Renewable Energy wanted by two thirds of all British farmers

A recent survey carried out by Barclays Bank has revealed that two thirds of all of the 200,000 farmers operating in the United Kingdom want to invest in renewable energy generating technology to install on their land. 300 dairy farmers from across England, Scotland, and Wales were consulted for the poll.Of these 300 farmers, 80% stated that they recognised the financial savings that renewables could provide by allowing them to generate their own power and reduce the amount of electricity they purchase from the national grid. 60%, of those polled, saw that technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectricity  would also create additional income for their business as any excess of power generated could then be sold back to the national grid.The majority of farmers who participated in the survey also revealed that they intended to install renewable energy technologies on their farms in the next year.

As he announced the findings of the survey, Travers Clarke-Walker – business product and marketing director for Barclays, commented that: “For farmers to invest makes sense – it’s good for the environment, but for the majority it’s about good business…

Renewable energy production offers new opportunities

“Renewable energy production offers farmers a further opportunity to develop their businesses and add to their traditionally vital roles of producing food and managing the countryside. Farmers see this as a win-win – lower costs and increased income.”

The results of the survey are in keeping with earlier research carried out by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Natwest. They carried out a survey of 250 agricultural businesses, finding that one third of those asked wanted to deploy or install renewable energy generation technology but that over a half did not have the available funds to do so.

Barclays conducted the survey in the run up to the launch of its new fund to bankroll renewable energy projects. The fund has been planned with the support of organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) who will be used by the bank in an advisory role on loan applications. NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond stated: “Given the significant up-front costs of renewable technologies, commercial lending is essential to unlocking these opportunities…

“The opportunities for farmers to produce renewable energy, thereby helping to de-carbonise the economy and contribute to the UK’s long-term energy security, are there for all to see.”

Of course, there are alternative ways to fund a renewable scheme which can bypass the stress of having to deal with a bank. Stress which can only be exacerbated by the addition of the uncertainty of a planning application and the additional costs which the planning process can throw up unexpectedly. A company such as our own, which asks for no funding from the farmers and landowners which we sign up and is experienced in dealing with the variety of criteria, constraints and local plans which individual Local Authorities establish allows people to continue to devote their time to the day to day running of their core businesses. Navigating the ever changing maze of planning policy and fulfilling the various information requests of a Local Authority Planning Department is a task best suited to those who do not have a farm to run in these difficult times.

Nationwide changes to the planning process for renewable technologies, both at UK and Scottish Parliament (whose Agri-Renewables Strategy will be unveiled before summer 2012) level are in the pipeline but these changes are not expected to make the process so easy as to enable anyone to get planning permission for a renewable development, or to allow the wholescale industrialisation of the British countryside. Liz Pearce, chief executive officer of the British Property Federation made this point following the unveiling of Barclays new scheme: “Claims that our cherished countryside is to be slathered in concrete misunderstand the system that has been proposed and the safeguards that it will contain. Councils – not developers – will have the power to dictate where developments will go, and planning applications that deviate from these local plans will quite rightly be thrown in the bin.”

It seems certain then that expertise in such matters will still remain essential to successfully installing a renewable energy supply in our countryside…

Brazilian Wind Power shows the way

The Brazilian Government announced this week that electricity generated from wind turbines was now cheaper than power produced by natural gas and hydro-electric power. The news came following a series of energy auctions held last week. In all, 92 of these auctions were held, 78 of which saw wind power generators undercut other forms of electricity generation successfully.  The auctions were held by Brazil’s National Electric Power Agency and at the end of proceedings the 78 successful bids from wind energy totalled 1,928MW worth of power being sold at a price of 99.5 reals (£37.40) per MwH (megawatt-hour) on average. This was in comparison to an average price of 103 reals (£38.70) per MwH for natural gas and 102 reals (£38.57) per MwH for hydro-electric power. The average cost of a single MwH of energy from no specific source was 102.07 reals (£38.60). A number of other energy generation technologies, such as biomass, were also involved in the auctions.

The success of wind power generation in this year’s energy auctions has been dramatic. Wind power has dropped in price by 19% compared to last year. Such a substantial drop in price is perhaps indicative of the increased competitiveness and maturity of the technology.

Brazil currently has 1.4 GW of installed wind power. The Brazilian Electric Energy Research Centre (CEPEL) has estimated that the country has the potential to produce up to 145 GW of wind generated electricity. Another body, the Energy Research Company (EPE), has, however, recently announced that this figure could increase to 300 GW as a result of improved turbine technology, better turbine arrangement in wind farms, and reduced costs in the future. Welcome news to be sure, particularly as the EPE also announced that they expected Brazil’s total power consumption to increase by 60% over the next decade due to the country’s economic takeoff and the rapid expansion of the Brazilian middle class.

A press release from the Brazilian government stated that the auctions were significant for two reasons; “they reflect a new feasibility of market competition between wind and natural gas sources – something [as yet] unheard of internationally; and they demonstrate that wind prices continue to fall in Brazil.” Indeed, according to Eduardo Tabbush, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s London office; “These are the lowest power-purchase agreements for wind energy in the world.” So how has this situation been arrived at?

Firstly, it should be remembered that an auction system inevitably makes competition and price undercutting that much more cutthroat. Secondly, it is significant that the Brazilian government has placed an import tariff on foreign turbines. Such a move has encouraged turbine manufacturers to open up manufacturing or assembly facilities within Brazil. Indeed a major multi-national turbine manufacturer has recently announced plans to open their first turbine assembly plant in the country. The tax has served to both attract new businesses into the Brazilian economy and to lower the development costs of wind energy generation within the country.

However, it should also be noted that the cost of wind energy is not just falling in Brazil. The average international cost of a wind turbine (which accounts for around three-quarters of a wind energy projects costs) has fallen 7% from last year and is 22% lower than it was in 2008. Brazil may be slightly ahead of the curve due to its flourishing economy but the price of wind energy is expected to continue to drop internationally. Wind turbine technology continues to improve and mature which not only makes prices drop but also increases the amount of power that can be generated by a wind farm or single turbine. Good news for both developers and consumers.

ScottishPower to create 1500 jobs to modernise grid

ScottishPower announced this week that in the next ten years they intend to invest £3 billion in modernising the National Grid. Not only will this help Scotland substantially in achieving the ambitious 100% renewable energy target for 2020 but it will create around 1500 new jobs in the sector.

The company needs the new staff for several reasons. Firstly there are a number of infrastructure overhauls that need to be carried out to improve the currently antiquated National Grid. Currently there are renewable energy projects across the country which are being constrained by the inadequate level of access the current Grid offers. To combat this ScottishPower intends to upgrade around 500 miles of overhead power lines, upgrade almost a fifth of their substation equipment and almost treble the current capacity of grid links with England to a level of 6.6 gigawatts. ScottishPower has stated that they intend to connect 11 gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid during this 10 year period; an amount four times as much as generated by Longannet Power Station.  The planned increase of link capacity to England would be a huge enabler for Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy targets. It would allow for a far larger scale of energy exportation than is currently possible. This is important not only because of the benefits to the Scottish economy that selling large amounts of electricity to England would bring but also because of the energy exchange it would allow. England has taken a different approach to the problem of energy generation, with nuclear power expected to play a big part in meeting English energy needs in the future. 6.6 gigawatts worth of grid links would allow Scotland not only to export energy at times of excess capacity but would allow for importation of nuclear power at peak times if demand were to outstrip supply.

Secondly, research carried out by ScottishPower indicates that 4 out of 5 energy industry employees are due to retire over the next 15 years. As a result of this a new generation of employees; a large number of apprentices and graduates are needed in the industry. The first wave will be recruited over the next three or four years as 200 graduate and apprentice positions are expected to become available.

