Main Points from Pps18 Renewable Energy
REPORT ON COUNCIL DELEGATION TO PLANNING OFFICE IN SUPPORT OF LOCAL BUSINESS SEEKING TO MEET RENEWABLE ENERGY TARGETS.
ATTENDEES AT MEETING
Cllr Enright organised and Chaired the meeting and represented the Green Party, Cllr Wells represented the DUP and Cllr MacConnMidhe arrived late for the meeting representing SF (had gone to council buildings for meeting and hence was late). Apologies had been received from some of the other parties.
Ten business were represented employing between six and 140 persons.
The planning department was represented by Clifford McIlwaine Pat Rooney and Annette McAlarney
PURPOSE OF MEETING
To raise councils concern that Down District must not be excluded from the “Green Economy” via planning decisions that ignored government targets on renewable energy. Council was supportive of local business entering this huge new market and supporting other local businesses trying to stay competitive and reduce their cost base by using renewable energy.
Cllr Cadogan Enright opened the meeting by summarising government targets relevant to this meeting and Down District Council area, the key target relevant to the meeting was the 22.5% of all electricity to be produced from on-shore wind. Cllr Enright also reminded those present of the main provisions of Planning Policy Statement 18 (PPS18) whose primary aim “is to encourage and facilitate the provision of renewable energy and heat generating facilities”. These are elaborated upon the bottom of this report in Appendix A and Appendix B.
Council was concerned that commercial-scale wind turbines in the district were either being refused, withdrawn, moved to inappropriate locations or having inappropriate height restrictions that rendered them uneconomic.
POINTS RAISED BY LOCAL BUSINESSMEN
Three groups of businesses were represented as follows;
- Businesses installing and manufacturing renewable energy systems in the Down District Area.
Sustainable Energy Association Paddy Flynn listed some of the business operating in the district and how they were having to find most of their work in the Republic and Britain and further abroad. Some of the local businessmen present were installing water turbines in Donegal, Wind turbines in Wales, Scotland RoI and large renewable heating systems in England. Between lack of incentives in NI generally and planning obstacles they were being forced abroad for most of their work.
All these businesses were experiencing long delays in planning (16 to 18 months) unlike Fermanagh and other area where a result would be achieved in 3 months. Other issues included unnecessary requests for additional reports, failure of the departmental consultees to work together, irrational restrictions on location and on height of wind turbines not in keeping with PPS18 and what appeared to be dragging out of applications and failure to notify them and their customers of additional information requirements before going to a refusal.
All commercial scale wind-turbines were being refused or were having to be withdrawn to avoid refusal. Each application was a hugely expensive investment of money and time, and the companies involved always applied for suitable locations as they were well aware of what was allowed under official guidelines and had no wish to waste their money in applying for inappropriate locations.
Even in circumstances where no local objections had been received the planning office was insisting that “visual impact” would rule out any development.
There was a presumption against all these developments in Downpatrick planning office – whereas PPS18 suggested there should be a presumption in favour of a properly located wind turbine.
- Businesses employing large numbers of people seeking to protect their energy supply and cap their energy costs. Several businessmen in this category spoke.
Firstly Brendan McGinn employing 64 people in tourism-type enterprises in the Castlewellan area highlighted how energy is his next biggest bill after wages. At peak hours NIE cannot supply his businesses with affordable energy and he has had to install a diesel powered turbine and this was becoming unaffordable. He highlighted long planning delays – he was well into his second year and now had to make a new application so was back to square one. He had experienced irrational restrictions on the height of a turbine unrelated to PPS18. Some of the installers present pointed out that if planning was always going to ask for non-optimal locations and heights it would result in 3 to 4 times the number of turbines to supply the same amount of power as there is s geometric relationship between power and height.
Secondly Johnathan McGall of Dawson Wam outside of Saintfield employing 142 people said that energy costs in his company vied with wage costs. NIE frequently tell them to power down when power is scarce and the commercial value of power in unaffordable in some periods resulting in short-time working. They had installed and oil-fired generator a number of years ago but this had become unaffordable and with oil prices heading up again they had to resort to cheaper renewable options not just to keep costs down and keep their business competitive but to create a ceiling on the expected ramp-up of energy costs over the next few years. He agreed with Cllr Enright that the CBI in N.I. had described the 99% dependency of NI on imported fossil fuels as a potential catastrophe for the NI economy.
To win government contracts these days the company was required to demonstrate that it was on a sustainable track or it would not win new business for its stone. Unless it could use electrical power from a commercial wind turbine to cut stone, it would be in a serious situation going forward.
This was a huge investment for them, with no grants or supports available, thus the attitude of the planning office and its willingness to help this company achieve UK government targets was important.
Various others contributed to the discussion.
- Businesses that would like to build windfarms in the Down District Area
A number of landowners expressed concern that it took tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a windfarm proposal together. If there was an effective ban on windfarms in Down District they would need to know, and know why this district was being exempted from the “Green Economy” going forward. One person who had planning permission for a domestic turbine wanted to get planning for a commercial turbine, but given apparent height restrictions in the district was concerned that he would be wasting his money, even though a neighbour in Minerstown had achieved a commercial windturbine for heating his pig-pens with renewable energy.
