Draft Local Plan October 2012

Decentralised, Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Development

7.26 We have already explained how as part of the overall strategy all development will be expected to give explicit consideration to the efficient, prudent use and management of natural resources including the use of sustainable construction, minimisation of waste and recycling of waste. In line with the three-step 'energy hierarchy' (lean, clean, green) we also need to give consideration to specific proposals relating to decentralised energy supply and the use of renewable and low carbon energy.

7.27 As part of its response to the challenges of both climate change and the security of energy supply, the Government is committed to increasing the use and supply of renewable and low-carbon energy, emphasising the responsibility on all communities to contribute towards energy generation from such sources. Community-led initiatives have begun to emerge locally, for example the Community Renewable Energy Strategy for Chipping Norton and Eynsham's People Power Station Project. The Council encourages and supports such schemes.

7.28 A study into renewable energy in West Oxfordshire (the CAG Study) identified opportunities for renewable energy technologies that generate electricity (wind, solar PV, small scale hydro) or heat (biomass, solar thermal, heat pumps) or both e.g. biomass/wood fuel Combined Heat and Power (CHP). However, the District's high-valued landscape and historic environment impose significant constraints on large scale stand-alone renewable energy development. While in relation to wind development there may be some potential for larger, commercial, wind turbines, the development pattern is more likely to be one of single turbines and small scale community-owned clusters (e.g. connected through schools or village halls), scattered rather than being grouped in a particular part of the District. Similarly, the opportunities for large scale solar farms appear limited, whereas community solar clubs are becoming increasingly popular. The constraints - especially the AONB, landscape character, airfields and widely distributed settlement pattern - means each scheme will need a high level of testing.

7.29 Environmental and technical constraints on wind and solar power in the District, mean that to achieve significant levels of renewable energy generation, the development of biomass as a fuel source will need to play a crucial role. Biomass might be used in small scale power stations or District Energy Schemes. Biomass is a good, viable option for new build development (and existing buildings) where the necessary infrastructure such as underground pipework can be laid whilst major construction is underway. The County has a large number of small woodlands. These, together with larger woodlands and estates in West Oxfordshire and the growing of short rotation coppice, should be capable of producing enough biomass to expand the existing but small local wood fuel industry. Not only will this provide renewable, low carbon energy, there will also be local environmental and economic benefits. Further work is underway to stimulate demand and develop local, sustainable supply chains through a West Oxfordshire Wood Fuel Network and a countywide Community Woodfuel Initiative.

7.30 When assessing applications for renewable/low carbon energy, the potential local environmental, economic and community benefits will be important considerations. Regard will also be given to scale, design, location, technology type and cumulative impact. The aim will be to minimise adverse impacts on landscape, biodiversity, heritage assets, highways and residential amenity.

7.31 In the Cotswolds AONB small scale renewable energy development is encouraged both by the Council and by the Cotswolds Conservation Board. As a result of a specific assessment of wind development in the Cotswolds AONB, the Board's definition of 'small scale' is the one that will be used in West Oxfordshire i.e. acceptable turbines serving individual businesses and communities are likely to be in the 2-50 kW range of capacity with overall heights to tip of, approximately, 15-20m.

7.32 Given the limited opportunities in West Oxfordshire for large stand-alone renewable energy schemes, there is a strong need to maximise the opportunities to incorporate decentralised and renewable or low carbon energy generation within non-energy developments. Planned tightening of the Building Regulations, with rising energy efficiency and carbon standards, means new development will be moving towards zero carbon from 2016. This will help to drive decentralised energy. In the meantime, on larger developments, where the density, layout and mix of uses, plus economies of scale, generally make decentralised and renewable or low-carbon sources more feasible and viable, 10% of the predicted energy demand for a proposed development will be sought from decentralised and renewable or low carbon sources.

7.33 The CAG Study highlighted the potential benefits of encouraging greater use of medium and large scale decentralised energy systems to reduce local CO2 emissions. Such systems can either provide heat and power (CHP) or just heat (DH), the infrastructure for which can be installed at the same time as other services (water and drainage systems, etc), meaning new developments offer an ideal opportunity for such systems. With challenging renewable electricity and heat targets, CHP/DH schemes will become increasingly important, especially within the Strategic Development Areas. A feasibility assessment will be required for such sites (through the Master Planning/SPD process). Given the wider local benefits, the use of biomass CHP/DH will, in particular, need to be investigated.

CORE POLICY 20 - Decentralised and renewable or low carbon energy development

In principle, renewable and low-carbon energy developments will be supported, especially small-scale community-led initiatives for wind schemes, solar clubs and the use of biomass.

Renewable or low-carbon energy development should be located and designed to minimise any adverse impacts. In assessing proposals, the following local issues will need to be considered and satisfactorily addressed:

  • impacts on landscape, biodiversity, historic environment, residential amenity, aviation activities, highway safety and fuel/energy security, including their cumulative and visual impacts
  • opportunities for environmental enhancement
  • potential benefits to host communities (including job creation and income generation).

New developments of 10 or more dwellings or 1000m2 of non-residential floorspace should secure at least 10% of their energy from decentralised and renewable or low-carbon sources (including the use of Combined Heat and Power or District Heating where appropriate) unless, having regard to the type of development involved and its design, this is not feasible or viable.

The use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and District Heating (DH), especially biomass fuelled, will be encouraged in all developments.

A feasibility assessment for CHP/DH, including consideration of the use of local wood fuel biomass, will be required for:

  • proposals on strategic development sites
  • all non-domestic developments above 1000m2 floorspace
  • all residential developments in off-gas areas for 50 dwellings or more.