Wind farm payments criticised as bribery

Developers agree to pay communities £1,000 per year per megawatt, but only in England

Communities that accept onshore wind farms will receive at least £1,000 per year per megawatt of installed capacity, under an agreement announced by trade body RenewableUK yesterday. This is equivalent to just three days' subsidy received by a typical wind farms under the Renewables Obligation.

The voluntary "community commitment" is the latest attempt to increase planning approval rates for onshore wind.

Last October, the government said that business rates from wind farms – worth an average £6,400 per MW – will be kept by councils that accept projects (ENDS Report, November 2010). Just 55% of onshore wind planning applications were approved between October 2009 and October 2010, the last time for which data is available.

The commitment only applies in England to projects above 5MW, and only those submitted to planning authorities from 16 May.

This means that the developers of 862MW of projects in the planning system would not have to adopt the payment – although many will already offer some form of community benefit.

The average payment would be £11,000 per year given the size of schemes going through planning. This does not seem like a sufficient level to change the opinions of anti-wind farm campaigners. However, the commitment has still angered the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

"It's another example of communities being bribed to accept things which they otherwise wouldn't," said a spokesman.

Charles Anglin, RenewableUK's communications director, said the body was working on similar agreements in Northern Ireland and Wales but "differences in their planning systems" meant it was not appropriate to simply extend the current one.

ScottishRenewables said it had not adopted the agreement north of the border because one was not needed to increase planning rates.

Furthermore, the Scottish government is consulting on ways to increase community benefit from renewables. This does not recommend minimum payments, but says a register should be created listing what benefits communities receive. This should end the perception that some communities have benefitted handsomely while others have not.

The consultation closes next Friday.

  • CPRE today also criticised government plans to pay financial incentives to councils that accept new housing developments. The government’s 'New Homes Bonus' of about £10,000 per home is "little more than an attempt to buy off objections to uncontrolled housing sprawl", and will be subject to legal challenges.
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