ONE of Europe's leading energy companies has launched a scathing attack on the "tiny vocal minority" of protesters who block planning applications for multimillion-pound renewables projects in Scotland.
Vattenfall, one of the biggest wind power operators in the UK and a key player in the industry in Scotland, blames Holyrood's planning system for allowing objectors to delay wind-farm developments.
Burcote, another major renewables developer, also criticised the "complexities" of a planning regime it claimed threatened to scupper the SNP's ambitious target to generate the equivalent of 100% of electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020.
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In its submission to Holyrood's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Vattenfall said its construction of the Edinbane Wind Farm on Skye was delayed by several years, despite local authority support, because of the "dogged opposition of six protesters against the wishes of hundreds of local people".
It added: "There are too many examples of decision-makers across Scotland being swayed by a tiny vocal minority, thus denying a majority who support a proposal any influence in the planning system."
The company, which is also involved in the development of five other onshore wind farms and a wave power project off the Shetlands and other projects, said there were three key areas of risk – weakening political support for onshore wind and network upgrades in the planning system at all levels, an uncertain future for financial support mechanisms in large-scale renewables and weakness in labour force skills and the supply chain.
It added: "The biggest potential risk to the development of onshore wind in Scotland is the planning system."
The company's submission says the planning system is "inadequately resourced", leading to "unpredictability and delayed decisions, too many negative outcomes and a subsequent dent to investor confidence and foregone capital expenditure".
Burcote, which has announced plans for £1 billion of investment in wind-farm projects across Scotland, said the Government's 2020 target is achievable.
But it said "the complexities of the planning process and the high costs associated with connection to the electricity grid present significant barriers. We believe these barriers have the potential to jeopardise the achievement of the targets".
A spokeswoman for action group Communities Against Turbines Scotland agreed the planning system was under-resourced and overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of applications.
However, she added: "Developers too often exploit this to extort consent for oversized or badly-sited turbines. They submit ill-thought-out applications with 'cut-and-paste' impact assessments which at best are incomplete, and at worst mendacious."
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was "important that the scoping, planning, development and deployment of wind, wave and tidal generation is done as effectively and efficiently as possible".
He added: "We have already made good progress speeding up the deployment of renewable energy by streamlining the planning process, improving the quality of applications and increasing community engagement.
"Planning authorities, and where appropriate the Scottish Government, will only allow renewables developments to be built where the impacts have been found to be acceptable. Each case is assessed on its merits."