Prime locations for wind energy are being ignored because of a 'privileged' and politically active local opposition, suggests new analysis of English windfarms applications.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham have found the areas most likely to refuse planning permission for wind farms were characterised by a local population with a higher life expectancy, a higher likelihood of voting in national elections, and a lower exposure to crime.
As a result developers have focused on remote or deprived communities as sites for new wind projects, with little involvement or discussion with local people. Something the authors point to as a missed opportunity.
They point out that community-driven projects such as on the Isle of Ghiga and Westmill, the first windfarm to be built in the South-East of England, prove that a 'latent demand' and willingness to make personal investments in nearby wind farms does exist.
Study co-author Dr van der Horst, from Birmingham University, said although offshore wind was now gaining more attention there were still many benefits to more onshore wind projects being built.
As well as being the cheapest way to build and connect to the grid he said local renewable power may also help people become 'more aware of what they were consuming' and be willing to shift their demand to meet peaks in energy production.
'It was interesting to observe that community energy projects which generated revenue by selling electricity to the grid, were scaled according to agreed community needs rather than profit maximisation (e.g. the community in Ghiga opted for 3 wind turbines, when they could have placed many more), whilst self-sufficiency projects were able to link local demand to the intermittency of supply with locally agreed sanctions if personal usage quotas were exceeded.
'For the development of a more decentralised UK energy system, these experiments have huge potential relevance,' van der Horst told The Ecologist.
He said the Government should not ignore the unfulfilled potential of onshore wind and focus more on ways to encourage community-led projects, in both 'priviledged' and 'deprived' areas.
'Policymakers should embrace policies to encourage a wider sense of ownership of projects...there should be structures to ensure that more benefits flow to local communities in economically fragile areas, and encouragement for residents to invest in local projects - especially in more privileged areas,' he said.
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