Onshore wind policy statement refresh - draft: consultation analysis

Analysis of the consultation responses received to the draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement between 28 October 2021 and 31 January 2022.

Annex 1: Eskdalemuir Working Group and Policy Proposals

When referring to respondents who made particular comments, the terms 'a small number', 'a few' and so on have been used. While the analysis was qualitative in nature, as a very general rule of thumb it can be assumed that: 'a very small number' indicates around 2-3 respondents, 'a small number' indicates around 4-6 respondents; 'a few' indicates around 7 to 9; and 'some' indicates 10 or more but fewer than half of those who commented at any question. Where larger numbers of respondents are referred to, a 'significant minority' is 10-25% of respondents, a 'large minority' is denoted by 25-50% of respondents, and 50%+ is 'a majority'.

1. The consultation paper outlined information on the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array (EKA), a seismological monitoring station in the Scottish Borders which forms part of the UK's obligations under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and the impact that wind turbines can have on this. Current safeguards provide limits on seismic disturbance and ensure an exclusion zone of a 10km radius. However, at present the noise budget for the zone has been breached and the MoD will object to any and all developments within the consultation zone of 50 km in order to protect the operations of the array. This is currently preventing any further developments in a significant area of Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to the most efficient use of Scotland's regenerating potential and recognises that EKA is acting as a barrier to deployment at present. Four potential policy options were outlined.

2. Four questions were asked on the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array.

Summary (Qs26-29)

  • Equal numbers of respondents agreed with the accuracy of the content as disagreed or neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • There was an issue reported regarding a difference in process between local applications and Section 36 applications whereby the EKA noise budgets are secured at different stages of development.
  • Renewable energy organisations agreed that there needs to be a new approach to the noise budget, with Option 3 garnering the most support. At the same time, there were views that achieving or calculating an acceptable level of impact was a matter for more research and analysis, and that there is a need to take account of wind farm innovations in budget allocations.
  • There was a consensus that the EWG needed restructuring to a smaller core working group with a secondary open forum of stakeholders.

3. The first question in this section asked:

Q26: Does the above accurately reflect the current position in relation to the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array and the barrier it presents to deployment in Scotland?

4. Out of 64 respondents who answered the first part of this question, nearly half strongly or mostly agreed that the position accurately reflected their view in relation to the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array. However, nearly as many respondents neither agreed nor disagreed. Renewable energy respondents almost unanimously strongly or mostly agreed.

Q26 Number
  Strongly agree Mostly agree Neither agree nor disagree Mostly disagree Strongly disagree No response
Acoustics (3) - - 1 - - 2
Aviation specialist (5) - - - - - 5
Communities (18) 1 1 4 - - 12
Governmental funded bodies & regulators (7) - - 1 - - 6
Legal (2) - - - - - 2
Lobby and interest groups (13) - - - - 1 12
Local authorities & planners (14) - 2 4 - - 8
Renewable Energy (43) 3 16 1 - 1 22
Third sector (e.g. Charities and other NGOs) (2) - - - - - 2
Other (4) - - - - - 4
Total organisations (111) 4 19 11 - 2 75
Individuals (49) 1 6 13 3 5 21
Total respondents (160) 5 25 24 3 7 96

5. 52 respondents proceeded to make further comments; a large minority (mostly renewable energy organisations) reiterated that the annex accurately reflects their view of the current situation.

6. An issue raised by a large minority of mainly renewable energy industry respondents was an omission from the OnWPS draft statement that there is a difference in process between local applications and Section 36 applications whereby the noise budgets are secured at different stages of development; Section 36 schemes can enter the scoping process early and be awarded budget prior to a planning application being submitted, a situation regarded as unfair. It is worth noting that this issue lies within the MoD's remit.

7. A further concern expressed by a few of the same respondents as above referred to where any threshold is 'to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Defence'. This was regarded as too vague; respondents urged that the MoD's process for assessing its satisfaction with mitigation measures is clear and transparent.

8. More generally, a few mostly renewable energy respondents urged a review of current policy as a solution was needed to unblock wind farm potential; these respondents agreed that the current situation was a barrier to a large number of projects in the wider area which would have a lower impact getting held up because projects closer to the array are taking years to get rejected.

