Planning problems force wind turbine project to be scaled down

The move into renewable energy generation has proved a frustrating time for one north Devon farmer.

Georg van den Berg grows blueberries and manages 12,000 organic laying hens at Burrington. More than two years ago he started trying to get planning permission for a large 2MW wind turbine, but has now only just achieved permission for a much scaled-down 55kW turbine.

“We tried to get the village involved by giving them a chance to become shareholders so the villagers would be able to share some of the revenues [to make up for] the disadvantage of looking at the turbine. Now two years later, the turbine has shrunk from 2MW to 55kW, primarily because of our proximity to a nearby radar station and small airfield.”

Following the rejection of the original application, another was submitted for a 500kW turbine in a joint venture with a neighbouring farmer. This too encountered problems at the planning stage and was eventually rejected. “Officially it should have taken eight weeks for the planning process, but it was six months before the turbine was turned down,” said Mr van den Berg, who was surprised at the level of detail required by planners.

“For example, the Highways Agency wanted to know every detail about what type of crane we’d use to lift the turbine, as they were worried about it crossing bridges it shouldn’t do on local roads.”

He was also surprised be the level of controversy and opposition turbine plans encountered, compared with his previous home in The Netherlands. “There’s started to be a bit more opposition there because there are now so many around, but it’s still nothing like here [UK],” he says.

Mr van den Berg eventually gained planning permission for the 55kW turbine in mid-August at a cost of £4,000 and is now looking to finalise the £220,000-250,000 funding required. “It’ll be at least nine months before the turbine is up, depending on grid connection and lead times for the parts,” he says.

“The most risky aspect of wind energy is the planning process. The process of getting planning permission for a 500kW turbine can easily cost £40,000 to £100,000, after which you’ll find there is a 70% chance of having your application turned down. Many farmers don’t have this sort of money, or don’t want to take the risk. We were on a shoestring budget and managed cut costs by doing a lot of things ourselves.”

Mr van den Berg also developed contacts with investors interested in investing in the UK renewable energy market. As part of this he is working with one group of investors, as well as RIG solar, to find landowners south of Birmingham interested in having a 360sq m mono-pitch “solar barn” installed. Farmers will have to arrange (and pay for) any planning issues, although in most cases he says barns come within Permitted Development Rights for agriculture.

Investors then pay for the building and installation on the basis that they can use the roof space for a 50kW solar system and retain all income from it. After 25 years, the landowner takes over ownership of the solar panels.