Decc decides against wind farms

4th November 2015


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Related tags

  • Adaptation ,
  • Renewable

Author

Tony Kelly

Clare Parry examines the implications of the recent decision by the Decc secretary of state to reject planning applications for four wind farms and an overhead power line in Mid Wales

Decc rejected applications for five onshore wind farm projects in Powys on 7 September after a public inquiry, which started in June 2013 and closed in May 2014. A sixth proposal, to upgrade a wind farm at Llandinam, was approved. However, the future of the project is in doubt after Decc rejected the proposal to install an overhead power line to link it to the national electricity grid.

Long-running dispute

The Powys case was one of the longest-running wind energy battles in the UK and Wales's longest planning inquiry. Between 2007 and 2009, developers made applications for five wind farms - at Llanbrynmair, Carnedd Wen, Llaithddu, Llandinam and Llanbadarn Fynydd - and for a 132kV overhead electric line to connect the proposed Llandinam repowering scheme, which involves decommissioning and replacing a wind farm, with the substation at Welshpool (see below).

The case was not decided on the recommendations of the planning inspector but by the energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd. The difference between their conclusions is stark. The inspector felt that: Llandinam, Llaithddu and all but five of the proposed turbines at Carnedd Wen were acceptable; the planned facility at Llanbrynmair was acceptable if it used different access; and the 132kV line was acceptable if it was partly rooted underground. The inspector rejected only the Llabandarn Fynydd wind farm. The secretary of state, meanwhile, concluded that only Llandinam was acceptable.

Cumulative impact

Of greatest interest to environmental assessment practitioners is the consideration of cumulative impact and the approach taken to consider other solutions.

In terms of cumulative impact, if all the turbines before the planning inquiry were permitted they would have triggered the need for a 400kV grid connection using a network of pylons. Powys County Council and others strongly objected to the construction of new pylons and their impact on the local landscape, although the application for the connection was not before the inquiry.

The substantial number of proposed wind farms in the area in the planning or nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) systems, but which were not before the inquiry, made it difficult to assess the cumulative impacts of the structures at Llanbrynmair, Carnedd Wen, Llaithddu, Llandinam and Llanbadarn Fynydd. Indeed, an application for a wind farm in the area that was not before the inquiry received planning permission from the Welsh government before the secretary of state's decision - although that is now subject to challenge in the High Court.

The inspector's calls

Whereas the secretary of state did not have to consider the complex permutations of what combinations of wind farms would trigger the need for the grid connection when deciding the applications, the inspector did. He accepted that, in relation to each individual wind farm, the correct question to consider was whether there was any reason why the grid connection could not be provided. This is the conventional approach adopted by planning inspectors in cases where the grid application is not part of the same application. However, the inspector did accept that it was relevant to assess that some combinations of the five schemes would trigger the need for the 400kV line.

Given that the secretary of state found only the Llandinam application acceptable, she did not need to consider the other schemes in the planning pipeline. The inspector, however, found that, although the schemes before him were acceptable, if all the applications in the planning systems were to be permitted that would be unacceptable.

A final issue of interest that emerges from the inspector's report and the decision of the secretary of state is the relevance of alternatives. First, several options for the planned 132kV overhead line to export the electricity from the wind farm at Llandinam were put forward, from laying the line partly underground to an entirely different route. Both the inspector and the secretary of state accepted that the existence of those options was relevant to their consideration and relied on them to reach their decision.

Second, in relation to the proposed Llanbrynmair wind farm, the county council argued that there was an alternative access route for the delivery of components that would have substantially reduced environmental consequences. The inspector accepted in the public interest that the alternative route was relevant and, given the existence of an alternative with reduced consequences, the proposed access route should not be considered acceptable.

The planning applications

  • Llanbadarn Fynydd - 17 turbines; maximum capacity of 59.5MW.
  • Llaithddu - 27 turbines; installed capacity of 62.1MW.
  • Llanbrynmair - wind turbine generation station of up to 90MW.
  • Carnedd Wen - wind turbine generating station of 130-150MW.
  • Llandinam - 34 turbines; maximum capacity of 102MW; decommission of an existing wind turbine generating station.
  • Power line - 132kV overhead electric line connection between the proposed Llandinam wind farm and Welshpool substation.

    Clare Parry is a barrister with Cornerstone Barristers. She acted on behalf of Powys County Council in opposing the proposed wind farms.

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