government mulls potential wind farm payout scheme

The government has confirmed that it is considering introducing a conservation scheme that could make it easier for wind farm developers to secure support for new developments from local residents.

The Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) is pushing ahead with research into so-called conservation banking schemes, where developers who affect wildlife habitats are obliged to help fund alternative biodiversity projects through the purchase of conservation credits.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies said the schemes, which have been successfully pioneered in Australia and the US, had the potential to help accelerate the rollout of those wind farms that would otherwise face planning objections from local opponents.

"The idea of conservation banking is to give businesses greater clarity and speed up the development of infrastructure projects, such as wind farms, that would otherwise suffer long delays or get rejected," he said.

Under proposals currently being considered by Defra, conservation banking could provide a formal mechanism for wind farm developers to offer financial incentives to residents living near proposed wind farms, some of whom have successfully blocked numerous planning applications.

For example, farmers or other residents setting up conservation zones at relatively low expense could sell conservation credits to wind farm operators.

"No final decision has been made as yet and more research will be undertaken during the autumn on how a scheme could work," said a spokesman for Defra. "But it is a really interesting idea that could help developers while also improving protection for wildlife."

He added that following the release of a report on conservation banking earlier this year, civil servants were continuing to investigate how the scheme could work.

Conservation or bio-banking has also secured support from the Conservatives, who said earlier this year that they too were investigating how the UK could develop a conservation credit system.

However, some environmental groups have argued that any such schemes should not be used to replace existing biodiversity rules, warning that they could be exploited by developers to force through projects with significant environmental impacts.

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