Investment in the gird is expected to save the Scottish taxpayer a significant amount of money over the next twenty years. Constraint payments (payments made to electricity generators who turn off at times of excess supply as compensation) would increasingly become an issue if large amounts of electricity generation capacity were added to the current grid system, indeed without investment it is estimated that constraint payments would increase to £16 billion by 2030. Savings to the taxpayer are estimated as a result of increased capacity is estimated at £1.6 billion by 2021 and £11 billion by 2030.

ScottishPower chief executive Frank Mitchell released the following statement:

“Massive investment is required to ensure that Scotland’s electricity network is fit for the 21st century.

“It is important that we have a modern and robust network to support our renewable energy ambitions and to provide reliability for those who generate electricity and the homes and businesses that rely on it.

“It is no secret that our industry has an ageing workforce, and we need to encourage new blood in to the fold.”

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond commented on the news:

“ScottishPower’s plans to upgrade transmission will ensure the grid is capable of carrying increasing supplies of clean green energy generated to domestic and European markets

“With plans to harness up to 10 gigawatts of offshore capacity in Scottish waters by 2020, alongside other renewable sources, it will be essential that generators can distribute power to where it is needed.

“These plans will create hundreds of new jobs and underline the company’s commitment to Scotland, as we work together to pursue a low carbon future for these islands and Europe.”

Other industry figures also released their reactions to the news, with some more overwhelmingly positive than others. Neil Stuart, chief executive officer of Scottish Renewables: “This announcement from ScottishPower is not only good news in terms of creating jobs and investment but is also a clear sign that barriers faced by some developers in connecting to the grid will be lifted.”

Norman Kerr, director of Energy Action Scotland: “There  are already a number of hidden charges on energy users’ bills and if any further collection of monies to fund this type of work is required, it must be made very transparent.

“This kind of investment has surely been paid by consumers already through the profits made by the fuel companies over the last few years.”

The announcement of these plans, following as it does in quick succession the launch of the Scottish Government’s Renewable Roadmap 2020 and the forthcoming Agri-Renewables Strategy sends a clear sign to investors and developers that Scotland is committed to the development of renewable energy and that industry, government and business are pulling in the same direction. Welcome and encouraging news for sure.

Unsustainable Biofuels

The ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa has raised a number of questions for the international community on issues such as aid dependence, population growth, neo-colonialism and, perhaps most relevant to us, the increasingly unsustainable nature of biofuels. As discussed previously on this blog biofuels have been partly responsible for the ever increasing price of food worldwide. Indeed the World Bank identified biofuels as one of the causes in food price rises in a recent report as more and more arable land, in both the developed and developing world, is turned over to the production of biofuels: “Another factor that adds to the potential upward pressure on the price of maize is the diversion into production of biofuels.”

America is currently the world’s largest single producer of corn. But an increasing amount of this corn is not entering the food markets but being diverted to domestic ethanol production. Indeed current projections estimate American corn ethanol production at 14billion gallons (53 billion litres) for the year. More corn is being grown, US Department of Agriculture figures show that 92 million acres of corn have been planted this year, an increase of 4 million acres from last year, but this increased production is not being felt in the food markets.

Many farmers are now selling the majority of their corn harvests to ethanol production plants. 58% of the corn grown in Iowa (the biggest corn producing state in the US) this year is expected to be used to produce ethanol. Some farmers, such as Arlyn Schipper who owns a 1,619 hectare farm, expect to sell as much as 70% of their crop to these plants.

As a result of this ethanol boom there is less of crops such as soy-beans and wheat being grown as more and more farmers decide to cash in on the high price of corn, adding further pressures to global food markets. Marie Brill, an analyst at ActionAid remarked that”Farmers are tearing up any little bit of land they have and going to corn.”

