39. Planning authorities should use the development plan process to assess the potential development opportunities in their area for renewable energy technologies and, in the case of wind farms, allocate broad areas of search. This process should take account of the capacity of the environment to accommodate renewable energy developments and reflect existing, planned, and future potential grid capacity. Planning authorities should then quantify the possible potential of their areas to accommodate all forms of renewable energy developments. Offshore renewable generation projects are not covered by the land-use planning system. However, local assessments should reflect what might be expected to be achieved from offshore renewables (whether wind, wave or tidal based) closest to where electricity might be likely to come ashore. This process will enable planning authorities to set local contributions which should be expressed in terms of megawatts. Local contributions should not take account of micro-renewable technologies, as these are small in scale and in some circumstances do not require planning permission.
40. Planning authorities should set out the capacity that individual broad areas of search might reasonably make to the local contribution. This should be expressed as an amount or as a range of megawatts of renewable generation capacity. Authorities should also give an indication of the size of the development proposals they expect to see, for example some broad areas of search may be more suited to a large scale wind farm whereas others may be more suited to a number of smaller proposals.
41. Local contributions should be reviewed regularly and revised to reflect changes to an area's renewable energy resource potential, the capacity of the environment to accommodate further renewable energy development, and provision or planned provision of new grid capacity. The fact that contributions set out in the development plan have been achieved should not be used in itself as a reason for refusing planning permission for further renewable energy projects.
Consultation on local contributions
42. Local contributions, and subsequent revisions, should be considered in consultation with neighbouring authorities, the industry, grid owners, local communities, other relevant stakeholders and the Executive's Energy Consents Unit. This process should help inform each authority's realistic contribution to national policies, taking into account grid capacity and other constraints, such as environmental designations and landscape capacity. This should enable authorities to plan for their areas with a more complete understanding and assessment of the extent and range of renewables development proposals in, and around, a given area, and to allow a better informed assessment of their likely individual and cumulative impact, including the implications for grid upgrades.
43. A key element of discussions on local contributions should be to ensure that planning authorities, working together, give full consideration to the potential of making best use of existing and approved grid infrastructure. In their report Scotland's Renewable Energy Potential: Realising the 2020 Target4 the Future Generation Group of the Forum for Renewable Energy Development in Scotland provided details of how the transmission system may evolve, taking account of the four upgrades that have received approval in principle from Ofgem. Further details are given at Annex B. These upgrades have still to receive the necessary development consents. The report concluded that up to 4.8 GW of installed renewable capacity, over and above renewable generation capacity installed and consented at that point, could be achieved from these four transmission upgrades for which Ofgem has already proposed a funding mechanism. It also acknowledged that further upgrades may be required and the report explored possible options for the future. Currently (June 2006), consented renewable energy developments total 3.7 GW. If all of these proceed, then a further 2.3 GW of consented projects would take the total to 6 GW. This 2.3 GW could readily be accommodated within the likely available Scottish grid capacity of circa 4 GW should these four Ofgem approved grid upgrades be consented and built.