Assessing community consent for onshore wind power
It’s encouraging to see the possible removal of the block on onshore wind as reported in the media recently. However, recent amendments to the legislation suggest removing the right to appeal against unreasonable refusals, which would still leave projects at risk.
The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) believes that a more nuanced public engagement process is vital if the UK is to adopt renewables at the scale needed. Everyone needs to buy into a better energy system, accepting and understanding the changes to our landscapes it requires, and, critically, being able to meaningfully influence what happens where.
We’ve developed a bottom-up consultation approach which is proven to build and establish public consent for renewables among local communities, often at parish level. This is Future Energy Landscapes. Through this initiative we host public workshops where we show people objective information on the different forms of renewable energy, their pros and cons and a menu of what might be feasible in the local area. And we take some soundings:
- Could their area be more self-sufficient in terms of renewable energy provision? What proportion of the energy they use could be generated locally from renewables?
- Which areas of the landscape do people cherish the most in their daily lives and should be protected? Which areas are less sensitive and could host renewables?
- What type and scale of renewable energy projects might be acceptable where? Wind, solar, hydro?
- What are their pre-conditions for support? Do renewable energy projects need to be wholly or partially community owned?
Workshop participants build up a list of the different renewable energy options they would support, and we survey the community to establish whether the views expressed in the workshops are shared more widely. We’ve found that people, quite rightly, care about their local area and want to be involved with any proposed changes. But they’re also able to weigh up how the protection of their landscapes should be balanced against the need to generate renewable energy.
Politicians are right however, that central to this support is that communities need to benefit financially from hosting projects, and planning policy must be revised to allow for this.
So far in our Future Energy Landscape consultations in North Somerset, if the renewable energy proposals were realised, two of the three communities would become net exporters of renewable energy, meeting all their electricity needs from local renewables. Our work suggests that with this approach, most rural communities could become self sufficient in electricity, from local renewable generation. Further consultations are underway in Bath & North-East Somerset and in Wales for the Welsh Government.
Our methodology could be adapted to provide the evidence of the community support needed.
This winter, CSE will deliver free training on our community engagement approach and learning and will publish all the resources for local authorities, community energy and civil society groups to use themselves.