In the near future even less corn could be entering world food markets from the US. A Swiss company, Syngent, has developed a genetically modified strain of corn, which is already in use in America, that is more easily and efficiently converted to ethanol. However, this comes at the cost of rendering the corn unsuitable for use in food production. A gene has been added to the strain which quickens the breakdown of corn starches to ethanol (normally a process which has to be induced in the factory) but which means that these starches can no longer be used as a thickener in food, or that corn chips can be produced. Brill commented that: “It’s going to put even more pressure on a really tight market. It will be really tempting to farmers to take on this new, more effective ethanol form of corn.” What is more worrying is that some farmers have raised the possibility of cross-contamination  of the new strain with regular strains of corn.

It could be argued, however, that the problems corn ethanol presents for world food markets may be addressed in the future. There is a growing consensus among environmentalists and development charities that biofuels such as corn ethanol are counter-productive to the shift to a more sustainable form of both agriculture and energy generation. Corn is rather impactful on the environment; it requires more pesticides and fertilisers than a crop such as soy beans and uses large amounts of water and energy whilst it is being converted to ethanol. Some groups, due to these facts, have argued that corn ethanol does not offer a meaningful or significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions Bill Frees of the US Centre for Food Safety commented that: “The research is very clear by now. Turning corn into ethanol is not environmentally sound. It’s really an environmental disaster.” Frees also argued that corn ethanol could only replace, at most, 7% of energy supplied in the US by oil by 2020.

Corn ethanol production has been subsidised by the American Government for around 30 years. Indeed it was Jimmy Carter, in his term as President, that originally introduced the policy. Although the production of corn ethanol was slow to take off it has now developed into a boom. One that is possibly coming to an end, an opinion voiced by Jeremy Martin a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “I think we are at a turning point. We are full to the gills with corn ethanol.” Some campaign groups have argued that corn ethanol and its subsidies are now holding back better and more sustainable biofuels. This was an opinion voiced by Shelia Karpf, an analyst for the Environmental Working Group: “Corn ethanol continues to eat up the market and even eat up grant money that could be used to spur the development of cellulose and advanced biofuels.”

Subsidies may well be scrapped but more as a result of the US Governments current financial problems than a change of energy policy. Some expect $6 billion worth of corn ethanol subsidies to be scrapped by Congress as part of the sovereign debt negotiations. Such a move could reduce worldwide food prices slightly: “It won’t make a big difference for American farmers but it could make a huge difference for impoverished countries.” – Marie Brill

Corn ethanol has raised a number of questions about biofuels. Corn ethanol is increasingly looking like an unsustainable biofuel due to the impact it has on world food markets and it’s perhaps questionable status as a renewable source of energy. Biofuels are taking arable land away from food production at a time when the world population is expanding rapidly and more arable land and more efficient agricultural practises are needed. It is clear that biofuels can only have a limited role to play in an renewable energy market. Other forms of generation, such as wind and solar, have far less impact on the quality of life, even the viability of life, for many of the worlds population.

Wind Farms shown to be beneficial to marine life

A new study which was published this week has found that offshore wind farms can actually be beneficial rather than detrimental to the local ecology. This is good news, particularly, due to the fact that offshore wind is expected to play a large part in the UK Government’s drive for renewable energy generation.

The study, entitled ‘Short-term ecological effects of an offshore wind farm in the Dutch coastal zone; a compilation’ observed the effect that the Windpark Egmond aan Zee (which is the first large-scale offshore wind farm to be built off the coast of the Dutch North Sea) had on the local ecology over the course of it’s construction and for the first two years in which it was operational. The full report was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters and can be found here. The wind farm was described in the report as being “the Dutch demonstration project, for gaining knowledge and experience for future large scale wind farms at sea.” It was carried out by the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies at Wageningen University and Research Centre and studied the impact the wind farm had on a number of species.

Firstly, porpoise populations were observed by studying the noise levels produced by their echolocation: “Echolocation activity was similar during the baseline period, but increased significantly more during the operation period. Free-swimming porpoises in the wild have been shown to vocalise almost constantly meaning that the chosen measurements of acoustic activity can be used as an indicator of the number of porpoises present. The results showed that relatively more porpoises are found in the wind farm area compared to the two reference areas. It was established that this effect is genuinely linked to the presence of the wind farm. The most likely explanations are increased food availability due to the attached fauna on and in the hard substrates (reef effect) as well as the exclusion of fisheries and reduced vessel traffic in the wind farm (shelter effect).” Other research has supported these findings; “Danish research studies indicate that operational wind farms are frequently visited by harbour porpoises and most likely used for foraging”.

