Planning: a Roadblock to Renewable Energy in the UK

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Abstract: This article considers the planning system as one of the major roadblocks to renewable energy projects and looks at illustrative examples of renewable energy projects that have been held up in this system. It also analyses some of the recent measures put forward to promote renewable energy projects and addresses the shortcomings in the planning system.

INTRODUCTION

The need for renewable energy generation in the UK has been apparent for some time, notably since 2000 when the Government announced its target for 10 per cent of the UK's electricity to come from renewables by 2010.1 This need was compounded by the UK's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 when it committed itself to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.2 In more recent years there has been particular interest in developing renewable energy and this is being driven by a number of factors.

While there was some speculation up to very recently on the causes of climate change, the findings of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, launched in 2007, put an end to the controversy.3 The findings that human activities and the rise in greenhouse gases are causing global warming were endorsed by many governments, including the UK.

The UK has agreed to meet a number of targets for reducing carbon emissions. These include goals set down under the Kyoto Protocol,4 voluntary targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,5 as well as EU energy policy targets for total energy produced by renewables.6

To attain these levels new sources of energy production are needed, as was recognised by the Prime Minister recently when he spoke of the need for a 'fourth industrial revolution' as a response to climate change.7 In fact, a recent study by the Carbon Trust has revealed that there will be a power gap of at least 14 gigawatts between supply and demand for energy by 2015, as a result of coal power stations being decommissioned and the North Sea oil and gas stocks continuing to dwindle.

So far, part of the response to the reduction in fossil fuels closer to home has been to turn to imported fuels. While the possibly of new nuclear plants may be on the horizon, the use of renewable energy production will have a part to play in mitigating the effects of climate change,8 as well as the reliance on imported fuels.

The need to develop new renewable energy technology can also be viewed in light of the Stern Reviews message; that acting now to avoid the impact of climate change can be seen as an economic opportunity and not a burden.9 With global markets for low-carbon energy products likely to be worth at least $500 billion per year by 2050,,0 investing in the development of these technologies is crucial.

In the UK, in particular, given its location, with the right frameworks in place it could become a leader in renewable energies such as tidal and sea powers, just as Japan is for solar power and Denmark is for wind power. In addition to these renewable sources, further being developed in England and Wales are biomass, biogas, hydroelectric, and geo- and hydrothermal power projects.

Technology on its own, however, is not enough and there needs to be the right regulatory, policy and procedural framework in place to get the renewable energy projects up and running. Notwithstanding some of the changes made and being proposed to promote renewables discussed below, the existing planning system is a major roadblock preventing many renewable energy projects from getting off the ground.

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