Councils could get a cash incentive to approve wind farm applications
Westcountry councils are to be offered cash incentives to approve wind farm planning applications after successful community campaigns sabotaged half of all new projects.
The lack of new large-scale schemes has left the South West with no chance of meeting its renewable energy target for the end of 2010.
Despite being designated the first Low Carbon Economic Area in England, the region has so far achieved just one-third of the 611MW electricity target it set itself.
Ministers are concerned that if the trend continues, the European target to produce 15 per cent of the nation's energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 will also be missed.
Under the plans local authorities will keep tens of thousands of pounds in business rates from schemes which currently go to central Government.
Campaigns adviser and co-ordinator Alan Nunn, of the Realistic Energy Forum South West, said wind farms often failed to deliver on promised performance and described the targets as "impossible".
He said: "They could only be met if you go on building left, right and centre but wind turbine performance does not justify the destruction to the countryside and the effect on people's lives and property prices. Wind farms have been stopped through the common sense of councillors and local people who just don't want the things."
New wind farms are a key part of the push to create enough renewable energy to reduce reliance on coal and gas power production.
But according to a leaked report due to be published next week by the renewable industry body Renewable UK, there has been a 50 per cent drop in planning approvals nationwide in the last 12 months.
Mr Nunn said this chimes with his figures for schemes rejected in Cornwall.
The report says it now takes on average nearly two years from the point of application for wind farms to be approved by local councils and even then up to three-quarters will be unsuccessful.
The coalition Government has said it will maintain or even increase ambitious renewable energy targets.
But it is also set to give a stronger voice to local politicians and allow communities more power to veto unpopular developments.
And with the Planning Inspectorate to lose the power to overturn decisions by local planners – something it has done in a number of cases for wind farms – the number approved could drop even further.
Labour's shadow energy secretary Meg Hillier said the poor success rate in wind farms was disappointing and highlighted the need for certainty about government support for offshore projects.
"We need answers from the Government or we risk losing investment to other countries," she said.
More than 230 local campaign groups against wind farms have already sprung up across the UK, with 17 in Devon and Cornwall alone.
This week almost 100 residents packed into a village hall to hear plans for six 400ft turbines at Bradworthy in Devon. Campaign group Stop Turbine Onshore Proliferation in Torridge will oppose the application next spring.
Cornwall accounts for about one-third of the region's renewable electricity, 75 per cent coming from onshore wind, but there were no new major schemes approved last year.
In 2008 five out of seven new wind farm projects in the South West were given the go-ahead.
Julian German, Cornwall Council's cabinet member for climate change and the environment, said community engagement was "key" to persuading local people.
"If you are a big multinational company coming into areas of natural beauty, you have to give the local community a reason for putting them there," he said.
"Wind is a proven technology which will play an important part in the mix for the next few years – energy security is a real issue when the Government is talking about blackouts."
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of not-for-profit company Regen SW, has said the South West is "not on track" to meet the targets set by the Government for 2020.
In the Regen SW annual survey of the South West for 2010 Mr Hyman said: "We are still seeing few projects of a significantly large scale being built. We are at risk of missing out on the potential of renewable energy to provide secure and sustainable energy as the foundation stone of a prosperous low-carbon economy."