Thursday, June 25, 2009
The British Wind Energy Association - should they listen more to local communities?
This past Tuesday was spent at a full day Renewable Energy seminar in sunny Bridlington, an event put on by BWEA (British Wind Energy Association) in association with Novera Energy who run the ‘nearby’ Lissett windfarm (pictured above), which we also visited during the day.
The day was enlightening in a number of ways and somewhat thought provoking. It is quite clear that the main driver of both the BWEA and Novera is addressing the issue climate change, which I applaud and can support. The other significant driver is of course money, something both parties seemed reluctant to address or discuss, but alas an issue that concerns many.
I arrived feeling genuinely concerned that the industry has unresolved issues regarding siting of windfarms and how companies engage with local communities. The document at the front of the pack we were given stated, “Councillors and Officers will leave the events with increased knowledge of planning for wind energy” - was this seminar going to be a brainwashing attempt I wondered, if so bad idea!!
Did I learn anything? To be honest a little, and certainly confirmation that speculative windfarm developers are only in it for themselves, they talk about public enquiries and not the planning process, they allude to community engagement but not community involvement, and they refuse to publicly answer questions relating to Government subsidies.
There also seemed to be a startling lack of balance considering it was a renewable energy seminar perhaps it should just have been labelled ‘wind energy’ as it’s difficult to recall any significant mention of wave power, tidal power or Biomass.
Strangely the chair of the morning session failed to mention the local planning process even once but happily raised the subject of Public Enquiries – a very expensive £six figure process that comes as part of an appeal to the Government’s planning inspectorate if planning consent has been refused by the Local Authority.
The BWEA media briefing paper says, “The locally elected planning committees should not be relying on the Planning Inspectorate to take decisions which should be taken at the local level in accordance with national and local policy” – well I can say as a member of the ERYC planning committee, we certainly make those decisions, unfortunately not all are for approval.
As we see more permissions granted at appeal I certainly feel that the Government’s removal of legitimate basis for opposition during the local planning system and the politicising of the Planning Inspectorate can only be damaging to the industry.
It was quite obvious for all to see that very little priority is given to getting communities on board from the very beginning of an application, the BWEA don’t seem to understand this would certainly make the planning process easier. I raised the subject of community engagement, community involvement, and even community ownership of windfarms, which could include communities having shares in a windfarm, could include those communities within a 5-km radius receiving concessionary or low cost green electricity, or even constructing an extra wind turbine on a particular site from which the net profits could be given to the community. Needless to say this line of thought met with almost universal blank looks, although it did dawn on a couple of them later in the day that this might just be an option worth exploring!`
The afternoon session had a young presenter, who perhaps proved to be the exception on the day as he spoke on micro wind energy, something in which communities could play an important part. He dealt with turbines that could power an individual house, several houses or even an industrial site – something the possibly needs further investigation.
Finally, as we left the room and stepped into the bright sunshine I thought – Does the BWEA need to lift the lid from the boxes they appear to inhabit - and let some sunshine in?