Wind farm go-aheads are 'key' to climate change target

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THE number of new wind farms being built in the UK needs to be dramatically stepped up in order to meet climate targets, a key report has warned.

The Committee on Climate Change's annual progress report for the government has revealed that in the past year just 0.7 gigawatts of new wind capacity was built. This compares to the 3 gigawatts a year needed to meet targets, or the equivalent of about 1,000 new turbines.

The report, published yesterday, highlighted there were planning applications for about 5 gigawatts of new wind farms in 2009 but the rate of approval was low. It said: "In order to facilitate significantly increased levels of investment, improvements in the planning process will be required."

The report argued that the planning period was "too long", at 15 months on average, and more than 40 months for larger schemes.

The Scottish Government has already revamped its planning system so that decisions on applications over 50 megawatts are made within nine months.

However, when planning decisions are appealed, leading to a public inquiry, they regularly still take years to resolve in Scotland.

Niall Stuart, director of Scottish Renewables, agreed more needed to be done. "The UK lags way behind other European countries like Germany, Denmark and Spain in terms of the deployment of onshore wind," he said.

"The Scottish Government did make a massive improvement in terms of the speed of the planning process but we still think that a lot more could be done.

"The report highlights just how important onshore wind and other forms of renewables are if the UK does take seriously its commitment to tackle climate change emissions. Everybody from politicians to local communities has to remember that we are not building renewable energy projects for the sake of it.

"Every wind farm and hydro scheme is part of our responsibility and duty to change the way that we generate electricity."

However, Helen McDade, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, warned making it easier for developers to get planning permission would mean wind farms are built on unsuitable sites. "It would be tragic to destroy our landscape for the perceived improvement to emissions," she said.

She added that this was particularly the case for sites where deep peat was present, which is crucial for storing carbon dioxide. "It's not quicker planning decisions that we need, but better planning decisions," added Ms McDade.

The Committee on Climate Change report called for a "step change" in the pace of efforts to drive down emissions.

It revealed greenhouse gases fell by 8.6 per cent last year, but warned this was largely due to the recession, which had created the "illusion" that the UK was tackling climate change. Actually the declines in emissions were almost entirely the result of lower economic activity.

As well as swift action to reform the energy market, the UK needs to promote electric cars, cut emissions from agriculture and boost home energy efficiency, the committee said.

The UK has a target of 34 per cent cut in emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 and the Scottish Government a target of 42 per cent by the same date.