There was a spirited discussion about “Visual impact”. If every commercial wind turbine was turned down purely for visual impact alone, even though the locations were deemed suitable by UK government policy overall, it would result in a lottery based on the whim of planners who appeared not to appreciate the overall context of UK government policy being permissive, and the importance of predictable energy cots in preserving employment and the need for Down District not to be excluded from the biggest economic opportunity since the industrial revolution.
It was pointed out that some of these proposals had no objections from local people, but were still being stymied by planners on “visual impact”. Surely locals had a better grasp of what was a visual impact than visitors from Belfast or planners remote from economic reality. Annette pointed out that the number of objections was not a reason in itself for refusal and one could see a situation that determined objectors could generate a lot of objections to an acceptable proposal which could be ignored by planners, and in the same way a proposal with no objections would be rejected by planners. Only planners would decide what was deemed unacceptable visual impact.
There was a negative feedback to Annette on this point, as expensive and difficult planning applications needed to be based on a rational, transparent basis operating within the context of overall UK and NI energy policy and the economic reality facing businesses within Down District.
PLANNERS RESPONSE TO POINTS RAISED
Clifford welcomed the feedback on this important sector from businesses and political parties. He said that planning applications were considered “on a case bay case basis”. And planners were allowing most house-hold scale turbines.
Cllr Enright pointed that there needed to be an economic and policy context when considering each case, they did not exist in isolation from overall government policy. Smaller turbines were inappropriate for businesses employing 142 people experiencing variances in energy costs in the 100’s of 1,000’s of pounds. Cllr Wells pointed out that most of these applications had no objectors.
Clifford undertook to meeting with the planners concerned and remind them of the policy context and the backdrop of business need. He also pointed out that where there were issues of maintaining jobs on local businesses this needed to be mentioned in the planning application. This was greatly appreciated by all present.
Clifford offered “pre-application discussion” consultation on location of new proposals as it might be possible to indicate those areas that were unacceptable. Professional installing companies present pointed out that they never bothered applying in areas that were clearly at odds with government guidelines as this would be a waste of their time and their clients money, but welcomed the proposal.
The issue of visual impact cropped up again, but visual impact to whom? Some thought it should be up to local people. National parks committees own report had recommended in favour of them, but planners seemed to think that they were able to preserve the park area in aspic.
Clifford undertook that there would be no presumption against going forward on the issue of on-shore wind turbines. This was also welcomed by those present.
APPENDIX 1 ON TARGETS SET BY UK GOVERENMENT, EU ETC COVERED AT MEETING
- EU Renewables Directive (2001/77/EC) focuses on measures to encourage the promotion of electricity from renewable sources. This seeks 12% of electricity consumption to be produced from renewable energy sources is met by 2010. (we are actually producing 1%)
- UK Climate Change Bill sets ambitious targets beyond those agreed by Europe in setting legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions by between 26% and 32% by 2020, and 60% by 2050, from 1990 levels
- The NI Strategic Energy Framework targets 20% for the amount of Northern Ireland’s electricity consumption that is to be generated from indigenous renewable sources by 2012
- The Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) requires 30% of all electricity to be produced from wind by 2025 – 75% from on-shore wind sources. I.E. 22.5%
- The SDS contains three strategic objectives on climate change and energy namely:
- to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, principally by promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewables;
- to establish Northern Ireland as a world class exemplar in the development and use of renewable energy; and
- to plan and prepare for climate change impacts in Northern Ireland.
APPENDIX 2 ON MAIN POINTS FROM PPS18 “RENEWABLE ENERGY” COVERED AT MEETING
- The Government has accepted that long-term climate change is the single biggest environmental threat facing the planet.
- The main source of CO2 emissions in the UK comes from the burning of fossil fuels in power stations. To help lessen the effects of climate change, the Government has committed to reducing the level of greenhouse gases emitted. Emphasis is being given to energy generation from sources that emit low or even zero levels of greenhouse gases, such as renewable energy, and through using energy as efficiently as possible.
- The varied nature of renewable energy technologies presents the potential to develop an indigenous renewable energy industry and provides a range of opportunities to support the local economy including:
- direct and indirect employment opportunities during the construction and operational phases;
- revenue to the owners of the land on which they are built;
- employment in the manufacture of components and services
- opportunities for rural diversification, the alternative agricultural use of land and employment in the production of biomass crops;
- a beneficial route for the utilisation of residues and wastes that might otherwise be difficult or expensive to dispose of; and
- an improved source of electricity in remote locations.
- The primary aim of this Planning Policy Statement (PPS) is to encourage and facilitate the provision of renewable energy and heat generating facilities in appropriate locations within the built and natural environment.
Cllr Cadogan Enright Green Party
- Overview of issues
- Businessmen outline their problems
- Political Parties outline their views
- Planners outline their views
- Discussion of points arising
- Agreed Action Points