Onshore wind: Green economy questions whether Sunak’s U-turn goes far enough

Pictured: The Pant-y-Wal Wind Farm, Wales

Following days of speculation, Sunak confirmed on Tuesday afternoon (5 September) that planning rules would be changed to make it easier for onshore wind developers to deliver projects in regions with strong local support among the general public.

This kind of intervention was first promised last year.

Councils will 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 is also scrapping a feature of planning design which means that an onshore wind farm can, essentially, be halted by the objection of one individual.

Councils will instead need to set up the decision-making process to involve a wider faction of the community. They will need to balance mixed views and come to a decision that benefits the majority of the local community, even if a small faction dissents.

There are also new changes intended to make it easier to develop community-owned wind arrays and, for arrays owned privately, there are heightened requirements for developers and operators to deliver economic benefits to local residents.

All changes are being made through amendments to the Energy Bill, which is currently progressing through the House of Lords. The Bill has taken more than a year to progress so far due to two changes in Prime Minister during 2022.

A fuller update to national planning policy is expected in the coming months.

Green economy reaction

Several trade bodies including RenewableUK, plus NGOs like Friends of the Earth, are arguing that the changes announced today do not address the full spectrum of barriers facing onshore wind development.

These include a lack of funding through the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction process and the fact that, at present, fossil fuel expanders benefit from more generous tax breaks than renewable developers.

Possible’s senior climate campaigner Alethea Warrington called the interventions “minor” and said they would not effectively “unblock” onshore wind development.

Similarly, energy lawyer Andy Fewings, a partner at Bidwells, said:  “Whilst it is critical that the current planning restrictions – where a single person has the power to prevent a potentially nationally significant renewable energy development going ahead – are relaxed, it is already apparent that the Government’s proposed changes won’t go far enough to put onshore wind on a level playing field with other energy sources.

“Against a backdrop of rising costs in the supply chain, planning uncertainty is a key barrier to attracting investment, generating jobs and facilitating the transition to net-zero while reaching energy security in the UK. We urgently need a planning system that is both pragmatic and enabling for all energy generation technologies.”

Mixed signals

It has also been pointed out that, while this move on onshore wind is welcome and shows support for renewables, the Government has taken other decisions lately that seem contradictory.

Another Energy Bill update tabled would clamp down on solar development. Sunak, like predecessor Liz Truss, used his leadership campaign race to pit solar and food security at odds.

Elsewhere, earlier this summer, Sunak threw his support behind expanding North Sea oil and gas production capacity.

The Climate Group’s director of energy, Sam Kimmins, said it is challenging for businesses to invest in renewables when the government “gives with one hand and takes away with the other”.

Kimmins said: “Allowing onshore wind, while also approving new oil permits and potentially blocking large-scale solar farms on farmland, shows an incoherent energy strategy. It sends mixed signals across markets, meaning lower investment and higher costs for consumers. Britain needs a clear world-class net zero plan that drives investment in all renewable options, instead of knee-jerk reactions to hot-topic issues.”

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    The UK Conservative Government gives £10.5 billion in subsidies from our taxes to fossil fuel companies each year, which equates to £16,153,846 per constituency. With an average of 70,530 constituents in each constituency this works out as £229 generously donated by our caring government per person which leads to more CO2 and more pollution.

    The project cost of a 3.5 MW Enercon E126 EP 3 wind turbine costs £3.13 million, and if the subsidies were diverted to renewables we could have an extra wind farm of 5.16 wind turbines in every constituency every year, generating 18.06 MW per hour per year. 34.82 MW per hour is used by the average person in the UK per year, so our wind turbines would provide clean electricity to 8,766‬ more people in every constituency every year, in eight years every constituency would have clean electricity provided locally. As nuclear and fossil fuel turbine generators use 50% of our fresh water in the process of generating electricity having such a policy will also double fresh water sources, that are being increasingly stretched by global weirding. Think Green. Think Clean.

    Recently lies have been permeating that wind turbines do not generate enough volts for heavy industry so we will have to keep fossil fuel power stations. This is not true, for example, offshore wind turbines generate electricity at 230 volts, an offshore transformer boosts this to 220,000 volts, which is boosted to 400,000 volts with an onshore supergrid transformer; this is the highest voltage you get in the UK.

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