What Are the Chances Of Getting Planning Permission For Extensions?

Topic: wind farm extension Read Time: 7 mins
Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
Energy: Onshore wind
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Have you been looking for a rundown on the chances of getting planning permission for extensions? Join us as we delve into everything you need to know about planning permission for a wind farm in the UK (and why it’s so hard to get).

Getting planning permission for extensions has become increasingly difficult since 2015. And if you’re a landowner or developer who wants to invest in a new renewable energy project?

You may be wondering whether you’ll be able to get planning permission for a wind farm. We’ll say right off the bat that extending a current project is far easier than setting up a new one. But just how much easier is it? Is starting a new wind farm utterly out of the question? Are things going to change anytime soon to help the UK meet its net-zero target?

Well, let’s find out as we explore current planning permission restrictions (and why they need to change).

What Are the Chances Of Getting Planning Permission for Extensions?

An infographic showing the percentage of wind energy usage in the UK

If you’re the kind of person who appreciates hard data, then you’re in luck. We’ve carried out our own research from all the UK councils that outlines just how difficult getting planning permission for extensions currently is.

According to Friends of the Earth, onshore wind approval has dramatically fallen since the government removed subsidies. If you don’t believe us, councils in England granted planning permission for just 16 new wind farms across the country between 2016 and 2020. That’s a 96% decrease from the 435 between 2011 and 2015.

From our own findings, we discovered that only 20.8% of councils have identified suitable areas for wind energy in their Local Plan, in fact, 28.5% don’t have a local plan, and only 14% have explicitly considered and been unable to identify a suitable area for wind development in their neighbourhood plan.

And the real issue comes with the councils failing to explicitly consider areas as being suitable for wind energy development which simply isn’t enough. However, as the latest Neighbourhood Plans show that only 2.7% of councils identified suitable areas in these updates – we still have a long way to go.

Unless councils make a more concerted effort to explicitly consider areas as suitable for wind development, the UK simply won’t meet its net-zero limits.

What is Repowering vs. Extending a Wind Farm (and Why Is This Important?)

Under the law, wind farm extensions and repowering are essentially the same things. But what happens at an actual wind farm site is slightly different, and both scenarios will involve a change in planning permission. If this sounds slightly confusing, let us give you some context.

When a developer builds an onshore wind farm in the UK, it typically receives planning permission that allows the wind turbines to remain in operation for 20-25 years. After this time, developers must decommission the turbines and restore the land to its original condition.

This case is usually acceptable to the wind farm developer and town planning officers as onshore turbines will have had a useful economic life during this time. Therefore, the length of planning permission mirrors the expected operational life of the wind farm.

But as wind turbine technology has significantly improved over the years, most turbines can remain operational past their planning permission cycle.  In some cases – for up to 35 years.

This has created a unique situation whereby many wind farms reach the end of their planning permission lifecycle but the developer wishes to continue operating instead of decommissioning the turbines.

The wind farm may have performed significantly worse than expected in other cases! When this happens, the developer may want to replace the original turbines and continue operating to get a decent return on their investment.

In basic terms, repowering a wind farm essentially means extending the life cycle of existing turbines or replacing/repositioning turbines, or adding additional turbines.  In these situations, planning permission for extensions is typically less strict than it would be for new onshore wind farms.

But is this fair to those who want to invest in new projects?

Well, let’s find out.

Why Is Starting a New Wind Farm So Complicated?

Although a wind farm extension and repowering are similar, starting an entirely new project is extremely difficult. And this is completely down to wind turbine planning permission restrictions and the forced involvement of local authorities. The government tightened planning permission regulations for new projects severely in 2015

This made it impossible for any onshore wind farms to be built unless:

  • The local council had pre-designated a certain area as suitable for wind turbines. At present, only 25% of councils have done so and 60% have yet to look into suitable areas! This is partly because they refuse to identify such areas or claim that it’s the responsibility of prospective Neighborhood Plans.
  • All objections by the local community had been addressed and the project had their backing.

