Welsh onshore wind power projects in peril amid ‘toxic’ claims

Henry Evans


Public disenchantment and a convoluted system of planning approval are restricting the development of new renewable energy projects in Wales, panellists told an energy policy forum in Cardiff on Monday morning.

And public support for onshore wind projects in mid-Wales – a hotbed of large-scale projects seeking planning approval – has plumbed such depths that “wind power has become toxic”, according to the head of a local campaign group.

Five onshore wind projects, with combined scope to provide up to 600MW of capacity, were the subject of a year-long public inquiry that ended in June.

The projects include CeltPower’s 126MW Llandinam scheme, RES Group’s 100MW Llanbrynmair wind farm and RWE npower’s Carnedd Wen project that could deliver between 130MW and 250MW of capacity.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) received the planning inspector’s report of the inquiry last week and is expected to reveal its findings early next year.

Much of the public antipathy to the wind farms has focussed around National Grid’s proposals for a transmission cable to connect the projects to the main electricity network over the border in Shropshire, England, which was also considered as part of the inquiry.

“The tragedy in mid-wales is the overbearing nature of National Grid’s proposals,” chairman of the campaign group Montgomeryshire against Pylons, Jonathan Wilkinson said, adding the local population was supportive of a more limited grid connection.

He also criticised the role of the Welsh government in supporting National Grid’s plans to push ahead with their proposals. “What the Welsh government has attempted in mid-wales is underhand and sneaky,” Wilkinson said.

Poor engagement

Wilkinson’s views echoed those of the chair of the Climate Change Commission for Wales, Peter Davies. “There has been poor engagement with the wider public on renewables,” said Davies, who reinforced the message that grid connectivity issues must be resolved for the renewables industry in Wales to reach its full potential.

Development on SSE’s 150MW Nant Y Moch onshore wind project in mid-wales has also been stifled over the last two years as the company continues to assess its options before submitting a planning application.

Other panellists however singled out the separation in planning procedures for building new power generation and associated infrastructure as the primary factor holding back the generation sector.

“The grid connectivity and roads to the power station are determined by the local planning authority, which is an unnecessary complication,” said commercial property company GVA’s director of planning and development Ben Lewis.

In contrast, planning proposals to build new power generation are considered by the UK’s Planning Inspectorate, a government body responsible for national infrastructure planning applications.

“We need to make the system simpler whereby the same authority looks at the power station as the road,” Baroness Randerson of the Wales Office said.

In addition, the Welsh government needed to follow the lead of its Scottish counterpart, which has overseen the commissioning of a swathe of new renewable generation in recent years, she said.

She cited figures that showed Wales’ contribution to renewable power generation from 2012 to 2013 was just 5% of the UK’s total in comparison to Scotland, which supplied 33% of the UK’s renewable power during the period. Henry Evans


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