Land of opportunity: on-shore renewables, land use and overlapping developments

In the years since Harper Macleod first became involved in on-shore wind, the number of new projects has risen sharply and has diversified greatly. Pamela Todd, a partner in the Energy Team, looks at the impact of this on land use, and the particular issues related to overlapping developments.

The increase in on-shore renewable energy projects has intensified demand on land, with different developers and technologies competing for use of the access and cable routes, and areas of open ground for construction; even off shore wind projects have on-shore cabling requirements.

Of course, it has always been the case that energy developments in rural areas would seek to cohabit with existing land uses. All of the older projects were constructed on land previously used for forestry or for farming, and ways were sought to ensure that such land uses could continue in so far as they would not have a detrimental effect on the operation of the turbines. In the case of farming, in many instances after construction is complete the farming operations can continue largely unchanged.

We are now seeing an ever increasing number of landowners and developers wishing to overlap developments, whether by installing other technologies in the understorey of larger wind turbines, or by permitting accesses created for one project to be used to gain access to another, and pressure on land means that sites previously considered unattractive because of the degree of interaction with other existing land users in order to access them are now being seriously considered. The advantages in economic and environmental terms can be enormous, and in some instances the existence of a ready-built access road or grid connection is the cost saving which makes a subsequent project viable.

Wherever such uses interface, however, considerable practical and legal issues can arise. Is the landowner able to grant a second tranche of access rights over a road, or has he reserved to himself only a personal right of access across it? How will the various uses of any piece of land be regulated to ensure that each party can complete its development and manage its operations safely? How can road maintenance costs be fairly shared where, for example, a wind farm developer wishes to create a road suitable for turbine part delivery and therefore of necessity built to a specification which will not stand up to use for timber extraction? Each project will bring its own issues and a careful consideration of existing rights and future needs will be required in each case.

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If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or any other renewable energy matters, please get in touch with a member of our team.