British residents will be able to stop construction of wind farms under tough new rules that could sound the death knell for onshore wind.
New guidance is expected to tell councils that local people’s concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy, and give more weight to the impact of turbines on the landscape and heritage.
The changes are part of a package of measures that also significantly increase the amount of money communities will receive for agreeing to host wind farms nearby, with householders set to get hundreds of pounds off energy bills.
Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey insisted that the Government remained committed to “appropriately sited onshore wind” as part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix.
But a Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister feels that it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to wind farms and that is why new legislation will be brought forward, so that if people don’t want wind farms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”
It is thought the changes to planning guidance could spell the end of new onshore wind, as it will make it much harder to build wind farms, and not many communities will be keen to take up the “sweetener” of payments.
Concerns have also been raised by the renewables industry that the much higher rate of payments would make some developments uneconomic and prevent them going ahead.
The new measures demand a five-fold increase in what developers are expected to pay residents for allowing wind turbines in their local area, up from £1,000 per megawatt of installed power to £5,000.
A community agreeing to a medium-sized 20 megawatt wind farm that might involve around 10 turbines would receive a package of benefits worth £100,000 a year or seeing up to £400 cut from each household’s bill.
In one scheme in which people are already set to benefit from higher levels of payment, local residents near RES’s 12-turbine Meikle Carewe wind farm near Aberdeen will get £122 off their bills, along with community funds.
The funding would apply to projects that have not yet been constructed, and industry body RenewableUK estimates that turbines in the planning system or approved but not yet built could deliver up to almost £150 million to communities.
Mr Davey said: "It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable — economically, environmentally and socially, and today's announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm.
“We remain committed to the deployment of appropriately sited onshore wind, as a key part of a diverse, low carbon and secure energy mix and committed to an evidence-based approach to supporting low carbon power.”
But measures to tighten up the planning regulations for wind farms will give more say to residents, with developers proposing more significant onshore wind schemes required to consult local communities before submitting an application.
Developers will also be expected to meet higher standards in relation to engaging with local communities.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, said: “Developing wind farms requires a significant amount of investment to be made upfront. Adding to this cost, by following the Government’s advice that we should pay substantially more into community funds for future projects, will unfortunately make some planned wind energy developments uneconomic in England, so they will not go ahead and that is very disappointing.
“That said, we recognise the need to ensure good practice across the industry and will continue to work with Government and local authorities to benefit communities right across the country which are hosting our clean energy future.”
Onshore wind provided 3 per cent of the UK’s electricity supplies in 2011, generating enough to power the equivalent of 2.5 million homes.
More than 4,000 turbines are in operation across Britain, with almost 6,000 under or awaiting construction or in the planning system. The industry attracted £1.6 billion in private investment in 2011/2012 and supported some 1,800 jobs.
Insiders rejected suggestions that the latest move undermined the Prime Minister’s claims to lead the “greenest Government ever”, as there was continued investment in other forms of renewable energy.
They claimed onshore wind was so tied up in protests and legal challenges it had not produced significant amounts of power, and said it was important people did not associate the green agenda with developments that damaged their lives.