Life extension of existing wind farms can be attractive, especially where
there is the opportunity to retain the benefit of an existing subsidy.
Planning background
Typically planning permission for a wind farm is granted subject to
conditions specifying operation for 25 years with decommissioning and
restoration thereafter. Life extension requires those conditions to be varied.
Kirkby Moor Wind Farm
The outcome of the Kirkby Moor Wind Farm appeal was seen as an important
test case for the planning approach to life extensions.
KMWF was consented in 1992, subject to a planning conditions requiring
removal of the turbines after 25 years of use. In December 2017 South
Lakeland Council refused an application to vary the condition to allow
continued operation of the existing turbines until 31 March 2027. On 29
July 2019 the Inspector upheld the appeal and granted the proposed variation.
National Planning Policy
The Inspector noted that the National Planning Policy Framework requires
wind farms to be in an area identified as suitable and should have the
backing of the local community. There is an exception for “applications for
the repowering of existing wind turbines”.
The Council argued that the continuation of the life of existing wind
turbines is not repowering; the appellant argued that within the wind
industry “repowering” is an umbrella term covering replacement, replanting
and extension of life. The Inspector concluded, in the absence of national
guidance as to the meaning of the term, that the proposal comprised repowering.
Planning issues
The Inspector noted that many of the residents who opposed the proposal
stated that the turbines should have been a temporary intrusion – albeit
one lasting for 25 years – and that they should be removed.
However, he went on to review the proposal on its individual merits,
concluding that:
the landscape is more than capable of continuing to assimilate the windfarm
without significant harm to its essential character
the site is within an area categorised as having a medium/ high capacity
for wind energy development – that assessment was undertaken with the KMWF
in place
as the Wind Energy Supplementary Planning Document indicates capacity for
further, taller turbines, it must also support retention of smaller structures
although the Lake District was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List
after the KMWF was granted planning permission, the existence of KMWF was
part of the baseline for the World Heritage Site designation
continuation of the generating capacity of the wind farm, even if time
limited and comparatively small, was a significant benefit, contributing to
the national objective of promoting renewable energy
the current proposal would result in a significantly better outcome for the
SSSI, because the original consent only requires the removal of the
turbines and no removal of other structures, other work or remediation,
whereas the new proposal included much enhanced decommissioning and a new
restoration scheme
The policy in Scotland is different, but the approach to the merits of the
planning decision is relevant in Scotland.
This appeal decision suggests that it will be difficult to oppose a life
extension. The impact of the turbines was assessed as acceptable when the
original permission was granted. Changes of circumstance, including any
subsequent wind farm or other developments will have taken the turbines
into account as part of the baseline.

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