Wind turbines have a design life of 20–25 years, meaning that the earliest commercial wind farms installed in the 1990s and 2000s are now reaching the end of their lifespans. Wind power is therefore entering a new era. Meeting targets for installed capacity is no longer simply a question of developing new sites; in order not to lose ground, it will also be necessary to provide for the effective repowering of existing installations. In addition, many older sites are now underutilised, because the sites with the best wind resource were often the first to be used and thus house underperforming older turbines. Repowering has the potential to significantly boost the capacity and efficiency of a site and may make economic sense even before the end of the design life of the wind farm.
WindEurope has estimated that repowering across Europe could reach 5.5–8.5 GW per year by 2027. However, the lack of an enabling regulatory framework has been widely identified, throughout Europe, as one of the most significant barriers to effective repowering. France and the UK are no exception. Although both countries have recently recognised the importance of the issue and have taken the first steps towards introducing repowering-specific planning policies, these are for the moment far from being a complete framework. This is at a time when both countries have accepted the challenge of reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2020, both having adopted legally binding obligations to this effect within months of one another, and now face the gargantuan task of putting this into practice. After considering why repowering has the potential to make an important contribution to meeting climate targets, this paper will explore the consent regimes for wind power in France and the UK and their potential to constitute a significant disincentive to wind farm repowering. There is intense controversy surrounding land use issues in the context of wind farm developments, and striking the right balance between speed and stakeholder participation is not easy.
The article will make some tentative suggestions as to what the policy context can do to better, in order to encourage the efficient and fair deployment of repowered wind energy developments.
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