Of course the increased presence of porpoises has to be supported i.e. there must inevitably be an increase in other forms of marine life in and around the wind farm. Some fish species did see an observable increase in their population and the wind farm did not appear to interfere with or damage their life cycle: “noise and vibrations from the turbine generators and electromagnetic fields from cabling do not seem to have a major impact upon fish and other mobile organisms”. Rather, quite the opposite was discovered; “observations indicate a possible refuge function of the farm for certain fish species”. Indeed; “some cod stayed near a single wind turbine for the whole nine-month measuring period.” From this research it can be seen that wind farms can be beneficial to some fish species, sheltering them from predators and providing them with habitat areas that have far less intensive fishing been carried out. This is of great benefit to  species such as the, citied, Atlantic Cod which has seen populations collapse as a result of overly intensive fishing practises.

Other marine lifeforms such as mussels  have also found wind farms to be a most supportive habitat; “species on the monopiles were observed in clearly observed in two distinguishable zones: an upper zone dominated by mussels and a lower zone dominated by tubeworms and anemones. Mussel larvae attach easily to the monopiles and grow very fast in this area. This feature might be used in the future to stimulate multiple use in the form of aqua culture in the windfarms.”

Finally, the effect of the wind farm on several species of bird was studied. The effects of wind turbines on bird populations is an issue which has been perhaps been exaggerated to the public, perhaps even more so with onshore wind turbines. Many of the public seem concerned with the issue of birds simply flying obliviously into the turbine blades. This was an issue that was not encountered during this study: “small groups heading towards the farm always reacted strongly when noticing the farm and changed course to avoid the farm. Northern gannets and possibly little gulls seem to avoid the wind farm”. Even migrating birds flying at turbine blade height (a frequently citied issue for some when talking about turbines) managed to naturally react to and avoid the turbine blades. For other species the wind farm was actually highly beneficial: “One seabird species, the great cormorant (Phalacrocrax carbo) was attracted to the wind farm and uses the site as a new platform for offshore foraging. These cormorants are birds from two colonies nearby… They commute between the colonies and the wind farm. They feed in and around the wind farm and use the monpiles and meteomasts for drying their feathers, resting, and socialising. The wind farm is thus an offshore outpost of the two colonies on the mainland.”

The report, then, suggests that the Windpark Egmond aan Zee quicly saw the development of a diverse ecosystem around it, providing a new habitat for a number of species. This is the conclusion that Professor Han Lindeboom from Wageningen University arrives at: “At most, a few bird species will avoid such a wind farm. It turns out that a wind farm also provides a new natural habitat for organisms living on the seabed such as mussels, anemones and crabs, thereby contributing toincreased biodiversity.

“For fish and marine mammals, it provides an oasis of calm in a relatively busy coastal area.”

We can hope that the findings of this report will be suitably promoted by the UK and Scottish Governments as it outlines the benefits of offshore wind farms and helps to dispel some of the myths about wind turbines in general.

 

Scottish Government Announces New Agri-Renewables Strategy

As we have covered previously on this blog there has been a growing demand for Scotland’s planning process for onshore renewable energy developments to be overhauled and simplified. A few weeks ago the National Farmers Union of Scotland wrote to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney calling for an independent group of experts  be established to deliver a ‘clear, concise and deliverable renewables strategy’. Shortly after this the agri-business magnate Maitland Mackie distributed a document entitled ‘The Real Rationale for Renewable Energy‘ to councillors, MSPs and planning officers across the country. This campaign bore fruit yesterday as the Scottish Government announced the launch of a new strategy for Agri-Renewables.

