Welsh councils criticised for opposing ‘clean energy’ schemes despite declaring a climate emergency
A “pro-growth” campaign group has criticised local authorities across Wales for opposing “clean energy” projects like wind farms and grid connections despite having declared a climate emergency.
Along with passing motions sounding the alarm over climate threats, councils have also set ambitious carbon neutral targets for their patch.
Yet new analysis from Britain Remade has revealed that three Welsh councils were against planning applications for renewable and clean energy schemes.
Taken together, says Britain Remade, the projects could produce 500 megawatts of clean energy – enough to power over 500,000 homes with low cost electricity.
Despite declaring a climate emergency in May 2019, and having a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, Conwy council opposed proposals for the Awel Y Mor wind farm off the north Wales coast in October 2021, before a formal planning application was submitted.
After RWE Renewables put forward two options, planning officers advised councillors to oppose the plans, citing damage to the visual landscape, seascape and harm to tourism. Councillor Andrew Hinchliffe said beautiful views, such as those enjoyed from Llanfairfechan, could be “destroyed”.
Pant y Maen may lie within an area designated as suitable for large-scale wind development by the Welsh Government, but this hasn’t stopped Denbighshire County Council opposing plans for a seven-turbine wind farm. Plans to build the onshore wind farm were originally lodged in March 2015 but knocked back by councillors in September 2016. Following an appeal the plans were given the green light by the Welsh Government after Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths stepped in.
Developers also faced a battle to increase the height of the turbines by 70ft, from 334ft to 406ft, a move that was approved in January 2022 some 10 years after the project was first launched.
Sam Richards, founder and campaign director at Britain Remade, said: “It is absurd that up and down the country local councils, despite declaring a climate emergency, have stood in the way of plans that could provide cheap clean energy to millions of homes. Across the country there is huge support for clean energy projects both large and small.
“But when these plans become part of the planning system, councils tend to hear from the most motivated voices – which unfortunately, tends to be the minority of people who are against a particular project. If we are to hit our 2050 net zero target and provide secure sources of clean energy that will help cut the energy bills of millions of people, local councils must match words with deeds.”
Jenny Chryss, who chairs the Powys-based campaign group RE-think, which opposes plans to build networks of wind farms and pylons across mid Wales, said “I think Sam Richards and Britain Remade should have done more research before issuing this statement.
“For a start, Conwy council was not the planning authority making the decision on Awel Y Mor. Because this is classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project over 350MW the decision was down to the UK Government.
“All the council was doing was responding to a pre-application consultation, no doubt along with many other statutory consultees. While this will have been taken into account by the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate, it certainly won’t have been the only consideration when consent was finally granted in September.
“Britain Remade should also note that Denbighshire County Council’s decision to reject Pant Y Maen Wind Farm was supported by the Planning Inspector. It was only when the then Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, got involved that it was approved against that initial professional advice.
“In relation to decisions by Lesley Griffiths, Britain Remade could also have cited Hendy Wind Farm in Radnorshire. That was rejected by Powys planners and the planning inspector but then approved by Ms Griffiths. Hendy is now built, but three years on it is not connected to the grid and has never generated any electricity.
“I would have liked a breakdown of the figures that Britain Remade used to justify their comment of “low-cost” electricity. For example, have they taken into account the constraints payment subsidies that compensate wind farm operators for curtailing their generation at times when supply exceeds demand?
“I would also like to know what load factors they have used to state that the projects could produce to power over 500,000 homes. Onshore wind farms have a reported load or capacity factor of about 30%, and offshore about 42% according to UK Government figures, but there is nothing to say this has been accounted for.
“There are many complex reasons why onshore and offshore wind developments are approved or rejected, with visual impact being only one part. Some developments would cause far more environmental damage than can be mitigated, others would cause danger to low flying or commercial aircraft, and so on. All these elements take time, sometimes many months, to determine, often through long-term technical assessments. I am not convinced that before issuing these very generalised statements, Britain Remade did their due diligence in every case.”
Ms Chryss added: “RE-think fully supports small-scale local wind farm developments that will supply nearby communities. But to make sweeping statements such as these by Britain Remade completely misses the point.
“There is a very fine balance to be found between mitigating climate change and destroying an area, not just visually, but also in terms of environmental damage, wildlife, biodiversity loss and economic cost.
“Local planners are just part of that process, but they know the area and its needs better than anyone in Whitehall or the Senedd. They should be listened to, whatever their decisions.”
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