Wind Turbines and Isle of Man Law

Posted on July 31, 2023

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Wind Turbines & Isle of Man Law

Manx Utilities recently announced plans to develop an onshore wind farm on the Isle of Man at a projected cost of £40m. Two potential sites for the 20 megawatt wind farm have been identified: Sulby & Druidale in the north and Earystane & Scards in the south. This article will briefly explore the legal matrix governing the development of a wind farm and how it may be challenged in the courts.

Climate Change & Energy Law

The proposal for the onshore wind farm aligns with Isle of Man Government’s commitment to decarbonise electricity supply by 2030, as part of the overarching goal of net zero emissions by 2050. To achieve decarbonisation by 2030, the Government has set the interim target of producing 75% of Manx electricity through onshore wind and solar power by 2026, which Tynwald approved in February 2023. These commitments are made within the framework of the Climate Change Act 2021. The Electricity Act 1996 also requires Manx Utilities to consider the need to use renewable sources of energy in line with targets made under the Climate Change Act.

Planning Law

As the construction of wind turbines constitutes “development” within the Town and Country Planning Act 1999, planning permission is required. Unlike England, where the installation of wind turbines may be exempt from planning permission if the turbines meet the criteria to qualify as a “permitted development”, the Isle of Man has no equivalent basis for providing exemptions for onshore wind turbines.

As part of the planning process, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be required for any developments posing a risk of significant harm to the environment. Whilst the requirement for an EIA is not enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act, this Act obliges a planning officer to consider the Isle of Man Strategic Plan, a policy framework for the development and use of land. The Plan explicitly requires an EIA to be conducted for onshore wind farms on the Isle of Man. An EIA will outline the potential adverse environmental effects of the development and propose mitigating measures, enabling the planning officer to make an informed decision on whether to grant planning permission.

Legal Challenges

The proposed development of a wind farm can be a polarising issue. Conflicts between various sectors may ensue, including ‘green-on-green’ debates between competing environmental interests. Whilst wind turbines provide a clean, renewable source of energy that helps to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets, they also pose environmental issues at each stage of their lifecycle. The manufacturing of steel and other metal components and the installation, operation and ultimate decommissioning of wind turbines all involve greenhouse gas emission. Wind turbines can affect wildlife such as birds and bats through direct mortality (by collisions with turbine blades) and through habitat loss and degradation. The operational lifespan of a wind turbine blade averages at 20-25 years, and whilst approximately 85% of turbine component materials can be reused or recycled once decommissioned, it is extremely difficult – and costly – to recycle the strong fibreglass blades. For this reason the majority of wind turbine blades end up at landfill sites, where they will take centuries to decompose.

The environmental, aesthetic and socio-economic costs of wind farms may lead to concerned citizens wishing to challenge a decision to grant planning permission. In the Isle of Man an individual may challenge the lawfulness of a public body decision through a petition of doleance. A petition may be brought on various grounds including illegality, unreasonableness and/or breach of human rights. The doleance procedure is designed to be simple and speedy, with the time limit for filing a petition being within 3 months of the relevant decision. The courts have discretion to order various remedies including quashing the decision. A petition of doleance should however be a last resort – those wishing to challenge a planning decision should first file an appeal to Planning & Building Control and await its outcome before initiating doleance proceedings.

Irrespective of the trajectory of the proposed onshore wind farm development in the Isle of Man, it is illustrative of the nexus of interests that must be balanced as our Island strives towards attaining net zero emissions by 2050.

Eve Aycock is a trainee Advocate at M&P Legal with an interest in environmental law. This article does not constitute legal advice, please take advice on specific situations.

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