Page last updated at 20:58 GMT, Sunday, 30 August 2009 21:58 UK

Winning over the 'Nimby blockade'

By Alasdair Cross
Costing the Earth

Westray
Residents of Westray on Orkney have agreed to a wind turbine development

Developers of wind turbines and other energy schemes need to learn to work with - not against - local communities to get their plans approved, according to a new UK government study.

There's BLOT- Belvoir Locals Opposing Turbines, there's HALT in Beccles, there's AMP in Matlock and SOUL- Save Our Unspoiled Landscape in Berwickshire.

All over the country there are groups - more than 150 of them at the last count - fighting against renewable energy projects in their neighbourhoods.

If you've got a scheme with 125 turbines, why not think about divesting ownership of one of those turbines to the local community so they've got a tangible buy-in to the process
Professor Patrick Devine-Wright

The government says the county needs 30% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, but there is little chance of reaching that target when local opposition is so fierce.

Energy companies are frustrated by the success of these groups in delaying or defeating wind farms and bio-mass plants.

However, the new study, Beyond Nimbyism, shifts the blame for the delays back on to the energy developers.

Developers not trusted

Lead author Professor Patrick Devine-Wright of Exeter University said: "The vast majority of people are in consent for renewable energy technologies.

"Developers need to think about the fact that in the main they don't trust them. They don't trust them at all."

The report criticises developers for a failure to listen to local anxieties and for their failure to secure direct advantages for villages expected to accommodate energy schemes.

Biomass storage silo (Getty Images)
Burning wood chips from forestry waste can be used to generate power

A dispute in the village of Northiam in East Sussex seems to bear out the report's findings.

Plans for a small bio-mass plant burning waste wood have met fierce opposition.

Villagers were angry that they heard nothing about the idea until a planning application had been lodged.

They sent dozens of written objections to the proposal to the planning authority, fearing noise and disruption from lorries bringing woodchip to the plant 24 hours a day.

Campaign leader Geoff Poyton explained the source of the opposition: "It's a fear of the unknown, basically, because they've not provided us with the information up front.

"The residents naturally are scared of what they might get. Had we had more time to consider, maybe we'd have been more accepting."

The developer, AHS, seemed surprised by the strength of the reaction to what it believes to be an environmentally friendly development.

Edward Wilkinson of AHS said he was happy to explain his plans to any interested residents who asked.

Financial stake

The beach at Westray
The Westray plan has tapped into local pride and self-interest

For Patrick Devine-Wright, this attitude is part of the problem. He believes residents need to be involved at the earliest possible stage, and ideally be linked into the plans financially.

He said: "If you've got a scheme with 125 turbines, why not think about divesting ownership of one of those turbines to the local community so they've got a tangible buy-in to the process."

Better still, he believes, is a community-led approach, as seen on Westray, one of the Orkney Islands.

Here farmers, fishermen and schoolteachers are investing in ground-source heat pumps, wind turbines, bio-fuel manufacture and anaerobic digesters in an effort to make the island energy self-sufficient.

The local Church of Scotland minster, Rev Iain MacDonald, summed up the mixture of local pride and self-interest that has given birth to such a positive approach on Westray.

"It saves money; it's also about creation stewardship - doing something that we can do to reduce our own carbon footprint."

Tom Heap presents Costing the Earth on the Nimby Blockade on BBC Radio Four on Monday 31 August at 2100 BST and on Thursday 3 September at 1330 BST. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast.



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SEE ALSO
Green energy hit by 'faceless Nimbys'
20 Aug 09 |  Science & Environment
Woodchip-powered electricity plan
06 Jul 09 |  Sussex
Biomass energy 'could be harmful'
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Rooftop wind protest comes to end
14 Aug 09 |  Hampshire
Study pinpoints UK wind hotspots
09 Jul 09 |  Science & Environment
Renewables shift is big business
22 Feb 08 |  Working Lunch
Wind 'could power all UK homes'
10 Dec 07 |  UK Politics

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