It was at the annual Black Island Show that the Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead decided to make the much welcome announcement which he stated would “ensure that land managers can benefit from the renewables revolution and unlock the green energy potential of their land”. The strategy is intended to address the four issues that have been identified as key challenges for the sector. These are:

  • The Understanding of the Planning System
  • Access to Independent Advice
  • Pre-Construction Costs
  • Connection to the National Grid

The Secretary’s speech was as follows:

“Scotland is currently experiencing a renewables revolution and I want to see farmers, crofters and land managers working with local communities to ensure they grasp the benefits for their business and the nation

“Farmers and land managers have access to our nation’s abundance of natural resources, so it is no wonder they are already queuing up to grasp the opportunities presented by renewables.

“The renewables revolution offers our farmers and land-based industries the opportunity to cut energy costs, generate new income and contribute to our low carbon future. The list of benefits is endless.

“However, we are all on a steep learning curve, and need to quickly learn to take advantage of the industry’s increasing enthusiasm. We need to get our heads around the various challenges as well as the opportunities. Issues such as funding, planning, accessing grid connections, choosing the best technology, and so on, are all topics that farmers and others wish to see addressed in a well thought out strategy. I agree that this is the way forward, and that’s why we made a manifesto commitment to make it happen.

“Working with the industry, the Scottish Government is keen to deliver a strategy that ensures our renewable potential, boosts rural development, and a more profitable agricultural sector.

“The Agri-Renewables Strategy will be developed in co-operation with industry representatives and will build on the Scottish Government’s existing renewables activity in the agricultural sector.

“Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world and there has already been a great deal of innovation within the farming sector.

“In a few years’ time I hope every farm in Scotland is benefiting from renewable energy in some shape or form. If we can make that vision reality, then that will be truly transformational.

“I look forward to having the new strategy in place by summer next year at the latest.”

The announcement has been welcomed by the NFU Scotland, who in a statement on their website remarked that they were “prepared to help wherever necessary in providing information and support all those involved in drafting the Agri-Renewables Strategy”. They also emphasised that they felt that the agricultural sector would be crucial if the Scottish Government was to achieve the “very ambitious” targets they had set for renewable energy generation. The NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller released the following statement in response to the Government announcement:

“The Scottish Government’s announcement that it will draw up an Agri-Renewables Strategy, with the assistance of industry representatives, is welcome and could be valuable for all farmers wanting to make the most of the opportunities for producing green energy on their land.

“The Scottish Government’s manifesto commitment to develop this strategy and, in particular, to simplify the planning process, were spot on. Scottish farmers and crofters have already contributed a great deal in terms of cutting carbon emissions and installing the means of producing renewable energy on their land, however, inconsistencies and constraints in the planning system mean that many farmers are struggling to get energy projects off the ground.

“The ambitious target to be able to produce 100% of our electricity demand equivalent from renewable sources by 2020 could be attainable, but we need a clear steer from the Scottish Government insetting out nationwide planning guidance and priorities for those applying for and approving renewable projects.

“NFU Scotland has built up a long list of examples from among its membership of where the system is and is not working and will offer to work closely with the Scottish Government and other industry representatives in order to help our farmers and crofters contribute to Scotland’s renewable energy aims.

“We have already got the ball rolling in tackling the planning issue and, in addition to our contact with the Scottish Government, we are meeting Scotland’s chief planner next week with a view to addressing the obstacles and anomalies that exist within the planning system and between Scotland’s local authorities.”

The Agri-Renewables Strategy could be absolutely crucial to achieving the aim of 100% renewable energy generation by 2020 as well as providing a much needed boost to agriculture and fragile local economies up and down the country. The only issue one could have on the subject is that it has not come quite soon enough.

Medium Wind: Consensus building on need for Planning Process Reform

There is a growing consensus on the need for Scotland’s planning process to be reformed to encourage the installation of more onshore wind turbines. Following the National Farmers Union of Scotland‘s letter to the Scottish Government another figure, Maitland Mackie, has produced a document outlining the benefits of onshore wind energy generation for Scotland and how an outdated planning system and antiquated national energy grid are impeding the drive for 100% renewable energy generation by 2020. Mackie, an agri-business man, former chairman of the Scottish Agricultural College and ex-vice chairman of the National Farmers Union of Scotland has circulated the 28 page document, which can be found here, to councillors, MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) and planning officials.

