'Much of the hard selling of wind turbines is hot air'

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THE current enthusiasm for wind energy should be tempered with a reality check, according to a leading land agent.

"There is a great deal of mis-selling going on with some operators acting like double glazing salesmen," said Hugh Fell of George F White, Alnwick, at a meeting in Kelso highlighting the pitfalls of renewable energy.

Fell listed a number of areas where optimism on the potential financial rewards for landowners erecting wind turbines ran ahead of reality.

The problem for those approached by renewable energy companies was that they could spend a great deal of money before finding out that their project was a non-starter. Fell specifically mentioned over- estimates on potential returns as a carrot for unwary investors.

He advised that those considering such projects should enter them cautiously and methodically work out if there were constraints to the project going ahead.

Although it might be tempting, landowners should resist offers from companies who provide a complete service in planning, negotiating and erecting wind turbines, he advised.

Even although there would be fees to be paid to independent companies such as his own, the advice provided was not linked to any future payback and would quickly halt any unwise investment.

He instanced where one landowner had spent a considerable amount of cash before being told that a telecommunications company was able to prevent the turbines going ahead because they interfered with "their right of passage".

Commenting on the huge number of applications going into planning offices where they encountered delays, he said that part of the problem lay with "ill prepared" applications that did not supply information such as environmental assessments that are required by planning regulations.

He also believed that part of the reason for delays in dealing with applications was that to statutary bodies such as the Ministry of Defence were "hacked off" with the sheer number of badly prepared applications they were now having to deal with.

Possibly the most ominous of his warnings on the current urge towards wind energy projects was on future profitability.

"It has to be recognised that the current enthusiasm is built on the cash coming from the Feed In Tariff system. These will be reviewed in March 2013 and it is difficult to see the current rates surviving that review."

For those going ahead with renewable energy projects, there was specific advice on how best to avoid paying tax.

"Do not just treat it as another enterprise on the farm," he said. But if it was done properly, it could avoid Income tax and also avoid future problems with Inheritance Tax.