6. Protection for residents and the environment
Increasing the installed capacity of onshore wind in Scotland is an important goal, but the Scottish Government does not support development at any cost. Proposed developments are subject to strict planning laws. In our efforts to support onshore wind in Scotland we have taken action to protect both residents and the environment.
Our policy seeks to strike a careful balance between utilising Scotland's significant renewable energy resources whilst protecting our finest scenic landscapes, natural heritage and protecting residential amenity.
Our approach includes Scottish Planning Policy which makes clear that wind farms are not appropriate in National Parks or National Scenic Areas, which cover a fifth of Scotland. It also strengthens protection for wild land areas outwith National Parks and National Scenic Areas which cover a further tenth of the country. Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) has been working on guidance to give clarity to the assessment of wild land areas, and this is due to be published shortly . All applications are subject to scrutiny by statutory consultees such as SNH, SEPA, Historic Environment Scotland and the relevant local authority.
To ensure wind farm developments continue to be sited appropriately we have commissioned a number of studies as follows:
Wind farm impacts study
A two-year study published by ClimateXChange ( CXC) on 1 July 2015 was commissioned by the Scottish Government to look at whether the visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts predicted by wind farm developers in documentation submitted with their planning applications and as assessed by competent authorities, are consistent with the impacts actually experienced once the wind farm is operational. Ten case studies were selected to include a spread of wind farm sizes, wind turbine heights, environmental assessment processes, landscape character, wind farm age, geographical location across Scotland, and consents processes, as well as on the basis of having known complaints about visual, shadow flicker or noise impacts. The sites selected represented 4% of the total number of installed onshore wind energy developments in Scotland in 2013.
The research used two sources of information:
- how local residents experience and react to visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts; and
- how the predicted impacts at the planning stage compare with the impacts when the wind farm is operating, as assessed by professional consultants.
The aim of the study was to inform future decisions on changes to Scottish Government online planning guidelines and good practice on managing the impacts of wind farms on local residents.
The study was governed by a Project Steering Group ( PSG) with representatives from various local and national interest groups representing both those living near wind farms and wind farm developers and operators, including Scotland Against Spin and Scottish Renewables, and representatives from local and national government planning interests. This PSG was put in place to ensure a balanced approach throughout the research and analysis.
We are pleased that the report found that the majority of assessments presented at planning stage, for the 10 case study wind farms identified, mainly followed extant guidelines. However, there were some inconsistencies with what was predicted and what was found post construction and consequently the report contained 16 recommendations in relation to visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts. In some instances planning guidance has been updated and best practice has been implemented since the case study wind farms have been planned and constructed, with this work already in place we expect some of these inconsistencies to have been minimised.
Some of the key recommendations include further research. Since the publication of the study we have commissioned further work to understand more about the light and shadow effects on residents within 2km of wind turbine developments. We expect this study to conclude in March 2017 and we hope the results of this study will allow planners to form better assessments of shadow flicker and other light effects. We have also commissioned a scoping study to explore the evidence for a need to review the way that councils in Scotland are assessing the noise impacts of onshore wind.
A recommendation also included assessing modulated noise. In October this year the Department of Business, Energy and Innovation ( BEIS) published the review they commissioned from Parson Brinkerhoff on the evidence on the response to amplitude modulation from wind turbines. This review made a recommendation for planning authorities in the English system. The Scottish Government is currently reviewing this recommendation in the context of the Scottish planning system. The study can be found here.
An update on how this report has been followed up will be published later in 2017.
House prices study
The issue of the potential impact of wind farm developments on house prices had been raised in relation to wind farm developments across Scotland. The Scottish Government asked CXC to manage a research project analysing any potential impact, the study builds on methodology from previous research in England (Gibbons 2014) , and the CXC study, which concluded in October 2016 can be found here.
The project set out to test whether there is a significant difference in the average house price growth of properties in close proximity to a wind farm compared with properties that are not near a wind farm. The analysis takes into account the dates when individual turbines become operational, taking into account the before and after effects of wind turbine construction.
The study found that there are no consistent negative effects on house prices and in some instances the price effect was positive. This differs from the results of the study in England where negative results were found. Our study has built on Gibbons' methods, but we believe the methods used in our study greatly increased the resolution and precision of the data in a number of ways. These improvements are listed below:
1. Whilst the study replicates Gibbons' approach using average house price per postcode and postcode-centre for housing location, CXC also repeat the analysis using individual property prices based on full address locations.
