Wind Farm Developments
We cannot fail to notice the increasing number of wind turbines appearing on the horizon. The current prevalence of climate change issues and the need to protect depleting fossil fuels means that the use of renewable energy has come to the forefront. Indeed, the government has signed up to the binding EU target of generating 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020, wind power being one of them.
Is my land suitable for a wind farm?
Due to the high initial cost which must be outlaid, it is only cost efficient for wind turbines to be sited where the strongest wind currents are experienced. The proposed site must be conveniently situated for connection to the grid, and in such a location where any noise created would not cause disturbance and would not be detrimental to the tourist industry.
If you consider that your land is potentially suitable for a wind farm site, then there are two main options to consider:
- Lease the land out to a developer for the lifetime of the turbines. The developer will bear the considerable planning application burden and the landowner will benefit from regular income for the lifetime of the turbines. A better bargaining position may be achieved if an independent valuation of the proposals are obtained, enabling informed negotiations with developers.
- Develop the wind farm independently and market the energy produced. This is a very time consuming and costly option, with large planning application costs to be outlaid even before construction can begin. Technical advice could be obtained from land agents and there are several wind energy promoters who could assist with the planning application and provide funding as well as our own wind farm expert Doug Claxton.
- Tenants of land should obtain legal advice as to whether they can erect wind turbines under their tenancy agreement.
What are the advantages of erecting a wind farm?
Due to the considerable income potential, such proposals are a viable form of diversification necessary in today’s industry. Payments will either be made by a developer as rent or as a percentage of the power produced.
The wind turbines themselves take up a small area of land, allowing the land to continue to be used for grazing and crops; access roads may also be required to access each turbine for maintenance, taking up additional ground space.
Once the installation of the turbines has been completed, the turbines should cause little disturbance other than for any maintenance required. Each turbine has a lifespan of 20 – 25 years. Once they have reached the end of their useful life the turbines can either be removed or replaced, subject to further planning permission.
The value of land upon which an income yielding wind farm is built is likely to increase. However, the uplift value of the land will lessen as the lifetime of the turbine nears its end. Single Farm Payment entitlements will also be affected under current guidance. The area upon which the turbines and access tracks are constructed should be deducted from any claim.
What are the disadvantages?
There are of course controversial drawbacks associated with wind farms. Some argue that turbines produce an unsightly blot on the landscape, as well as causing noise pollution and interference with television signals. Given these complaints, there is also the risk that a wind farm site will affect property values in the local area. It is inevitable that protests will accompany any application for planning permission.
The planning of a wind farm is expensive and can take several years. Significant investigation is required to ensure the viability of the site. Wind speed needs to be measured to ensure that sufficient power will be created at the site; given that wind strength is certainly not constant, there may be some periods when the site is not producing any energy at all. This is an important consideration if the income is based upon the amount of power produced.
An equally important factor in deciding the viability of a proposed site is the distance from the site to the nearest national grid connection. Wayleave agreements with neighbouring landowners are necessary for the power to be transported to the connection. Suitable access roads are necessary in order that the turbine parts can be transported to the site carefully. This poses a problem in remoter areas where the cost of developing narrow roads would be too great.
Obtaining planning approval can be a very controversial, uncertain, lengthy and expensive process, with planning decisions in relation to larger wind farms being taken by Public Inquiry. As a result, the only feasible option may be to obtain the assistance of an experienced developer to fund the planning application.
Consultation with interested parties is necessary, including the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Aviation Authority. Strong objections would be received if the proposed site lies within flight zones. The Ministry of Defence have also argued that wind farm sites near to radar stations can cause interference with Air Defence radar, potentially threatening national security.
For larger wind farm proposals, an Environmental Impact Assessment is required as part of the planning decision. This complex investigation studies the locality, size of the proposal, natural habitats in the area, distance to the nearest roads and dwellings and the effect on birds’ migratory paths.
Given the current efforts towards increasing the use of renewable forms of energy, there is no doubt that the number of wind farm applications will continue to rise.
Landowners who are considering becoming involved in such a scheme should consult their Land Agent and Solicitor before reaching any agreements with developers, in order to ensure that their long term interests are protected and that they can reap the maximum potential benefit from the project.
Diane Barnes is a trainee solicitor in Burnetts’ agriculture department. For further information about Burnetts’ legal services for agriculture and wind farm developments, call 01228 552222 or visit our agricultural law pages.
About the author
Senior Associate Diane specialises in agricultural land and property sales.