Land Use Planning Reform

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While the issue of land planning is a sub-set of the policy frameworks point above, this aspect is nonetheless drawn out to receive further consideration here. This is because of the distributed nature of renewable energy projects, the need for many small projects, and ongoing evidence that planning obstacles can cause major delays for renewable development.

Later, this book will show how many stakeholders are affected by renewable energy development. Stakeholders range from residents and neighbours whose communities host renewable energy developments, to abstract global populations whose future wellbeing will be safeguarded by rapid action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stakeholders may have an economic, social or environmental interest in a project. They may be local or non-local. They may be directly affected or may advocate on behalf of others. Many stakeholders will come into direct contact with projects through the planning application process, thus it is important that planning policies are established to properly manage this interaction.

The UK, for example, provides a cautionary tale. Despite the highest wind resource in the EU15 and one of Europe's earliest promotion policies, ongoing obstacles have left developers and stakeholders without a properly integrated planning framework, as detailed in the UK case study by Gordon Edge in Chapter 6.

The UK example contrasts with that of Denmark, Germany and Spain where more integrated consultation and planning frameworks evolved. The following excerpt sheds light on the Spanish experience of environmental planning:

Environmental concerns [in Spain] have been given a different emphasis in different regions. Navarra included environmental impacts as one of the key aspects in site selection at the start. Other provinces such as Galicia and Castilla have not fully dealt with these issues leading to conflicts with organizations and residents. Other regions such as Catalonia have seen their plans delayed whilst awaiting proper decisions on how to address these conflicts. (EWEA, 2002)

There are lessons to be learned from these experiences to help avoid such pitfalls in the future, and they are addressed in the following with some key questions and answers.

Are renewable resource maps available that can provide combined technical, environmental and social overlays to allow informed decision-making?

The first step in good planning is to ensure that sufficient information exists. Specifically, we need to know what resources the country has, in what volumes and where they are located. We also need to know what the infrastructure concerns are in terms of how it will affect the harnessing of these resources. For example, are roads required to bring fuel in? Are major power lines required to get power out? And is this infrastructure adequately mapped?

This must be overlaid with information about potential points of environmental impacts. For example, the locations of sensitive or special biodiversity must be recognized. Furthermore, we need to understand which types of impacts from the technology concerned must be considered in detail.

Finally we must understand possible social impacts. Considerations include population distribution, the impacts relevant to populations (such as noise, transport, building changes or fuel replacement), optimizing employment creation with location, positive or negative overlaps with other land use (e.g. farming), and issues of landscape sensitivity (see Box 3.4).

Much of the information required to answer the questions above will be readily available to a government. Sometimes, however, government may not have the information or the agencies that can do the work, or it may choose not to take the lead. In these situations civil society and the renewables industry must step into the gap. For example, the landscape arena is one aspect that may be left in the breach. Box 3.5 provides some guidance as to how a coordinated process might generate a landscape information base or methodology for some renewables.

Box 3.4 Example of overlay use by SEAVin Victoria, Australia

It is very important not to pre-judge outcomes of new developments or assume that all impacts will be negative; the evidence so far indicates the opposite for many renewable energy technologies. For example, wind farms have been shown to increase property prices in local areas (Sterzinger et al 2003). The more informed all stakeholders are, the more informed the debate and the decision-making.

Source: SEAV (2005)

Figure 3.16 Electricity grid, parks and wind resource overlays for wind development in Victoria, Australia

Source: SEAV (2005)

Figure 3.16 Electricity grid, parks and wind resource overlays for wind development in Victoria, Australia

Are there environmental and social impact standards in place to provide guidance to developers and security to stakeholders?

If we now assume that all the information is in place to make good decisions, the next step is to establish standards or planning requirements to ensure the impacts of renewable energy development are acceptable.

It is impossible to cover all impacts here. However, some of the common impacts include noise levels from wind farms at the nearest dwellings, impacts of wind farms on birds or bats, impacts of biomass crops on local biodiversity, impacts of biomass residue removal on soil quality, effects of transport levels on local roads and communities, impacts during construction, and decommissioning arrangements. For many of these impacts planning standards may already be

Box 3.5 Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWEA) & Australian Council of National Trusts (ACNT) landscape protocols

This example outlines an initiative to improve information and policy on landscape and heritage. Here the Australian wind industry voluntarily worked with a major stakeholder group to develop material for use by the industry. The following are excerpts from statements that the two organizations released to the media in 2003:

The Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWEA) and the Australian Council of National Trusts have announced an agreement to work together to ensure landscape protection as the wind industry grows. The two organizations have launched a joint project that will determine and promote an agreed-upon means for assessing landscape values inorder to ensure that the planning and siting of wind energy developments can proceed, and that significant landscapes can be identified. The federal government is supporting the initiative with funding to engage independent experts to advise the two organisations.

'As the peak community organization concerned with Australian landscape conservation, we are seriously concerned about the effects of climate change on Australia's environment, but also the visual impact of climate solutions such as wind farming. We have come together with the wind industry because we both believe that a sustainable solution can be found in the siting of wind developments in the countryside,' said Mr Molesworth [Simon Molesworth, ACNT national chairman].

The director of community relations for AusWEA, said: 'Our partnership with the National Trust will allow us to work together across Australia to provide local stakeholders and wind farm developers alike with better understanding and confidence that their interests are being considered. As the expert groups in wind and landscape we can also help inform the various government agencies on viable solutions.'

in place, but if they are not it is not uncommon to borrow standards from other countries. However, some impacts will be country specific, and here forward planning can prevent mistakes or periods of uncertainty.

Again government may not always be the best entity to take the lead on some of these issues, in which case industry and civil society may be left to play lead roles.

Is there zoning or strategic mapping that minimizes planning risk for developers, and also minimizes confrontation between developers and stakeholders?

As previously stated, planning problems have caused difficulties for renewable developments in many countries. The need for a large number of planning consents is inherent in technologies that are small, numerous and widely distributed.

Therefore the more streamlined the planning process, the better for all concerned. Pre-empting these processes by adopting zoning or strategic maps to guide and streamline decision-making are useful ways to address this issue.

Experience shows that it is not wise to wait until planning problems emerge before seeking the solution. For example, proceeding with the process of developing a wind farm until it receives significant planning objection may serve to undermine an entire renewable energy policy drive. Often, objecting parties will not confine themselves to comment within the planning process, but will expand complaints to the media and politics too — causing reputational damage to both government and industry.

Pre-emptive planning action also makes it easier for governments to relate the overarching sustainability policies to planning reform. Should an objection exist, it is preferable to handle it within a balanced 'national—regional—local' planning reform or zoning initiative rather than a more polarized local debate where issues of climate change or national energy security may have little or no resonance.

Finally, there is strong evidence that the pre-existing attitude of local people to a particular development company will affect their attitude to a project owned by that company. Renewable energy in general should not be made hostage to fortune in every project area as a result of how some stakeholders regard the local developer. This risk can largely be removed if developers are constrained to develop appropriately, based on predetermined zoning or mapping or protocols, and in keeping with decisions already made by various levels of government. The following quote provides a Danish example:

Around 1997 another set of planning regulations were developed for offshore wind farms, with a central, national authority — the Danish Energy Agency — being responsible to hear all the interested parties, public and private. This 'one-stop shopping' method has facilitated the planning process considerably, and is widely studied around the globe. (Krohn, 2002)

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