It’s possible that smaller local authorities will make a more concerted effort to identify suitable areas for wind development. But as it stands, there’s simply not enough data available to prove or disprove this point.

When you take green belt restrictions into account, it becomes clear that current wind turbine planning permission conditions are simply too restrictive to allow any new projects to start.

Are Wind Farms Profitable?

If you’ve happened upon this article because you’ve been thinking of setting up your own wind farm, then you may be wondering if it’s actually a profitable venture. And we’ll answer that question with “yes and no”.

While wind farms will eventually become profitable, they take between 9 months and 2 years from the receipt of planning permission to become fully operational. Most wind farms take between 9 and 15 years for site developers to recover their initial investment fully.

So, wind farms commissioned in 2004-2005 only started making a profit around 17.5 years after they received planning permission. That’s certainly playing the long game.

Lumify Energy water coloured wind farm

Although your wind farm will eventually be profitable, you’ll need to consider that most wind farms will reach the end of their original planning permission just as they’re starting to see decent returns.

Developers will only have a narrow window of opportunity to realise a satisfactory return on investment. For this reason, we feel that councils should extend the guaranteed period of planning permission for projects. Not only will this take the pressure off developers investing in renewable energy projects, but the resulting turbines will provide landowners with a diversified source of income.

A win-win all around.

Is the Current Situation With Planning Permission for Extensions Productive?

There’s a strong case for repowering, as you won’t need to jump through the same hurdles with local authorities on the planning permission front. But just how productive are these restrictions when it comes to meeting net-zero obligations and energy independence? And are the current restrictions keeping energy prices high and virtually unaffordable for large swathes of the country?

In theory- yes. But resistance from the Conservatives and local resistance to new projects have made wind development extremely difficult.

Our Two Cents

We feel that the current planning rules are unnecessary and unfair to developers and landowners. In fact, the situation is so restrictive that we’re surprised that these conditions are lawful.

As we’ve mentioned, every site needs to be designated as suitable for wind energy before a project can be built. But as there is no requirement for local councils or communities to consider the local area, progress is simply at a standstill as the incentive to assess land for suitability just isn’t there.

In reality, there should be a burden or element of pressure that forces local councils to consider areas.  And if they deem areas unsuitable, a justification should be given for their decision.

Our view is that we must consider what we are doing to protect the environment. As a typical wind turbine can generate approximately 8,000 kilowatts at maximum capacity, it can supply up to 16,000 homes with electricity. For that reason alone, it seems extremely irresponsible that the law doesn’t require an objective assessment of these projects.

Existing wind farms are certainly a step in the right direction. But we need considerably more turbines in the UK to reach the country’s clean energy goals.

Looking to the Future

While planning permission for extensions has been virtually impossible for new projects to achieve, there is set to be light at the end of the tunnel.

The government announced in September 2022 that it would bring planning consent for onshore wind in line with other infrastructure in the UK.

picture of yellow quotation marks

The government will unlock the potential of onshore wind by bringing consent in line with other infrastructure. The UK is a world leader in offshore wind, with 8GW of offshore wind currently under construction. By 2023 the government is set to increase renewables capacity by 15%. This should support the UK’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Sure, it’s previous Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng that said this. But the general attitude towards onshore wind seems far more favourable now than it has been in recent years.

There are still local communities that consider these projects an eyesore.  But unlocking our full potential for onshore wind is crucial for driving down energy prices and boosting our electricity supplies. And it’s hoped that seeking local partnerships for “supportive communities” through incentives may soften the public’s view of onshore wind.

Luckily for us, recent polling shows that 74% of Britons across all constituencies actually favour onshore wind.  So, the future for wind development in the UK may be even brighter than we first thought.

Will we see more wind farms popping up over the country in the coming years?  Only time will tell. If you’re curious about your renewable energy project or need guidance on a wind farm extension, we’re here to help. Simply get in touch with the Lumify team, and we’ll be happy to speak with you.

The Ultimate Guide to Wind Farm Extensions

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The Ultimate Guide to Wind Farm Extensions