The introduction of government-backed subsidy schemes, such as Feed in Tariffs and the Renewables Obligation Certificate, a decade ago saw the deployment of small and moderate scale solar farms across the UK.
Coupled with the falling costs of componentry, these schemes supported a boom in the renewables sector, with a new wave of developers seeking consent for small to medium scale solar farms, the likes of which had not previously been considered through the UK planning system.
With planning policy for such schemes still in its infancy, this proved to be a lucrative period for developers, who prioritised relatively unconstrained sites and were able to advance quickly through the planning process.
Fast forward to 2019 and the outlook for renewable energy is very different. The subsidy schemes that prompted growth have closed and the consenting process has become much more sophisticated and complex.
To achieve a viable scheme, developers are seeking much larger scale developments and specifying a combination of supplementary technologies, including battery storage and wind turbines. This, in addition to the increasing scarcity of unconstrained sites with suitable grid connections, has created a challenging environment for developers.
However, a deeper assessment of a site’s planning status can unlock development opportunities that may have otherwise been missed or discounted. Our experience has shown that large-scale renewable schemes can be compatible with significant area-based planning constraints, providing that proposals are based on a sound understanding of the details underpinning the designation.
For example, an in-depth understanding of the precise reasons why an SSSI has been designated is critical to appreciating whether a site could be suitably developed without causing unacceptable environmental impacts.
A thorough and technical approach is now fundamental to successful site selection and this should start from a project’s inception. Looking ahead, we expect to see more innovation, particularly in relation to environmental management, and perhaps a renaissance in the renewables sector as a result.