Renewable Energy Foundation

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Renewables planning activity in the last six months

As regular users of the REF datasets will know, our EU Target Tracker is updated monthly and based on the government’s Renewable Energy Planning Database (REPD). This month’s update has just been released, and merits a general comment.

As a rule, the totals change little month on month, with the major trends only being visible over longer timescales. Focus on the short term and net changes is a mistake. It is only by studying the changes at the individual planning application level over 6 months or longer that we can see the major trends and the impacts of changes in government policy.

To that end, we have compared the detailed planning data released for April 2016 with that released this week for November 2016. We looked at how many new applications have been submitted in the last half year, how many abandoned, how many were granted or refused planning permission, how many appealed by the developers, and how many have begun construction and operation. Predictably, 80-90% of the activity involves onshore wind, solar photovoltaic and offshore wind.

Onshore wind

Contrary to the common perception, planning applications for onshore wind farms are still being submitted in significant numbers. In the last six to seven months, there have been fifteen new applications for onshore wind, totalling 293 MW. The bulk of that capacity (82%, or nine sites) was in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland (13%, two sites). There were only four applications in England, with a capacity of 14 MW.

Of the onshore wind farm planning applications already in the planning system, some 27 (totalling 546 MW) have been abandoned in the last 6-7 months. In these cases the applicant has either withdrawn the application or the appeal, or the planning permission has expired. In some cases, such as the proposal known as Tom Nan Clach, the abandoned scheme has been replaced by a new application with a revised layout.

26 applications (totalling 953 MW) that were in the planning queue have been granted planning permission, while 28 (469 MW) have been refused. A further 16 applications (848 MW) have submitted appeals against a planning refusal.

Scotland and Wales have each granted permission to three times the capacity that was refused. England’s refusal rate was 100% and Northern Ireland’s refusals heavily outweigh grants of permission over this period.

29 sites (691 MW) have started construction and a further 38 sites (517 MW) have commenced operation.

The following chart shows how that planning activity in the period is spread reasonably evenly over all outcomes. We conclude from this that onshore wind development has not died away. The reasons for this are partly the grace period extended under the Renewables Obligation, but more importantly reflect a belief on the part of the wind industry that they will either be able to secure subsidies under the Contracts for Difference, particularly in Scotland, or that there will be a change of policy in their favour.


Figure 1: Onshore wind industry changes in planning status at 179 sites (from new planning applications to site commissioning) April 2016 to November 2016. Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Renewable Energy Planning Database (REPD), calculations by REF.

Offshore Wind

While there have been only two new applications in this period, these being demonstrator projects of limited capacity, the capacity newly consented is a remarkable 1,800 MW, at one site.

Solar Photovoltaic

The analogous chart for solar industry activity in the last 6-7 months is given below. This reveals that the solar industry has been largely occupied with building out existing planning permissions. There have been comparatively few new applications, and the refusals and grants of permission are fairly evenly balanced.


Figure 2: Solar industry changes in planning status at 324 sites (from new planning applications to site commissioning) April 2016 to November 2016. Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Renewable Energy Planning Database (REPD), calculations by REF.

Other Technologies

A significant capacity of dedicated biomass fuelled generation has actually been abandoned, indicating that government’s attempts to discourage this have been to a degree successful.

Activity in other technologies is very limited, with wind and solar now all but completely dominating the renewable electricity sector.

Perhaps the most remarkable exception to this general rule is the single new application for a 200 MW, tidal project, Brims Tidal Array, Orkney.  

The table below summarise the findings.

Table 1: Installed capacities (MW) and number of renewable energy projects in the UK planning system, April 2016 to November 2016, where the planning status has changed in the last 6 months. Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Renewable Energy Planning Database (REPD), calculations by REF.

(Number of Sites)
New Application Abandoned Consent Granted Consent Refused Appealed Started Construction Started Operation Total
Wind Onshore 293 546 953 469 848 691 517 4,317
(15) (27) (26) (28) (16) (29) (38) (179)
Wind Offshore 70 1,800 1,174 3,044
(2) (1) (3) (6)
Solar Photovoltaics 45 76 436 347 97 172 1,033 2,206
(10) (17) (62) (36) (14) (28) (157) (324)
Biomass (dedicated) 14 155 10 20 143 16 358
(4) (5) (2) (1) (6) (2) (20)
ACT 79 16 75 12 35 10 227
(4) (1) (8) (1) (2) (1) (17)
Tidal 200 2 202
(1) (1) (2)
AD 16 27 8 6 4 43 27 132
(9) (9) (6) (1) (2) (16) (17) (60)
EfW Incineration 78 5 27 3 113
(5) (1) (1) (1) (8)
Small Hydro 2 2 8 10 22
(1) (1) (6) (6) (14)
Sewage Sludge Digestion 15 15
(2) (2)
Large Hydro 5 5
(1) (1)
Landfill Gas 3 3
(1) (1)


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