9. Other small numbers of respondents made the following observations:

  • As the barrier that the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array (EKA) presents is significant, this needs to be acknowledged in the NPF4 and other pieces of spatial planning framework, in order to help find mitigating measures.
  • There is a need to protect against sound levels as noise is important (e.g. more research is needed).
  • Progress would be welcome by way of a policy solution.

10. A significant minority, mostly consisting of individuals and communities' organisations tending towards disagreement with the view presented at the first part of the question, advocated that MoD requirements and national security were the overriding concern and must be upheld. Slightly fewer respondents from the same sub-groups mooted that the Scottish Government and developers were trying to get round regulations and ignore obligations in order to build more onshore wind farms; these respondents were against any loosening of the limits.

11. Finally a very small number of individual respondents were not in favour of more developments in the area because of the potential loss of wetlands and associated increased flood risks, irrespective of military requirements.

12. The next question asked:

Q27: Acknowledging that the Scottish Government require further evidence before taking a policy decision, at this point and reflecting the options outlined above do you / your organisation have any thoughts?

13. This question elicited 50 responses. A large minority of mainly renewable energy industry organisations agreed that there needs to be a new approach to the EKA noise budget. There was an urge for rapid progress so that constrained projects can be deployed; suggestions included new calculations, using low seismic turbines to ensure optimal use of the noise budget, allocating noise budget at the consent stage of projects rather than scoping, and trying mitigations where turbines are less seismically quiet than predicted by modelling. However, many of the same respondents took the view that existing projects with noise budget should be entitled to retain any noise budget allocated to them with respect to any subsequent design revisions, such as blade tip height extensions.

14. A majority of mainly renewable energy respondents focused their opinions on the four policy options. The greatest number – a significant minority in all consisting of mainly renewable energy respondents – voiced support for Option 3, citing that developments beyond 15km would be able to progress and that this would ensure that budget is not reached by projects located 15-20km from the EKA. A few of these however thought the distance should be informed by the Phase 4 technical report. A very small number of respondents cited problems with Option 3, saying it included areas where wind farms are consented but not implemented which could involve financial compensation, additional administration for developers and timing delays.

15. Regarding Option 1, more respondents expressed support than disapproval; those in favour supported a 15km safety margin, stating this would enable progression of 1200MW or more capacity beyond 15km, and noted support via the research from the initial technical assessment by Xi Engineering. Those voicing disapproval cited that a large portion of land would be out of bounds for development, that it includes areas where wind farms have been consented but not implemented, that it will not on its own guarantee greatly increased deployment capacity, and that if large projects are consented at 15km the noise budget would be reached preventing deployments in the wider area.

16. Regarding Option 2, almost all comments were negative. There were concerns about the terminology 'to the satisfaction of the MoD', about the need for full cooperation of the MoD to work with developers and consenting authorities, and about a need to know the weight of the MoD in planning decision-making as well as more general administration workload and timing delay issues.

17. Regarding Option 4 – the status quo – there were a couple of mentions of support from an individual and a lobby and interest group, with an added small number of mentions from these subgroups favouring the MoD retaining its remit to safeguard the array and have no developments in the seismic recording area generally. A few negative comments were received, mainly from the renewable energy industry, about the lack of viability of this option as it is perceived as acting as a barrier to deployment.

18. A few other comments were made from a mix of respondent groups. These consisted of:

  • Preferences to leave decisions about where the ultimate exclusion zone should be to technical experts, rather than making it a political decision.
  • Suggestions to relocate the EKA elsewhere, in order for the area to meet its wind farm potential.
  • Requests to take the views of local people into account.
  • A few individuals reiterated views against more wind farms.

19. Question 28 then asked:

Q28: If Option 2 or Option 3 were to be selected, how could we best achieve or calculate an acceptable level of impact? (One example being an agreement of a standard noise budget to MW generated proportional allocation i.e. for X MW generated = X amount of budget allocated).

