Death of Onshore or Wind Farm Property Boom?
The conclusion of the government’s consultation on planning guidance for onshore wind farms in England has thrown up some significant changes. Here are my initial thoughts:
– the idea of discounts on energy bills for communities living near wind farms is logical, simple, and personal. It is a shame that it has taken so long for developers to offer this incentive. But it will set an interesting precedent in planning – should it be applied to new power stations? Residents of Bridgwater (near the probable new Hinkley Point nuclear power station) might wonder why they miss out. Is a radiation risk not worth compensation, but a change in the view is? How about those living near pylons? Also, what about gas bill reductions for those near shale rigs?
– opting for discounts on bills might reduce the impact of community benefit schemes. £5,000 per MW per year is a significant amount, but if spread very thinly amongst individual bill payers it won’t produce a tangible outcome like a new village hall or new equipment for a sports club.
– but if communities do opt for bill reductions, those reductions will stay with the property. It will provide a benefit that may prove marketable. Could we see a property boom in the shadow of wind turbines?
– the insistence on a £5,000 per MW per year benefit package will certainly reduce the number of successful onshore wind applications (and perhaps impact the viability of those that have consent). This will make the achievement of the government’s renewable energy and emission reduction targets more difficult and expensive. It is however a good reason to resist a decarbonisation target for the power sector until the impact of this change can be assessed.
– more generally, developers will despair at yet another planning policy shift. After the hope that the planning regime (at least for large scale projects) was finally becoming more streamlined and efficient, this appears to be adding more complications. It’s not so much moving the goal posts as inviting the crowd onto the pitch for a kick around. When we are talking about multi-million pound investments that might have a chilling effect.
It is this last point that is perhaps the most important. For a number of years, the central government mood music has been focused on promoting the delivery of renewable infrastructure assets.
That music has just changed dramatically. Offering local communities a ‘veto’ increases the risk of planning rejection so reduces the likelihood of private developers investing in drawing up a project at all. Some could withdraw from the sector completely.
This new guidance needs a system that more effectively encourages communities to develop projects themselves (eg. through cooperatives) to operate in parallel. If properly funded and supported, community energy schemes could allow communities to better understand the costs and benefits of onshore development, as well as neutralising the planning risk almost completely.