Planning for Renewable Energy: Lessons from the UK’s Devolved Administrations

Geraint Ellis, R.J. Cowell, Fionnguala Sherry-Brennan, P.A. Strachan, Dave Toke

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The planning system has been put forward as a key element in facilitating the low carbon transition (Bulkeley 2006, While 2008), by reducing carbon footprints through initiatives such as encouraging less-energy intensive development, reducing the need to travel or promoting sustainable forms of transport. It has also played a key role on encouraging a shift to more renewable sources of energy, through establishing the spatial ‘rules’ for its regulation, consenting of specific projects and acting as the key arena for mediating a range of social concerns over the resulting socio-technical shift. Despite having this key facilitative role, planning is also regularly seen as a key impediment to renewables, particularly on-shore wind (Ellis et al 2009). There is however, little known about what makes the ‘best’ approach to planning for renewables and indeed little discussion on how to judge the effectiveness of a planning regime for this issue – is it one that maximises generating capacity, protects or landscapes or biodiversity, or perhaps one that maximises social acceptance of renewable developments?

The UK offers a useful context for exploring these issues, with its four main territories (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) having broadly similar institutional arrangements, but autonomy over spatial planning during the period in which renewables expanded across the landscape. Each of these jurisdictions has sought to use their planning system to encourage renewables with subtlety different discourses, regulations and spatial strategies. Such an ‘experiment’ offers some important insight into what ‘works’.

This paper will draw on a two year study funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (RES-062-23-2526), which has charted the effects of devolved administrations on policy and delivery of renewable energy from 1990 to 2012. Drawing on more than 80 interviews, documentary analysis and secondary data sources it describes the growth of renewable capacity in each jurisdiction, explores the spatial strategies adopted and analyses the way in which the broader institutional frameworks in which planning for renewables has emerged. The paper uses this analysis to consider the lessons that can be drawn from the comparable experience of the devolved administrations in the UK and points to the ways in which we should evaluate the effectiveness of planning regimes for renewable energy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2013
EventJoint AESOP-ACSP Congress - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 15 Jul 201319 Jul 2013


ConferenceJoint AESOP-ACSP Congress


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