Wind energy projects can take from a few months up to several years to deliver. This will depend on the scale and complexity of the planning and installation process. Some of the practical issues in identifying suitable sites for a wind energy project are set out in this section. You'll also find information on the planning and delivery process.
Planning and regulatory requirements
Wind turbines currently require planning permission at all scales. The Government has consulted on proposals to grant permitted development rights for micro-wind turbines on domestic and non-domestic properties, within certain limits.
Where the installation of micro or small wind turbines is proposed as part of a new property development, details of the installation need to be submitted as part of the overall planning application.
Planning permission can be one of the biggest barriers to project development for larger wind turbines and commercial wind farms, with the potential to introduce significant delays. Extensive consultation with institutional stakeholders and community engagement is required for large wind turbine projects. Some projects will require environmental impact assessment, which is likely to cover:
- visual impact
- ecological impact, with surveys at key times of year for the species concerned
- aviation and radar
- shadow flicker
- archaeology, hydrology and geology (in relation to foundations required for the turbines).
Applications for the largest wind farms with capacities greater than 50MWe are not determined by the local planning process. They need to obtain development consent from the Secretary of State. The application needs to be submitted to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (at a future date this will be replaced by the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit).
Identifying suitable sites
|Wind speed||Minimum average wind speeds of 5 - 6m/s will be required to obtain a good return from a wind turbine, potentially higher for commercial developers who are looking to maximise profits.|
|Monitoring wind speed||Wind speed monitoring is advisable prior to developing a wind energy project, to obtain more accurate data on wind speeds at the height of the proposed turbine, to allow energy output to be estimated. Ideally, monitoring will be undertaken for a full year. Planning permission may be required for the wind monitoring mast.|
|Grid connection||Although some small wind turbines may be specified for off-grid locations, many will require access to a grid connection point. Underground or overhead power lines can be very expensive, so the closer the site is to a suitable connection point the better.|
|Spacing||If more than one turbine is being installed, a space of at least five times the diameter of the rotor should be allowed between turbines to optimise power output by reducing wind shadowing and or turbulence.|
|Access||Access for installation also needs to be taken into account. While remote areas may have better wind resources and less impact on the local community, access for vehicles to construct the foundations and transport the turbine blades and mast may be constrained.|
Designated areas and approximate setback distances
|Designated nature conservation areas||Designated nature conservation areas should be avoided, and a setback distance from the boundary of the designated area may be recommended by ecologists, for example, where sites are used by birds.|
|Designated landscape||Designated landscapes may or may not be suitable for wind turbines, depending on the reason for their designation and the impact that wind turbines may have on this. Views from designated landscapes to wind turbine sites in the vicinity may also need to be taken into account.|
|Bats||Hedgerows and woodland areas need to be avoided to reduce the potential impact on bats. Separation distances of around 50m for hedgerows and 100m for woodland may be required for large turbines.|
|Greenbelt||Greenbelt should be taken into account when deciding if a location is suitable, but is not an absolute constraint on wind energy development.|
|Residential properties||A setback distance of at least 600 - 800 metres from residential properties for large wind turbines. This may be reduced for smaller projects. Other land uses, including non-residential buildings and agriculture, can still be accommodated in this zone.|
|Infrastructure||Minimum distances from roads, power lines, gas pipelines and other infrastructure, which are required by the Highways Agency and other infrastructure operators including National Grid.|
|Exclusion area||Exclusion areas around airports, airfields and MOD land, which should be determined in consultation with the relevant bodies depending on the nature of the project.|
|Communication links||Communications links need to be taken into account in consultation with the relevant telecoms operators.|