The renewables arm of Octopus Energy (Octopus) has called on the government to cut red-tape and speed up the building process for ramping up wind power in the UK.
Zoisa North-Bond, chief executive of Octopus Energy Generation told City A.M. that “planning laws and getting renewables connected to the grid remain the biggest blockers” of wind farms across the UK.
She noted that it currently takes seven years on average to build a wind farm – and suggested the process could be reduced to just one year if the government acted, now ahead of the coming winter.
The energy boss explained: “We need to apply a can-do mindset to speed up the process of building more renewables, just like how the Covid vaccine was developed in record time. If we act fast, we can become more energy independent and reduce energy bills by bringing more home-grown cheaper, greener energy to local communities.”
Since 2015, wind farms have required consent for developments to go ahead – with sites needing to be approved in plans established by residents with local authorities.
While this has given communities more of a say over the establishment of wind farms, it has also significantly held up the construction of hundreds of sites previously approved but still awaiting development.
It has also cut back the number of approved sites over the past six years.
Instead, government ministers have prioritised offshore sites, with 86GW wind power going through the planning stages – according to RenewableUK.
North-Bond’s outlook was shared by Octopus chief executive Greg Jackson Octopus, who has also called for more urgency in dealing with the current crisis.
Speaking to City A.M. he said: “Every single wind turbine we build will reduce our demand for gas. We need to – as quick as we can – move to a system where gas is the filler for renewables rather than the base-load.”
However, he did warn that this would could be “a couple of years out”, and suggested we “need to be honest with people that we don’t know what the picture is” with the country still dependent on natural gas.
Price cap could rise again this winter warn analysts
Analysts are gloomily forecasting that the price cap could spike to £3,000 per year for average energy users – amid soaring wholesale gas prices.
This includes estimates from Investec, Goldman Sachs and EnergyUK following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Natural gas prices spiked to an eye-watering £8 per therm earlier this month, and remain elevated at £2.68.
For context, the cost for suppliers was just 44p per therm this time last year.
The spiralling energy costs, combined with the price cap, has contributed to dozens of energy firms collapsing over the past six months – directly affecting four million customers.
RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail told City A.M. planning reforms were key to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and that nature conversation bodies needed to be supported too.
He said: “To make the most of our superb renewable energy resources, we’ll need to see the planning system reformed to make sure new onshore wind projects can go ahead swiftly in areas where they have local community support. The offshore wind consenting process needs to be speeded up too, by providing more resources for the nature conservation bodies which scrutinise new projects.”
In his view, this ramping up could be achieved through willing government action and investment.
Breezy does it: Wind power’s role continues to grow
Wind power is currently the second biggest source of energy for domestic users after natural gas – while electricity generation increasing 715 per cent between 2009 and 2020.
Last year – it was responsible for 24 per cent of the UK’s energy generation.
The government has also committed to quadrupling offshore wind capacity to 40GW by the end of the decade, which it suggests could deliver up to £6bn in consumer savings, as outlined in its point energy plan released ahead of the COP 26 climate summit in October last year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline the UK’s energy security strategy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine later this month.
Writing in The Telegraph last weekend, he argued renewable power is “at the heart” of the UK’s strategy to secure its energy security and cut down energy prices over the long-term, by phasing down Russian gas.
He said: “Green electricity isn’t just better for the environment, it’s better for your bank balance. A kilowatt from a North Sea wind turbine costs less than one produced by a power station running on gas shipped to the UK from overseas. And if a quarter of our power wasn’t already coming from renewables, your bills today would be even higher than they already are.”
Alongside calls to ramp up renewables, Utilita Energy (Utilita) chief executive Bill Bullen has criticised Johnson for failing to address the need to reduce energy consumption as the country divests from Russian supplies amid skyrocketing wholesale prices.
He told City A.M.: “There’s no doubt that renewables must play a major part in the UK’s fuel security, but what the Prime Minister’s comments fail to acknowledge – yet again – is the big green elephant in the room – energy efficiency.”
Last August, Utilita submitted a white paper to BEIS – outlining plans to reduce household energy use by 20 per cent through insulation, lowering thermostats and reducing energy usage in key periods of the day.