REA: Key role for large-scale solar industry in shaping local renewables policy

Large-scale solar developers have been urged to work closely with local authorities to avoid seeing future project proposals rejected by planning officers.

With recent changes to national planning policy, councils in the UK are now drawing up local policies dictating what renewables projects will or will not be permitted in a given area, and there are fears that unless the solar industry influences this process, it could see future projects turned down.

At a meeting of large-scale solar developers held this week by the Solar Trade Association, Mike Landy, Senior Policy Analyst at the Renewable Energy Association, explained how under new planning rules, councils are now obliged to produce guidance setting out renewable energy policies in their local development plan, the framework used to determine planning applications.

“One of the key issues people need to be aware of is that planning decisions have to be taken in line with what development plans say,” Landy said. “In communications I have had with the Department for Communities and Local Government they are saying you need to make sure you talk to local authorities; they are under a statutory duty over the next 12 months or so to make sure they have a set of renewable energy policies in their development plans. And if those are not in line with what the industry wants, then that could end up being a major impediment as projects come forward.”

Landy said government was looking for the industry to come together with other “interested parties” to come up with own guidance.

“In some cases that’s going to be extremely difficult, it’s going to cause some tensions,” Landy said. “But clearly government wants to back away from producing its own detailed guidance and is looking to industry to develop its own.”

Meanwhile, the STA is separately looking to develop a best practice guide to help local authority planners determine applications for large-scale solar projects.

The document will be based on a similar guide produced by Cornwall County Council, which, with the county’s high levels of installation activity, has become used to dealing with applications for large-scale projects.

With interest in large-scale solar in the UK on the increase, there are concerns that local authority planners will be unfamiliar with handling planning applications for schemes of this size.

The STA’s PV expert Ray Noble said: “We believe we need to develop a best practice guide for planners, because most planners who are now starting to get involved in large-scale solar don’t understand solar, let alone large scale. So a document they can refer to that would steer them in the right path would be a great help.”