Local communities should be offered stakes in onshore wind farms, to get a direct benefit from green projects, argued Dr Rebecca Windemer, senior lecturer in environmental planning at the University of West of England.
Windemer told City A.M. she was “really pleased” with the Government’s proposals to remove obstacles obstructing onshore wind developments in the UK.
She described the move as one that was “really needed,” which would allow onshore wind farms to be built in areas local communities wanted them, but were unable to get them through under previous policies.
In her view, communities should be able to be directly involved by taking up ownership in local projects.
She said: “I think one of the best was to do it is to enable communities to have an opportunity to own part of a wind farm, as they are directly getting a financial benefit from their local wind farm. Making sure communities are engaged right from the very start of the planning process, and ensuring that a community can benefit from a wind farm will be really important.”
Windemer was also in favour of incentivising new projects by providing discounts off energy bills for people living close to turbines.
This approach has been taken by Octopus Energy, with members of its ‘fan club’ receiving discounts at key times if they back local projects.
Onshore wind’s revival follows years of stagnation
Onshore wind developments have stagnated since 2015, when the Government led by former Prime Minister David Cameron brought in planning hurdles to prevent unpopular projects going through the development process.
However, it had the effect of tying down renewable projects in local bureaucracy, even if supported by a majority of people in the local area.
Over the past seven years, wind farms have required consent for developments to go ahead – with sites needing to be approved in plans established by residents with local authorities across England.
Developers also have to show that the proposal is located in area designated for renewable energy in a local plan.
Currently, only 11 per cent of local authorities across England have designated areas for renewable developments in their plans, according to Windemer’s research.
Her findings reveals the maximum installed capacity of wind farms (in MW) granted planning permission between 2016-2021 is just 2.6 per cent of those granted permission between 2009-2014.
This is despite the UK still generating more power from onshore wind (14.2GW) than offshore wind (11.3GW).
The Government has now committed to removing these extra steps from the development process, bringing onshore wind projects in line with other infrastructure developments.
Windemer believed that the reforms also highlighted the importance of smaller, local projects being greenlit by communities, alongside centralised projects backed by Government and energy giants.
She explained: “I think what we may see is a lot of kind of smaller scale, individual turbines and small groupings of turbines coming forwards. I think they’ve got a really important role to play, particularly as those kind of individual turbines may often be those turbines that are owned by a community group and directly benefiting a local area.”
Polling published this month from Survation, commissioned by industry group RenewableUK, revealed strong public support for building new wind and solar farms to tackle the cost of energy crisis.
It showed that 77 per cent of people think the Government should use new wind and solar farms to reduce electricity bills, and that 76 per cent of people support building renewable energy projects in their local area.