Life extension of existing wind farms can be attractive, especially where there is the opportunity to retain the benefit of an existing subsidy.
Typically planning permission for a wind farm is granted subject to conditions specifying operation for 25 years with decommissioning and restoration thereafter. Life extension requires those conditions to be varied.
Kirkby Moor Wind Farm
The outcome of the Kirkby Moor Wind Farm appeal was seen as an important test case for the planning approach to life extensions.
KMWF was consented in 1992, subject to a planning conditions requiring removal of the turbines after 25 years of use. In December 2017 South Lakeland Council refused an application to vary the condition to allow continued operation of the existing turbines until 31 March 2027. On 29 July 2019 the Inspector upheld the appeal and granted the proposed variation.
National Planning Policy
The Inspector noted that the National Planning Policy Framework requires wind farms to be in an area identified as suitable and should have the backing of the local community. There is an exception for "applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines".
The Council argued that the continuation of the life of existing wind turbines is not repowering; the appellant argued that within the wind industry "repowering" is an umbrella term covering replacement, replanting and extension of life. The Inspector concluded, in the absence of national guidance as to the meaning of the term, that the proposal comprised repowering.
The Inspector noted that many of the residents who opposed the proposal stated that the turbines should have been a temporary intrusion - albeit one lasting for 25 years - and that they should be removed.
However, he went on to review the proposal on its individual merits, concluding that:
- the landscape is more than capable of continuing to assimilate the windfarm without significant harm to its essential character
- the site is within an area categorised as having a medium/ high capacity for wind energy development - that assessment was undertaken with the KMWF in place
- as the Wind Energy Supplementary Planning Document indicates capacity for further, taller turbines, it must also support retention of smaller structures
- although the Lake District was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List after the KMWF was granted planning permission, the existence of KMWF was part of the baseline for the World Heritage Site designation
- continuation of the generating capacity of the wind farm, even if time limited and comparatively small, was a significant benefit, contributing to the national objective of promoting renewable energy
- the current proposal would result in a significantly better outcome for the SSSI, because the original consent only requires the removal of the turbines and no removal of other structures, other work or remediation, whereas the new proposal included much enhanced decommissioning and a new restoration scheme
The policy in Scotland is different, but the approach to the merits of the planning decision is relevant in Scotland.
This appeal decision suggests that it will be difficult to oppose a life extension. The impact of the turbines was assessed as acceptable when the original permission was granted. Changes of circumstance, including any subsequent wind farm or other developments will have taken the turbines into account as part of the baseline.