Timothy Pitt: Scots renewables planning crying out for wind of change

THE Scottish Government’s ambition to become 80 per cent reliant on renewable electricity by 2020 is achievable. But these bold targets could be at risk of failure due to current planning law restrictions.

Projects can lay dormant in the planning system for years until permission is granted. Approvals can often come too late for small and medium-sized firms keen to benefit from the popular surge of turbines in farms or factories.

Our European counterparts are leading the way into a wind power age. By reducing planning law restrictions and ramping up incentives, Germany is enjoying the benefits of a more relaxed model for renewables projects.

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Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the German government is increasing the pace at which it is phasing out nuclear energy in favour of renewable power. This process, named Energiewende, led to the closure of eight power plants last year. One effect of this is that turbine and other suppliers based on the continent have a growing market at their back door and less incentive to ship to Scotland.

We can match the ambition of other European nations by improving the ease of application and increasing funding. In 2012, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Heads of Planning Scotland agreed that £300,000 would go to local authorities to clear the planning backlog. The cash injection was welcome, but could be developed further.

A Scotland-wide specialist planning team could be formed to tackle the build-up of wind turbine applications from developers.

A “tax per project” scheme could fund this specified flying squad of planning officials, whose skills are solely focused on renewables planning. This has come to fruition on a small scale, but there needs to be widespread commitment and support from local authorities to government.

Planning bottlenecks are hindering Scotland from becoming a centre for renewables excellence. In order to convert our renewable potential into green energy, local and national government must collaborate before the wind is blown from Scotland’s sails.

• Timothy Pitt is an energy partner at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP.