Renewable Energy Foundation

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Separation Distances between Wind Farms and Dwellings

The Sunday Times has reported that an increasing number of local authorities are setting or considering minimum acceptable separation distances between dwellings and wind turbines in their Local Development Plans. These are reported to include Milton Keynes, Stratford on Avon, Cherwell, Staffordshire, South Cambridgeshire, Rutland, Northumberland, South Kesteven, Lincolshire County Council, and Wiltshire Council.

Typical of these is Wiltshire Council, which is consulting on a buffer zone around dwellings that increases with proposed turbine height. REF responded to that consultation following a request by a local resident, and taking noise impacts into account, concluded that the separation distances proposed represent a reasonable compromise between protecting the amenity of Wiltshire residents while enabling development of appropriately-scaled renewable energy projects.

Given that local planners are expected to enhance or, at least, preserve the amenity enjoyed by local residents it makes sense to ensure the impacts of wind farms are not excessive.

Documents show that Government is under the impression that "Noise levels from turbines are generally low and, under most operating conditions, it is likely that turbine noise would be completely masked by wind-generated background noise." [ page 167, PPS22 Companion Guide]  While it is possible this may have been true when turbines were smaller than they are today, it is certainly no longer the case for current industrial-sized models, which are typically between 100-150 metres in overall height.

At the sort of distances deemed acceptable by the wind industry, these turbines are not only audible out of doors, they can be audible indoors at night at particular wind speeds and in certain meteorological conditions.  The levels and character of the noise can result in impaired sleep, which is surely a price no resident should be expected to pay.

According to DECC's own planning database, local authorities have some 650 wind farm planning applications in the pipeline, the vast majority of which are in excess of what is required in order to meet 2020 targets [see previous blog].  Each of these wind turbine planning applications has complex environmental impacts all of which need to be carefully assessed. The administrative costs of dealing with this large number of planning applications is a major and unnecessary burden on Councils and tax payers. 

The proposed buffer zones around dwellings are a straightforward and cost-effective mechanism that achieves a compromise between protecting the amenity of home owner while at the same time enabling development of wind farm projects of a size appropriate for a site.  The simplicity of such guidance will not only weed out wholly unsuitable and damaging projects, but will also save Council time, taxpayer’s money, and wasted development effort that would be better directed towards other sites or technologies.

In order for renewable energy projects to flourish there needs to be public buy-in. If it is perceived that some unlucky home-owners are disproportionately and unfairly penalised, as is currently the case, there will be an inevitable backlash against renewable policies which is not in anyone's interest. Renewables have to work for everyone, or they won’t work at all.

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