The government is facing a fresh attempt from Conservative backbenchers, including former prime minister Liz Truss, to lift onshore wind turbines out of a de-facto moratorium – which has caused new developments to grind to a halt over the past eight years.
More than 20 Tory MPs have signed a proposed amendment to the Energy Bill, which would require the government to show developers how they can demonstrate community support for projects, and how to offer financial benefits for households near wind farms.
Alongside Truss, signatories include multiple ex-ministers such as former levelling up secretary Sir Simon Clarke, former chief whip Wendy Morton and once-party chairman Sir Jake Berry – it was proposed by Cop26 president Sir Alok Sharma.
The latest flare up over onshore wind could lead to a protracted row over the summer months, as the Energy Bill has already been pushed back beyond parliamentary recess – which begins today.
This is the second backbench revolt over onshore wind in just eight months, and follows Clarke tabling an amendment late last year calling for onshore wind developments to be liberalised.
With Labour also backing the amendment at the time, the government came to a compromise solution of re-opening the National Planning Policy Framework, the country’s development bible, with changes to be passed with the Energy Bill.
Despite wrapping up the consultation stage earlier this month, the government has faced criticism that current proposals to reform onshore wind developments do not go far enough – with trade association Renewable UK calling for planning laws to be brought in line with other infrastructure projects.
The group’s head of onshore wind James Robottom told City A.M. he welcomed Alok Sharma’s amendment to the Energy Bill, warning that the government’s current proposals to reform the planning regime for onshore wind in England “change very little” and will not revive private sector interest in the sector.
The industry expert argued that the trade association is simply looking for “a level playing field” so that onshore wind planning applications can be treated like any other form of infrastructure.
“Onshore wind is one of the UK’s cheapest sources of electricity and we can build it much faster than other power sources. So at a time when we need to strengthen Britain’s energy security as a matter of urgency and protect billpayers against volatile international gas prices, we should be accelerating the roll-out of projects in areas where they have community support,” he said.
Onshore wind stuck in planning limbo
After former prime minister David Cameron’s push against so-called “green crap” in the run up to the 2015 election, planning laws were tightened in England so that onshore wind developments had to be on designated council land – which was only ever optional for councils to establish.
They could also be vetoed in the face of minimal local opposition, with criteria to demonstrate community backing vague and difficult for developers to define.
Research from Rebecca Windemer, senior lecturer in environmental planning at the University of the West of England, revealed the maximum installed capacity of wind farms (in MW) granted planning permission between 2016 and 2021 is just 2.6 per cent of those granted permission between 2009 and 2014.
While the UK is home to 14.2GW of energy generation from onshore wind, only two new turbines were brought online in England and Wales last year, less than war-torn Ukraine.
Onshore wind remains widely popular with the public despite concerns from other backbenchers over community reactions to developments, with the latest government survey posting a 78 per cent approval rating for new developments.
Labour has pledged to reform planning rules to allow for the ramp up of onshore wind developments across the country.
A government spokesperson said: “We support the development of onshore wind where there is local support, recognising it as an efficient, low cost and a widely supported source of energy, while being a key part of helping reduce the UK’s reliance on importing expensive, foreign fossil fuels.
“We consulted on changes to national planning policy that could give local authorities more flexibility to respond to the views of their communities, and to demonstrate their support for areas suitable for onshore wind proposals.”