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No one doubts the need to find ways of making the very most of the many renewable energy technologies available to us. These renewable technologies include onshore wind , offshore wind , biogas (anaerobic digesters), biomass , heat pumps , waste-to-energy , wave energy , tidal barrages , tidal turbines , geothermal energy , hydroelectric energy , concentrated solar energy , photovoltaic solar energy , thermal solar energy , passive solar heating and combined photovoltaic and thermal energy.
The application of Renewable Energy technologies is extremely complex. Some technologies (Wind, solar PV, tide and some others) are by definition “intermittent”, all require connections to the National Grid and almost none of them would be built without Government subsidy, either in the form of the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) or the Feed in Tariff (FiT). The Government has set targets, but the 2010 target was missed by a large margin, in spite of a consumer cost of £5.6billion, with only 6.5% being generated from renewable sources. CPRE Devon has commissioned the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) to conduct a study “Renewable Energy in the Countryside: Rewards and Risks ”. We would strongly recommend this study to anyone who cares about the effect that some of these technologies are having on the countryside. Both Devon & Cornwall are faced with a mounting tide of planning applications for both wind turbines and solar PV panels. See recent News Items. The Government has published plans which it says will overcome the problems caused by the intermittency of most renewable energy technologies. A critique of these plans can be read here .
Of all renewable energy technologies, it is generally accepted that wind turbines have the greatest impact on the landscape. Planning Policy Statement 22 is clear that “Of all renewable technologies, wind turbines are likely to have the greatest visual and landscape effects.”
Large scale solar photovoltaics arrays can also have major landscape and visual impacts as the area needed for a 5MW scheme can be up to 16 hectares (40 acres). Large scale biomass and large scale anaerobic digesters can also have a large landscape and visual impact if they are inappropriately sited.
Governments of all parties have found it necessary to kick-start renewable energy projects and have introduced both Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) and Renewable Energy Obligation Certificates (ROCs). Since the introduction of the FiT in April 2010, there has been massive interest in installing small scale renewable technologies. It should be remembered that the Feed-in Tariff is available for wind turbines of up to 5MW installed capacity but the income drops dramatically above 500kW so the effective threshold is 500kW. Even a 50kW wind turbine with rotor diameters of around 20 metres can have a dramatic landscape and visual impact if poorly sited.
The Feed-in Tariff upper threshold for solar PV is 5MW, which has led to a large number of applications for schemes of this size. The original aim of this scheme was to encourage local, small-scale solar PV applications, not to embark on industrial-scale operations dependent for their profitability solely on the FiT. The Government is currently reviewing the Feed-in Tariff and is likely to drastically reduce the threshold for solar PV in order to discourage the large scale schemes.
CPRE Devon's Response to this Review can be read here. CPRE national office has also responded to this review and this can be seen here.
The DECC FiT Review can be downloaded at http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/fit_review/fit_review.aspx
Onshore wind farms are generally subsidised by the Renewable Obligation system and are awarded one Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) for each megawatt hour (MWh) of energy that they generate. At present each ROC is worth about £40 on the open market. The Government has indicated that it will review the Renewable Obligation system to ensure that future wind farms are only built in areas with a high wind resource.
There are many issues over the use of wind power and a discussion of some of these such as wind statistics, the intermittent nature of wind power and wind turbines in an urban environment can be found on the website www.wind-power-program.com
CPRE Devon’s main concerns are over the landscape and visual impacts of single wind turbines, wind farms and large scale solar PV as these have the potential for greatest impacts. We assess each proposal on its merits. Access to current planning applications can be found by visiting the maps for each individual District Group on this website. As a Region the South West has attracted more renewable energy projects than most areas of England, particularly insofar as solar installations are concerned. For a regional view of the spread of some renewable energy projects see http://projectmap.regensw.co.uk/html/map.php”, or http://www.renewables-map.co.uk. These websites are not always up-to-date but provide a feel for the scale of operations planned for the future. There is a further serious concern: all these sites will require connections to the National Grid with large sites demanding the installation of Pylons. CPRE National Office provides a source of much information on the current campaign to reduce the number of new pylons and to “underground” as many of the new distribution systems as possible, particularly where they cut across AONBs or landscapes of great value.