The proposed Crystal Rig 3 wind farm extension will be an important test of how we feel about wind turbines. Do we prefer them if we benefit from them? Does community ownership of wind turbines increase our acceptance of them? Will East Lothian Council become a pathfinder for locally owned energy?
Earlier this year Lord (Adair)Turner, as chairman of the British Government’s Committee on Climate Change, talked about wind farms and said ”Rather than looking at it and saying ‘that big company dumped it here to make profit’, they look at it and say ‘that’s ours and I get some profit from it’ and as a result it turns out aesthetic perceptions are deeply subjective and you say ‘I rather like it’ rather than ‘I rather dislike it.’”
Natural Power, on behalf of Fred.Olsen Renewables, has been developing the Crystal Rig wind farm since 2004. Situated on the East Lammermuir Plateau, by the Monynut Edge, Crystal Rig has expanded to 84 turbines with an installed capacity of 240 MW. In July 2010 Natural Power submitted a scoping opinion to propose a further extension named Crystal Rig 3. Crystal Rig 3 is proposed as an extension of 9 to 18 wind turbines on the land known as Dunbar Common and Barnsly Hill.
As a statutory consultee East Lothian Council planning department submitted a response which included reference to visual impact. “The proposed extension appears to be based on the grid capacity in the area and wind speeds, rather than on any design or landscape capacity considerations. The degree of visual impact could vary significantly depending on the number of turbines proposed which range from 9 to 18 turbines. The ES should state the design rationale behind this proposal and the location of individual turbines and how do these relate in visual terms to the existing wind turbines.”
In December 2011, East Lothian Council ratified the Supplementary Landscape Capacity Study for smaller wind turbines (SLCS) for inclusion in the planning decision process.
The SLCS has defined areas that have capacity for development and includes the proposed site of Crystal Rig 3. The SLCS states “There is no scope for the larger development Typologies A and B to be accommodated within this character area.” (Typologies A and B refer to wind turbines from 42m to 120m to blade tip.) The wind turbines proposed for Crystal Rig 3 will reach 125 m to blade tip.
There is grid capacity for eighteen 2.3 MW wind turbines on the site. In February 2012 Natural Power confirmed that it would be seeking planning permission, from the Scottish Government, for 11 wind turbines. This summer the leader of East Lothian Council said that they were looking into Crystal Rig 3 as an option for council ownership of wind turbines. “We know that there is going to be an extension of Crystal Rig, and we are just examining the possibilities.”
“We would have to sustain the capital costs, but the revenue would come to the council. We haven’t got into the details of the numbers, but I believe that there’s going to be space for up to seven [turbines].
“I think that’s probably the easiest option – just to ‘piggy back’ on a proposal rather than having to identify a site independently.”
What about the visual impact?
So, how could East Lothian Council add another seven wind turbines to a site that, by their own planning guidance, has no capacity for any more, not even the eleven planned by Natural Power? If you look at the maps you will see where the turbines are in relation to the trees.
We believe that it depends on how people feel about the visual impact, and it looks like that’s what the experts say too. East Lothian Council will have to refer to their Supplementary Landscape Capacity Study(SLCS).
The SLCS follows the same methodology as its predecessor, “Landscape Capacity Study for Wind Turbine Development in East Lothian 2005″. The report states “landscape capacity is described as ‘the degree to which a particular landscape character type or area is able to accommodate change without significant effects on it’s character, or overall change of landscape character type. Capacity is likely to vary according to the type and nature of change being proposed’ (CA-SNH, 2002)”
The report defines Landscape Character “Landscape character relates not only to the physical attributes of the land but also to the experience of the receptor. Landscape character is made up of physical characteristics of land such as landform, woodland pattern etc (which exist whether anyone sees them or not) plus a range of perceptual and value based responses to that landscape.”
The original report refers to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) guidelines and we can assume that the supplementary report would have made reference to the latest guidelines from SNH.
Scottish Natural Heritage in the 2009 publication “Siting and Designing windfarms in the landscape Vol 1” Section 1.9 “…landscape is the basis for many of our social, community and cultural values”
Section 2.4 Landscape and visual impacts of Windfarms - “LVIA comprises two separate parts, Landscape Impact Assessment (LIA) and Visual Impact Assessment (VIA), although these are related processes as described within the GLVIA. LIA considers the effects of the physical landscape, which may give rise to the changes in its character, and how this is experienced. VIA considers potential changes that arise to available views in a landscape from a development proposal, the resultant effects on visual amenity and people’s responses to the changes”
Some research has been done into how people feel about wind turbines if they are locally owned. As study conducted in Gigha shows that people are much happier about locally owned turbines rather than privately owned wind turbines. Our own research shows that people feel better about the idea of locally owned wind turbines. Community Consultation 2012
When the planning application is submitted the Scottish Government’s energy consent team will decide about if Crystal Rig 3 goes ahead or not. How important is the opinion of the East Lothian Council planning department and the Supplementary Landscape Capacity Study?
During the spring and summer of 2012 the Scottish Parliament began an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets. It is called the Renewable Energy Targets Inquiry (RETI) and many experts were called to give evidence including.
- Chris Norman – Heads of Planning Scotland
- Simon Coote – Head of energy consents (Scottish Government)
- Andrew Thin – chair of Scottish Natural Heritage
Heads of Planning Scotland represents the views of planning departments within local authorities; energy consents deals with large wind farm planning applications ( and extensions to wind farms) and Scottish Natural Heritage contributes to the decision making process of both.
During the inquiry Chris Norman stated that “it is very hard to make an assessment of a wind farm application” He confirmed that “We have guidelines but, at the same time, one has to interpret them and overlay them with community reaction.” Speaking on behalf of the Heads of Planning Scotland he added “Local authority planning colleagues’ clear view is that they should rely on the preferred areas.” With regards the influence of local authority planners on energy consents decisions he stated “ the local authorities, as I understand it, are very much the eyes and ears of the Scottish government in determining section 36 proposals” When asked how much weight the Scottish Government’s energy consents department place on the preferred areas defined by local authorities Simon Coote stated “It would become a material consideration. It is also worth pointing out that planning authorities play a pivotal role in the consents process under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, which I also oversee, in fact they are statutory consultees.” He went on to say “…the planning authority has the most fundamental role of any consultee”
When asked about community wind turbines Chris Norman stated “there will always be people who are against proposals, but when genuine community initiatives-which use a genuine community fund, offer genuine community payback and make a clear connection between the proposal and the wider community-send a clear message to decision makers that the development is welcome in the locale. That goes a long way to offsetting other issues to do with landscape, noise, flicker and so on.”
This suggestion that community wind turbines have a different impact on the landscape than commercial developments was not discussed further but the issue of visual impact was. Chris Norman said “I categorically state that the prima facie issues for us are the visual impact and the cumultative impact”.
Andrew Thin of Scottish Natural Heritage added “Scotland is an entirely man-made landscape, or a people-made landscape, to be clear”
“ the purpose of landscape character assessment is not to prevent change but to illustrate what change will look like in order to allow elected decision makers and their electorate to decide whether or not they want it.”