20. A total of 44 respondents replied to this question. The largest numbers (a large minority consisting mainly of the renewable energy industry) said achieving or calculating an acceptable level of impact was a matter for more research and analysis. In particular, waiting for the results of the Phase 4 work to determine the appropriate distances was recommended. Further comments urged monitoring and theoretical re-evaluation of actual impacts so that unused budget can be released, the need for a more realistic calculation for budgeting as the current method likely overestimates effects, or cited a lack of industry consensus about the best option. A small number of respondents reinforced this view by saying it was a technical matter perhaps best left to the MoD to decide.

21. A large minority of almost entirely renewable energy respondents perceived a need to take account of innovations in budget allocations. It was purported that this would help encourage the uptake of low seismic, newer and improved turbines as well as other mitigations.

22. Difficulties with the standard noise budget to MW-generated proportional allocation method were noted by a few mostly renewable energy respondents; these included administration difficulties, the project by project agreement basis being slow, insecurity of budget allocation preventing confidence to proceed, the creation of barriers to development of a large number of projects in the wider area further from the array and a failure to reflect wind farm proximity to the EKA. An individual suggested that the relevant measure should be MW/hr per nm, not installed capacity.

23. However a small number of renewable energy respondents agreed with the budget allocation per WTG or MW, as long as there was no limit of procurement options to a single manufacturer which would remove competition. Other small numbers reiterated that allocation of budget should be at application submission rather than at the scoping stage. Two renewable energy organisations foresaw that extending the exclusion distance beyond 15 km would create a problem for future repowering of operational wind farms, because Scottish Planning Policy states that areas identified for wind farms should be suitable for use in perpetuity.

24. A few mostly renewable energy or individual respondents chose to focus on or reiterate their views on the four policy options; the largest number (as previously) preferred Option 3, citing this as providing optimum balance in terms of transparent and consistent implementation. Smaller numbers stated a preference for Option 1, giving reasons that it is definitive, practical, a situation that developers are used to, that anything within the 15km area uses up a disproportionate amount of budget, and that they had a preference for a hard boundary beyond which no consultation is allowed.

25. A few individuals and communities' groups were not in favour of mitigating impacts on national security grounds; two individuals were concerned about other impacts, in particular clustering of wind farms around the buffer zone.

26. The last question in this section went onto ask:

Q29: Do you / your organisation have any thoughts on how the EWG might be restructured to ensure continued engagement for interested parties whilst maintaining the core purpose of the group?

27. 36 respondents replied to this question. There was some consensus in that around half of these (almost all being renewable energy respondents) recommended a restructuring to a smaller core, working, or executive group of active members, but with a secondary more open forum to include wider numbers of stakeholders, developers and interested parties to whom reports and updates can be issued. It was further suggested by a few renewable energy respondents that the Scottish Government should select and / or administer the group, perhaps based on applications or previous membership. A couple of comments suggested that the EWG was currently too large to function efficiently.

28. Suggestions for inclusions to the proposed core group were made; organisations put forward for having representation included the MoD, the Scottish Government, BEIS, Scottish Renewables, Renewables UK, the RUK Aviation Working Group, AIFCL and developers who were happy to fund the previous Phase 4 study or willing to contribute to evidence gathering. There were also a small number of requests to include local communities. A couple of respondents urged involvement for groups with a range of views, rather than just those with vested interests; one renewable energy organisation saw a need to remove developers from the EWG to ensure impartiality in decision-making. However, there were also a very small number of requests to keep projects updated for clarity of budget allocation, a task that would be the responsibility of developers.

29. Small numbers from a range of sub-groups thought the EWG did not need restructuring, regarding it as "working well in safeguarding national security" and not wanting the Scottish Government to "gain control"; the increasing number of members was thought to reflect the increasing numbers of developers affected by the budget breach. It is worth nothing that these statements do not correspond with the remit of EWG and safeguarding of the array falls solely within MoD's remit. EWG is a collaborative group that seeks to maximise renewable deployment within the Eskdalemuir consultation zone whilst maintaining appropriate safeguards for the array.

30. A small number of individuals who were against wind farm developments thought the EWG should be disbanded.


Email: onshorewindpolicy@gov.scot

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