A significant number of wind farms and wind turbines will reach the end of their service life in the near future. There are three main options once wind farms reach the end of their planning consent: Repowering, Decommission or Life Extension. The latter has become less problematic due to the clarity provided in the Kirkby Moor Wind Farm ‘Life Extension’ project that was granted consent last week following a Public Inquiry. TNEI provided noise evidence for the appellant during the Inquiry.
Kirkby Moor Life Extension Project
This 12-turbine scheme was originally consented in 1992 with a requirement within the permission to remove the turbines after 25 years operation. The consent expired and the appellant sought to extend the life of the wind farm until March 2027 by varying the relevant planning condition.
The appeal decision is particularly important in England where footnote 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) applies. This states that new wind farm projects should not be considered acceptable unless they are in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts have been fully addressed and the proposal has local community backing. The exception to this is where it involves planning applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines.
Unsurprisingly then, the definition of ‘repowering’ became a main point of contention during the appeal. The appellant argued that in the wind industry ‘repowering’ is an umbrella term covering replacement, replanting and, importantly, extension of life. The Council’s position was that the original planning permission had now expired and that their definition of repowering was to “rebuild or replace the power source or engine of a vehicle, power plant etc”. There is no planning related definition in national guidance in England as to the meaning of repowering in this context but the Inspector referenced the Scottish Government’s Onshore Wind Policy Statement (although obviously not applicable in England). That policy adopts a relatively wide approach to the question of repowering and measures designed to extend the life of components and turbines.
Inspector agreed with the appellant that the scheme did not constitute physical replacement or enlargement of turbines and it fell short of the Council’s definition, thereby the scheme would not have to comply with the tests set out in footnote 49.
Opportunities for Wind Farm Owners and Operators
Owners of existing wind farms which are coming to the end of their 25-year term will be grappling with the choices available to them. Kirkby Moor is an important decision and believed to be the first scheme of its kind to extend the lifetime of its consent in the UK. There are many more schemes coming to the end of their planned service life. A decision on lifetime extension is complex and owners of assets will need to balance the increase in O&M costs and the technical and legal uncertainties against the ROC payments they would receive until March 2027 when the subsidy ends.
A successful application to vary a planning condition results in the grant of a new planning permission and each Life Extension scheme will still need to be determined on its planning merits. The surrounding environment and land uses may have changed significantly since the original consent was granted and a robust review of the planning conditions and planning risk will need to be undertaken. Diligent and robust supporting evidence will be required to accompany a future application. If you own or operate a wind farm that is coming to the end of its planning consent period and would like to discuss the options available to you, please get in touch with Justin Reid.