Government promises more community benefits for onshore wind projects as application rates stall

Pictured: The Scout Moor Wind Farm is England's second-largest onshore wind array

New data from the government, first reported by the Guardian, found that for the whole of 2023, only seven applications were made for onshore wind initiatives in England. All of these proposed projects were focused on existing turbine replacements at private sites, such as those procured by businesses, meaning that zero applications for public, community-benefit projects were made.

Onshore applications were lower than the levels recorded in 2022, when the ban on onshore wind submissions was still in place.

Back in November, the Observer revealed that no new applications have been made for onshore wind farms in England since the Government eased planning rules.

In September last year, the Government announced a streamlining of planning rules in a bid to unlock more onshore wind development.

Under the changes, councils no longer need to identify areas for development through their local plans, then subsequently make changes to these plans and wait for the updates to be signed off. The Government has set out several new pathways, including Local Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.

The Government also scrapped a feature of planning design which means that an onshore wind farm can, essentially, be halted by the objection of one individual. At the time, several green groups argued that the measures did not go far enough to address the full spectrum of barriers facing onshore wind development.

Minister for Nuclear and Renewables Andrew Bowie said: “We support onshore wind where it has clear local community support and where those communities can directly benefit from the cheap, clean electricity that is produced. Today, we’re setting out our plans to modernise the existing Community Benefits Protocol and make it official Government guidance later this year. This will set out clearly the total value of benefits communities will receive when agreeing to host an onshore wind farm.

“To increase transparency and awareness of community benefits schemes, we’re also planning to set up a public register so people can more easily find out what benefits are on offer. These changes will make it easier for communities in England that support onshore wind to decide which benefits work best for their area, and ensure they are properly rewarded for hosting the turbines that power homes and businesses with clean electricity.”

Market slump

As a result of the Government’s backsliding on numerous energy-related policies, the UK market for green energy is suffering.

The UK has fallen from fourth to seventh in EY’s biannual ranking of the attractiveness of renewable energy investment markets, with grid connection delays concerning would-be project developers.

EY has set out several reasons why investors are favouring other markets over the UK, including the Government’s continued reluctance to bring forward a comprehensive response to the Inflation Reduction Act and other similar packages in markets including the EU and Japan. Such an announcement is expected from the Chancellor at the Autumn Statement later this month.

Investors have also been deterred by the Government’s failure to update the design of its Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction scheme to reflect challenging economic conditions in offshore wind supply chains.

The most recent CfD round attracted successful bids from a record number of projects, but failed to attract any offshore wind bids. Developers including Vattenfall have hit pause on projects in British waters after supply chain costs soared by, in some cases, more than 40%.

Community benefits

In response, RenewableUK is just one industry group that is working with the Government to help improve green project developments.

The organisation is working on updating the Community Benefits Protocol for Onshore Wind in England. First established in 2013, the Protocol outlines the types of benefits and packages that onshore wind developers should offer to communities that agree to host projects.

The Government, in collaboration with RenewableUK, will set out updated guidance this summer, in a bid to spur more community-focused developments.

RenewableUK’s Executive Director of Policy Ana Musat said: “We’re pleased to be working with the Government on updating the Community Benefits Protocol for Onshore Wind in England. The onshore wind industry wants to continue to engage with local communities in a way which is flexible and transparent, to build trust and ensure communities see tangible benefits and continue to be involved in decision making.

“Developers already provide a wide range of benefits, from funding community projects to local electricity discount schemes. Flexibility is vital – it should be up to communities to decide what form the benefit will take, working closely with developers on a voluntary approach, and depending on the size of the wind farm.

“Communities in England can’t benefit from a wind farm proposal that’s never put to them because the planning system is too difficult for developers to navigate. We need to end the unique restrictions on onshore wind and treat it like any other energy infrastructure”.

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    The base load for electricity would take at least three times as much nuclear power as at present.
    Private investment in nuclear (the clean one!) has along payback, but thus lasts a long time.
    If the long view is taken, clean nuclear power is a good investment for HMG, and the community.
    Much better than “take when you can get it” Windy Miller.
    I remember watching the late Queen open Calder Hall, but then, what do I know??!!

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