Scottish Government unveils landmark onshore wind sector deal

The Scottish Government has set out plans to slash permitting timelines for new onshore wind farms and to grow the sector’s domestic supply chain and base of skilled workers.

Scottish Government unveils landmark onshore wind sector deal

Pictured: The Whitelee Wind Farm

These measures form part of a new sector deal announced late on Thursday (21 September) following engagement with renewable energy developers and other key industry players. The deal supports an existing vision for Scotland to host 20GW of onshore wind capacity by the end of the decade.

Under the deal, Ministers will work with academia and industry to develop at least one specialist onshore wind innovation centre by 2030.

Holyrood has also pledged to halve the average time it takes for a formal decision to be made on onshore wind farm permitting. It is aiming for applications for large projects to be completed within a year when no public inquiry is required, and two years for those projects where an inquiry is necessary.

This acceleration will be achieved through a streamlining of the approval process and work to modernise the application forms. Scotland has stated that this will no corners will be cut in terms of getting developers to measure and disclose their projects’ potential impacts on communities and nature.

Scottish Energy Secretary Neil Gray said: “Balancing the needs of energy production with proper environmental stewardship demands diligence and continuous innovation. This deal charts a course that safeguards our natural heritage while delivering clean, affordable energy to power our lives and industries.”

Social impacts

Additionally, the sector deal sets into motion a string of collaborative workstreams between the private and public sector, covering topics including worker upskilling and reskilling; turbine and component refurbishment and recycling and low-carbon transport.

Another key facet of the plan is a requirement for all developers to engage with the Government and with communities “at the earliest possible opportunity” to develop and agree on plans to share the economic benefits of their projects with the local community.

The Government is floating the idea of developers investing not only in apprenticeships and other training opportunities, but community benefit projects such as energy efficiency schemes.

Gray said the benefits of Scotland’s “onshore wind revolution” should be “shared by all”.

Wider possibilities

Trade body RenewableUK estimates that Scotland will exceed its 2030 onshore wind target and host 20.7GW of capacity by this time.

At present, Scotland hosts 60% of the UK’s operational onshore wind capacity. This is largely because development in England was effectively banned under David Cameron.

RenewableUK’s head of onshore wind James Robottom said the UK Government and other devolved administrations should look to Scotland’s sector deal as “an excellent blueprint that could be replicated”.

Robottom added: “A well-resourced and efficient planning system is needed in every part of the UK to enable new projects to go ahead where they have local support. We also need UK-wide measures to support vital investment in new grid infrastructure so that projects can connect up faster”.

The UK Government is working with the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to plot and launch interventions that reduce delivery timelines for nationally significant energy generation projects, which have grown longer and longer over the past decade.

Additionally, Westminster recently moved to streamline some planning requirements for onshore wind developers and to prevent projects from being blocked over one objection. However, it is being pressed to go further, with opposition policymakers including Ed Miliband arguing that onshore wind in England is still more challenging to develop than fossil fuels or incinerators.

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