Is Northants The Wind Farm Capital Of England?
|Author: Brian Skittrall||Published: 20th January 2012 18:41|
Is Northamptonshire the wind farm captial of the England?
Recent decisions by the Planning Inspectorate look likely to turn Northamptonshire -- one of the least windy counties in Britain -- into the one most densely covered with windfarms. Currently known as “the county of squires and spires” because of its historic stately homes and churches set in an unspoilt rolling rural landscape, Northamptonshire is set to be transformed into a county dominated by industrial scale windfarms.
The Government’s Planning Inspectors have recently overturned decisions by local authorities to refuse permission for windfarms at Nun Wood (Bozeat), Kelmarsh, Boddington and Watford Lodge. A decision is expected soon from another appeal at Barnwell Manor (Sudborough). Further appeals are lodged for windfarms at Chelveston, Helmdon, Lilbourne and Winwick.
The first windfarm decision to be overturned in the county was at Yelvertoft in 2010. Since then the only windfarm refusal not to be overturned by a planning inspector was at Harrington where turbines would have been only yards from a Scheduled Monument. Even there the developer has not withdrawn, but has instead announced that a proposal for three turbines will be submitted.
So what is so special about Northamptonshire that makes it popular with windfarm developers? Is the wind resource second to none? Quite the contrary. Being in central England the county has one of the poorest wind resources in Britain. The reason why the area is such a hot-spot for developers is that it has no National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), green belts or airport exclusion zones, which would get in the way of turbines 125m (410ft) high. The other important factor, of course, is that the subsidies paid to onshore windfarm developers are so high that they can make enormous profits even without generating much electricity.
The county of Northamptonshire is in line to meet singlehandedly the entire East Midlands regional target for large scale onshore windfarms, which is 175MW of installed capacity. Its share should be only 10% of that. But its share has already been exceeded threefold by the 50MW of windfarms approved locally. The Planning Inspectorate has added another 60MW, and there is more to come. Five more applications totalling 72MW are in the appeals system, five in the planning system totalling 41MW, and there are 5 further sites where a proposal has been announced but an application has yet to be submitted (adding another 38MW).
This would bring the county’s grand total to 121 turbines on 24 windfarms with an installed capacity of 260MW.
Some might see 260MW capacity as an impressive amount of renewable energy. However because of low wind speeds the actual output would be less than a quarter of that capacity - far less than if the turbines were in a windy location. All of these windfarms would only generate the same amount of electricity as about 1/15 of a small power station – and then only when it is windy - not when the power is needed.
Sir Paul Hayter of CPRE Northamptonshire says: “When the least windy part of England is carpeted with windfarms it is a clear sign that the subsidies are excessive. It is also a sign that, despite the much- vaunted Localism Act, we have a planning regime in which national targets take precedence over local decisions.”
Hopes that the imminent review of the renewables subsidy system might put an end to these excessive subsidies are fading fast. Instead of halving the subsidies in line with the National Audit Office 2005 report, DECC’s draft review proposes a cut of just 10% in the level of subsidies for onshore windfarms – matching the expected cut in the costs to the developers. Even under these reduced subsidies, developers in low-wind areas like Northamptonshire can on average expect a virtually risk-free return on investment of 21⁄2 times the amount so recently deemed sufficient for people investing in solar panels.