Onshore wind: Green economy questions whether Sunak’s U-turn goes far enough
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a streamlining of planning rules in a bid to unlock more onshore wind development. Green groups say the interventions are likely too little, too late.
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.”
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.”
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