Labour has unveiled ambitious plans to speed up the UK’s energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables – including plans to revive onshore wind developments against the backdrop of NIMBYism.
This was announced alongside a new state-backed energy supplier to boost supply chains and a national wealth fund to invest in green energy.
Starmer has confirmed Labour’s desire to liberate onshore wind developments from entrenched NIMBYism and scrap the de-facto moratorium imposed on them by the Conservative party.
Polling consistently shows onshore wind is popular with public, especially if combined with discounts on bills or community funds for towns and villages near new projects.
Currently, the Tories have an ongoing consultation on onshore wind developments, but have sought a delicate balancing act between ramping up cheap, clean power but only where communities are in favour of them.
While they support community funding, their latest proposals still require local plans to designate areas suitable for wind energy development – which will stall developments.
Last year, just two onshore wind turbines were installed in England, fewer than war-torn Ukraine.
Even critics of Labour’s overall strategy such as Andy Mayer, energy analyst for free market think the Institute of Economic Affairs, supported the party’s push to reform planning laws.
While Mayer criticised Labour’s reliance on subsidies to drive energy policies as “a return to the failed industrial policies of the last century,” he recognised that slashing “the time it takes to plan and permit new energy infrastructure will reduce costs” and that “ending the government’s obsession with blocking onshore development will increase options available for new supply.”
Nevertheless, challenges remain if Labour’s ambitions will be met with action.
Will it work? Onshore wind’s planning problems
One problem with reforming planning is that Labour may have to go further than they want to reduce the risk of minority opposition in local communities dictating energy policy.
This has been raised by Adam Bell, head of policy at Stonehaven, who considered Labour’s plan to ease planning laws as “undoubtedly a good thing” but warned this could require reducing access to judicial reviews and scrutiny.
“A big chunk of planning delay is derived from judicial review risk; removing that might mean reducing the right to take decisions to judicial review.”
Trade association Energy UK, which represents the domestic sector, welcomed the focus on community benefits – but warned more than rhetoric was required to meet its energy ambitions.
This meant there had to be clear communication between all vested interests to ensure projects were supported.
“This transformation will take a real partnership between communities, governments and industry,” chief executive Emma Pinchbeck said.
Then there are concerns, that whatever reforms the government made, these goals had to be supported by private investment, too.
However, industry body Renewable UK fears it will be hard to tempt investors in onshore wind unless projects are “treated like any other energy infrastructure in the planning process.”
“This will involve early engagement and close consultation with communities and local authorities – many of which are telling us that that they want to put forward their own projects”, its chief executive Dan McGrail said.
There were also other factors to boosting onshore wind generation, such as speeding up connections for new projects to meet demand
Greg Jackson, founder of the UK’s third largest supplier Octopus Energy, backed the party’s embrace of renewables, while hinting at his chief frustration in the sector – the need for grid reform to ensure projects can be put online.
“Building new clean energy like onshore wind, offshore wind and solar farms will not only help fight climate change, but reduce costs and increase national security. We’d love to see market reform so that customers benefit from this cheap energy.”
Ami McCarthy, Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, also believed reforming National Grid development rules was essential – alongside local support.
She said: “Unlocking onshore wind and grid developments from the planning processes holding them back is key to our clean energy transition. But Labour must make sure it brings communities along with it with proper consultation, many past attempts have been scuppered due to failure to include local people and workers in the process.”
Labour’s ambitions are clearly being embraced by the energy sector, and onshore wind could significantly boost supply security with cheaper, cleaner power – but it faces a clear challenge to take communities with it, unlock private investment and ensure reforms to the grid keep up with any liberalisation of planning laws.