Industry pressures Government to back onshore wind planning reforms
Industry groups and think tanks have urged new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to uphold planning reforms to boost onshore wind developments.
In her fleeting stint at Downing Street, former leader Liz Truss unveiled proposals to bring rules around building wind farms in line with other infrastructure projects.
However, this was part of ‘Growth Plan 2022’ shepherded by the equally ephemeral ex-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, which is set to be scrutinised by the new administration.
Since Truss left office, Sunak’s government has already placed fracking back into its moratorium after being revived just a month ago.
Planned investment zones have also been scrapped by returning cabinet minister Michael Gove in his levelling-up role.
Joe Tetlow, senior political adviser at environmental think tank Green Alliance, urged the Government not to scrap planning reforms to boost onshore wind – which he believed could boost supply security and lower energy bills.
He told City A.M.: “Onshore wind is one of the cheapest domestic sources of energy we have, one of the most popular, and quickest to deploy. Blocking cheap clean popular energy during an energy crisis is perverse.”
Tetlow highlighted the think tank’s polling, which found that 83 per cent of the public support more onshore wind, including 80 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters.
It also revealed 87 per cent of voters would be prepared to have a wind turbine in their local area.
This outlook was reflected across the political spectrum.
Andy Mayer, energy analyst and chief operating officer at free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, slammed the UK’s “nimby premium” which prevented developments for new power supplies, which undermining energy security.
He said: “There are sensible debates to have about wind power, including who pays the cost of back-up and connections. But appeasing noisy protesters with objections that amount to ‘don’t like it, not here’, isn’t wise.”
He called on the Government to ensure long-term stability in the UK’s energy grid to prevent supply shortages and grave damage to public trust.
Mayer explained: “Over time it increases the risk of high bills and blackouts. Issues that cost general elections, rather than individual seats, and makes a nonsense of the Government’s many claims to being leading on tackling both climate change and the energy crisis.”
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Meanwhile, trade associations also raised concerns.
Adam Berman, deputy director of industry body Energy UK highlighted the need to boost domestic energy production to secure the country’s energy independence.
He said: “Reducing our reliance on expensive international gas means making it easier, not harder, to build the clean energy infrastructure that can bring down bills and ensure our energy security over the longer term.”
RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail pledged to work with the Prime Minister to ensure wind power could help meet the UK’s energy independence.
He said: “Cutting people’s energy bills and boosting energy security must be high on the Prime Minister’s agenda, so we’re keen to work with Sunak and his colleagues to achieve this as fast as possible.”
The energy body previously reported that 86GW of domestic offshore wind projects are in various planning and development stages.
Onshore wind’s future remains unclear
The UK is currently targeting 50GW of offshore wind power by the end of the decade, but has not established any targets for onshore wind as part of its energy security strategy in April.
Despite the vast planning pipeline for offshore wind developments, onshore wind projects are cheaper and without planning infringements, much quicker to assemble.
This makes them potentially very appealing for any supply push and domestic energy generation.
However, during the leadership campaign this summer, Sunak pledged to ditch any measures to boost onshore wind at expense of local communities.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: “Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore.”
This has raised concerns over the Government’s latest position on onshore wind – and whether planning liberalisation would be upheld.
However, Sunak has so far not made any decision to overhaul the onshore wind reforms.
Since 2015, as part of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s push to remove ‘green crap’ from Tory policy, onshore wind development has faced a series of planning hurdles which vastly reduced development across the UK.
This means 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.
These requirements have empowered local authorities to make decisions over what gets built in their own communities, but at the cost of onshore wind generation, which has since stagnated.
Currently, only 11 per cent of local authorities across England have designated areas for renewable developments in their plans, according to Dr Rebecca Windemer at the University of the West of England.
Her research 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).
In Truss’ Growth Plan, the former administration warned the planning system has also been deteriorating in recent years, with the timespan for granting permission new sites increasing 65 per cent between 2012 and 2021
It also highlighted that no new substantive onshore wind farm has received planning consent for the past seven years.
Suppliers such as Octopus Energy have tried to work with existing rules to boost onshore wind development – providing communities with cheaper bills if they support local turbines being built.
More than 13,000 customers have asked the energy firm to build a wind farm in their area, but Octopus has argued that red tape means it has taken seven years to build and connect a site even though, in practical terms, they can be constructed in months.
When approached for comment, the Government confirmed it had not scrapped onshore wind planning reforms yet – however, it did not rule out a future update in policy.