2. The CXC study uses a dataset of wind turbines that includes their exact location and tip height, rather than the centre-point of wind farms. Relying on the centre-point of wind farms might be particularly problematic in a Scottish context where some wind farms are very spread out. When turbines are dispersed in this way, it is possible for a house to be a very long way from the centre of the wind farm, but very close to a peripheral turbine.
3. The CXC landscape analysis uses five-metre grid squares (versus 200-metre in Gibbons). Combined with the exact property locations and turbine locations, this gives much more accurate lines of sight.
4. Taking advantage of this higher resolution, CXC have also added building height data (where available) to test whether buildings may block a property's view.
In our 'Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Onshore Renewable Energy Developments' we committed to considering whether using community benefit funds to provide compensation to residents might be recommended as good practice in some instances. This study was designed to provide evidence to inform this consideration when the Good Practice Principles are revised.
Peatland Policy Statement
The Policy Statement provides a common basis from which the Scottish Government and its agencies act in developing and implementing policies in relation to peatland and energy.
It articulates a coherent, shared policy on peatland and energy. It brings together ambitions in relation to land use and energy and supports delivery of multiple benefits from our peatland. It provides a common platform for the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission Scotland. The link to the document is here.
This draft statement was published for informal consultation in June 2016 and we are now including it within the onshore wind policy statement for formal comment. We appreciate all the comments we have had so far, which on the whole have agreed with the principles behind the document.
The 'carbon calculator' is the Scottish Government's tool provided to support the process of determining wind farm developments in Scotland. The purpose of the tool is to assess, in a comprehensive and consistent way, the carbon impact of wind farm developments. This is done by comparing the carbon costs of wind farm developments with the carbon savings attributable to the wind farm. The tool and supporting guidance material remain the property of the Scottish Government.
Originally published with the research report - Research report (Nayak et al., 2008; Nayak et al., 2010 and Smith et al., 2011) in 2008, the calculator has been refined on the basis of feedback and further research to be an even more effective tool. Version 2 of the calculator launched in June 2011. The calculator was subsequently revised to include multiple regions for forestry and construction. The last version of the Excel spreadsheet tool was 2.9.0.
The updated carbon calculator
The updated carbon calculator tool launched in June 2016, is now online and can be accessed here.
This updated version of the carbon calculator is a web-based application and central database, where all the data entered in the carbon calculator will be stored in a structured manner. This web-based tool replaces all earlier versions of the Excel-based carbon calculator. This web-based version of the tool has been commissioned by Scottish Government, in response to feedback from stakeholders as a consequence of their experience of previous versions of the tool, under the guidance of a steering group with membership including Scottish Government, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Research. Stakeholder engagement and feedback via workshops, in the final stages of the tool's development, has helped to further inform the final design. Any queries regarding its use and functionality should be directed in the first instance to Scottish Government Energy Consents Unit at Econsents.
The new tool incorporates high-level automated checking, detailed user guidance (within the tool), cells for identification of data sources and relevant data calculations and modifications required to the calculation method, at this time.
It is considered the improved ease of use of the tool will reduce the burden on developers as a consequence of the increased 'user-friendliness' and the more sophisticated entry checking and guidance. The expectation is that this will reduce the number of resubmissions. The improved quality of submissions will reduce the validation work required. It will allow developers to submit carbon assessments and conduct initial carbon assessment screening tests on their proposed developments online in a self-service manner. It will allow an aggregated picture to be made of assessments (initial applications and re-applications) across Scotland.
Deployment and protocols for use
All new applications to Scottish Government Energy Consents Unit should use the web-based tool or may be subject to rejection. All applications submitted and received using the carbon calculator may be subject to audit by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This is to ensure, as far as possible, that the carbon calculator continues to be used appropriately. If an audit highlights any issues, these will be raised with the applicant by SEPA such that they may be addressed.
The web-based version of the 'carbon calculator' provides significant enhancements over the previous Excel tool, including some automatic validation of data entry. However, an Excel-based tool is also being maintained for the purposes of development of new functionality, testing and trialling. This can be made available upon request. However, it must be recognised that this may not replicate exactly the functionality and results of the web-based tool and its use and any decisions based thereon will be at the users own discretion.
The existing technical guidance can be found at this link, and an update to this is scheduled for 2017.
6.1 Do you have any comments regarding our Peatland Policy Statement and the functionality and the role of the carbon calculator?
Email: Debbie Kessell