COUNCILS across Scotland have been handed almost £750,000 to help deal with a wind turbine “goldrush” by developers in the past year, figures published yesterday show.
Rural areas like Orkney, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire have seen the biggest rises in applications, and ministers admit this has put a “strain on resources”.
The Conservatives are warning that the Scottish Government’s green energy drive has seen ministers “bully councils into accepting the advances” of developers.
Critics say many wind farm companies are lodging “speculative” applications, as planning fees for turbines in Scotland are considerably cheaper than those in England.
The Government wants to generate the equivalent of all of Scotland’s electricity needs from green energy sources, including wind farms and marine renewables, by 2020.
The government initially earmarked £300,000 to help councils. However, more than double that was paid out to help deal with the pressures, figures in a Parliamentary question revealed.
Scottish Conservative Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith said: “This shows explicitly how the Scottish Government’s courting of windfarm companies has resulted in massively increased workloads for councils.
“But Alex Salmond could have saved this slice of taxpayers’ money by listening to local authorities and communities sooner. Instead, he’s waved through major energy firms while attempting to bully councils into accepting their advances.
“It’s no wonder local authorities sought a moratorium on applications when you see the stark increases.”
The figures show that number of applications in Orkney over the past year account for 85 per cent of the authority’s total amount over the previous five years. In North Lanarkshire, it was 72 per cent, while in East Ayrshire 58 per cent.
Aberdeenshire and Angus shared the biggest funding pot with £75,000 apiece, while the Western Isles received £63,000.
The Government insists that the funding was not about getting applications approved.
“The volume of wind turbine applications was placing pressure on some planning authorities,” a spokeswoman said. “We identified funds for those in greatest need to reduce this, providing additional scope to handle the applications efficiently. This is not about securing approvals in every case.”
Linda Holt, spokeswoman for anti-wind farm pressure group Scotland Against Spin, said: “They (councils) are absolutely not coping. It’s too cheap, it’s incredibly cheap for them (wind power firms) to make applications and that’s why local authorities are swamped.”
The cost of windfarm applications in Scotland was increased this year to a maximum of £18,000. In England, the typical cost of an application is between £100,000 and £150,000.