Titled ‘The Real Rationale for Renewable Energy’ the document argues that investment in wind energy generation, particularly smaller scale projects, is being impeded by the need for planning process reform as the current approach to medium wind is one of misunderstanding and at best “grudging approval”. This is despite the “huge potential to revolutionise rural economies” that medium wind holds.

The single greatest thing holding back the development of medium wind is, according to Mackie, a fragmented, expensive and “torturous” planning process. He argues that “the current planning process adds 5-10% to total project costs and is a major disincentive to investment and development of local initiatives”. There are a variety of reports that planning authorities can request of developers such as ecology reports, EIAs (Environmental Impact Reports), noise reports, migration reports and, crucially, grid access reports all of which increase costs. Whilst, of course, it is essential to ensure that wind turbines are appropriately sighted, it is problematic that there is no standardised approach to medium wind between local authorities or, in some cases, between applications in the same department. This has the effect of making costs difficult to estimate accurately.

Mackie argues that “planning procedures need to be pro-actively supportive, simple, least cost [sic] and imbued with a common sense approach to landscape and wildlife.” Planning Process Reform should result in a streamlined, straight forward application process.:

“A simple planning process/procedure might contain the following ideas:

“-Planning departments welcome applications with an assumption that approval will be automatic, subject to clearly articulated restriction criteria e.g. as follows

“-The applicant will deliver site and road access finish standards that satisfy local authorities

“-No non-participatory residences within 400 yards of the site

“-The applicants has cleared any objections by Airport Authorities and local communication  media

“-The applicant has a business structure that invites/welcomes participation and investment by the community and their organisations

“-The site is not a pin-pointed beauty spot, eagle sanctuary, or bat migratory stream

“-The applicant has inspected for, and notified close-by badger sets.”

Such a simplified planning process would make it quicker and easier to gain planning permission for medium wind projects whilst, crucially, allowing for standards of appropriateness to be maintained. The development of Scotland’s onshore wind resource is, after all, crucial not only to the achievement of 100% renewable energy by 2020 but also to the nation’s energy security in an increasingly volatile market, and ever increasing demand, for fossil fuels.

Another problem identified by Mackie is the  antiquated state of the national energy grid. Not only are some sites that are ideal for wind energy generation rendered unsuitable due to the limitations of grid access but the costs of connecting wind turbines to the grid can vary massively:

“The current situation is that access costs for individual applications vary enormously and obviously depend on the distances to access points with available capacity.”

There is also the initial and additional cost of  a grid access query which must be undertaken before anything else to establish if accessing the grid is even possible. Mackie suggested solution to the variable costs of grid access is: “establishing a standard connecting cost, where the theoretical cost differences are shared”.

Standardised pricing of grid access would certainly be beneficial to the achievement of the 100% renewable energy target as it would open up a number of otherwise suitable sites which are currently being priced out.

Another interesting point raised by Mackie, and one which is perhaps under-discussed in the wider media is the connection between renewables and food. As has been discussed previously on this blog the price is food is being pushed up as the price of fossil fuels rockets and more and more arable land is given over to the production of biofuels. Mackie points out that the most widely used artificial fertiliser in agriculture is ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is currently responsible for supporting half of the worlds food production and is manufactured primarily from hydro-carbons. Food production is already seriously stretched as the world population continues to increase dramatically and shortages can only increase unless alternative energy generation is diverted to ammonium production. So we can see yet another benefit of switching to renewable energy generation.

Whilst it is true that the planning process for medium wind can be a long, drawn out and at times difficult affair it is worth remembering that even without planning process reform it is not insurmountable. Experienced companies are more than capable of guiding a turbine proposal through the maze of a local council planning department.