Local councils are to get extra funding if they give the go-ahead to new wind farms, under plans to stop local communities sabotaging renewable energy projects.
Ministers are worried at the vast number of wind farm projects that are being turned down by councillors in the face of local opposition. The Independent revealed yesterday that the number of planning approvals for onshore wind farms is at an all time low, with only one in three applications getting to go-ahead.
There are now 233 separate local campaign groups against wind farms. As a result ministers have agreed that local councils should be given incentives to help persuade them to approve more wind farms.
Under the plans councils will be allowed to keep the business rates generated by wind farms – which currently have to be passed to central government.
Even a small wind farm with just five turbines pays business rates of around £37,000 a year. The money would come without pre-conditions on how it is spent.
“For a small district council who, especially now, does not have large sums to spend without strings attached, this could make a significant difference to the way in which they approach these applications,” said one source familiar with the discussions.
“This is money councillors will be able to spend on their own projects. The idea is that it gives them an incentive to say yes.”
Another possibility which has been investigated would require wind farm developers to make contributions to the local economy as a condition of planning approval – either as part of the proposed community infrastructure levy or the existing section 106 rules.
Such conditions already apply to some other commercial developments, such as housing developments or supermarkets, although in the case of wind farms it would be more complicated to administer and would pass on the cost directly to the renewables industry.
Clllr Gary Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association's Environment Board, said it was vital that local communities were given a stake in wind farms. “Councillors are elected to represent the interests and concerns of people in their area and will quite rightly take this into account when making decisions on whether to permit this sort of development,” he said.
“People need to see how wind farms will benefit them and their local areas - whether that be financially or by supplying renewable energy to their homes and businesses.
“It is only when local communities can see clearly the benefits of renewable energy at both national and local level that individual proposals for renewable energy will be welcomed as a matter of course.”
A spokesman for RenewableUK, which represents the wind farm industry said they would be in favour of the business rate proposal: “You need to make the benefits of renewable energy obvious to local communities. Other countries, like Spain, who have mature renewable energy markets do this. It’s not reinventing the wheel.”
But Michael Hird, from the Campaign Against Wind farms, said it the payment amounted to “a bribe”.
“This is nothing short of a bribe to get local councils to agree to wind farms. They should be spending money on good green energy and not this.”
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: “The UK needs onshore wind in order to help deliver energy security and to combat climate change, however we recognise the concern some local authorities and communities have about hosting wind farms. We are working with communities and Local Government to ensure that communities benefit directly from the wind farms they host - for example through retaining the business rates they generate”.
* The Lake District could become a 'dumping ground' for the nuclear industry, environmentalists warned after the Government failed to rule out using England’s largest national park to bury radioactive waste.
As the country decommissions the nine power stations currently running, pressure is building to find a permanent solution deep underground. At the moment waste is stored on site.
To find the best sites, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched a geological survey of West Cumbria, the only county where councils have agreed to store nuclear waste.
Land under the towns of Keswick, Cockermouth and the Wast Water have not been ruled out by the British Geological Survey.