Plans to continue turbine operations cause local stir

In July, the Planning Inspectorate decided to grant planning permission for the continued operation of the 4.8 MW Kirkby Moor wind farm through 2027. The decision has sparked controversy due to its reversal of a previous decision by the South Lakeland District Council’s planning committee to reject the permission for continued operation. The council now fears that this reversal could set a precedent for other existing onshore wind farms to continue operation past contracted closure dates.

The Kirkby Moor wind farm has been in operation since 1993 and was scheduled to close this year, but a lack of specification in the 2019 National Planning Policy Framework has allowed Ventient Energy, owner of the Kirkby Moor wind farm, to extend operations. The Framework states that wind farms are not allowed to continue operation without the backing of the local community. This rule does not apply to the “repowering” of existing wind farms, a process that could involve replacements of blades and generators. To detractors, this does not fall under the definition of “repowering” considering that it does not make physical changes to the existing farm.

Local groups Kirkby Moor Protectors and Friends of the Lake District have long expressed discontent at the wind farm’s operations. They argue that the proposal does not constitute repowering, and worry that their arguments concerning landscape, heritage, noise and residential amenity impacts have fallen on deaf ears. The local attitude toward the wind farm’s continued operation contrasts recent government research which has indicated that 76 per cent of UK residents support onshore wind, and two thirds of UK residents would be in support of turbines within five miles of their homes. This research has prompted calls from MPs, energy companies and environmental activism groups for the Government to allow onshore wind projects to compete for Contracts for Difference, reported on here. Kirkby Moor Protectors are reportedly considering a judicial review.

The CEO of Ventient Energy, Mark Jones has claimed that “this decision will see public benefits flow from the development including restoration of parts of the moorland and an enhanced decommissioning, reinstatement and restoration scheme once the life extension period comes to an end and the turbines have been removed. Furthermore, the existing community fund will be increased, from its current level of £3,555 per year initially to £24,000 per year in order to bring it in line with current industry best practice guidelines.” He also thanked community members for their support claiming that their “voices have played an important part in this positive outcome.”

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