The UK could greatly increase the number of onshore wind farms it builds without harming wildlife. That is according to an RSPB-commissioned report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), which found the UK lagging far behind in the drive for wind power.
The report calls on the government to step in to ensure that better and quicker decisions on wind farms are made, while protecting wildlife and winning the backing of local communities.
Wind turbines met just less than two per cent of the UK’s electricity demands in 2007, though deployment levels varied, with Scotland significantly outperforming other parts of the UK.
The UK was 13th in a European league table of wind power per head of population, trailing behind tiny Estonia and only just ahead of Belgium.
The three countries at the top of the league table were Germany, where wind met 15 per cent of demand, Spain, where it accounted for 20 per cent, and Denmark, where it met 29 per cent of demand.
The report drew several conclusions on how to protect wildlife and deliver wind power on a large scale.
It recommended that the planning system should identify the areas where new turbines are given priority and those where they are most likely to conflict with wildlife.
This, the report said, should be informed by clear and detailed information about which areas are of most concern to conservationists. Bird sensitivity maps are already used to guide developments in parts of the UK.
The government should also provide strong leadership to tackle the lack of specialist know-how in local authorities, set local targets for wind turbines and make sure planning decisions take account of the fact wind power is a national priority.
It also said that there should be an expectation that developers and other interested parties discuss proposed developments before planning applications are submitted to reduce conflict.
And there should be more ways for communities to benefit from the wind farms on their doorstep. This could be through direct ownership of the turbines, reduced bills, improvements to the local environment or money for local facilities.
‘The need for renewable energy could not be more urgent. Left unchecked, climate change threatens many species with extinction. Yet, that sense of urgency is not translating into action on the ground to harness the abundant wind energy around us,’ said Ruth Davis, head of Climate Change Policy at the RSPB.
‘The solutions are largely common sense. We need a clear lead from government on where wind farms should be built and clear guidance for local councils on how to deal with applications. We must reduce the many needless delays that beset wind farm developments,’ she added.
‘The report shows that if we get it right, the UK can produce huge amounts of clean energy without time-consuming conflicts and harm to our wildlife. Get it wrong and people may reject wind power. That would be disastrous.’