitigate any adverse effects.

Grid Code Compliance: Wind farm developers must ensure compliance with the relevant grid codes and technical requirements for connecting to the electrical grid. This includes meeting the grid’s voltage and frequency regulations, providing necessary grid protection equipment, and adhering to grid connection procedures.

In summary, wind farms have relatively localised environmental impacts during operation compared to most other renewable energy sources, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, noise and wider ecological effects. While visual impact objections are common, most large-scale renewable technologies also significantly alter landscapes.

If you are a developer seeking assistance with a wind farm project, Planning House can provide comprehensive support and expertise. Our team understands the intricate landscape of wind farm development in England, including the nuances of national and local planning policies, environmental impact assessments, community engagement, and grid connection requirements. Don’t hesitate to >> get in touch for a free initial consultation.

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