UK Government lifts planning blockers to onshore wind farms

The new Labour Government has removed two ‘policy tests’ implemented by the Conservatives to restrict onshore wind development, as it strives to double the UK’s onshore wind capacity by 2030.

UK Government lifts planning blockers to onshore wind farms

Kier Starmer’s predecessor Rishi Sunak had put in place policy tests meaning that onshore wind developers would need to gain “proved community support” if their projects were not included in local development plans.

This change was intended to unlock additional onshore wind farm development in England, weakening a de-facto ban set in place under David Cameron. But it proved unsuccessful. Ukraine built more onshore wind between July 2022 and 2023 than the UK, despite the challenges of war.

The Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) scrapped the policy test today (8 July), stating that the community support clause has “often been interpreted to mean that any opposition means the proposal cannot be considered acceptable”. In other words, one person’s complaints could undermine a whole project.

This position will be formally confirmed following the State Opening of Parliament later this month. The requirements applied to England only.

Labour’s manifesto for the general election notably stated that the Party supports new large-scale and small nuclear projects; quadrupling the nation’s offshore wind capacity; trebling solar capacity and doubling onshore wind capacity – all by 2030. This is equivalent to scaling the UK’s generation capacity for offshore wind to around 60GW, onshore wind to 30GW and solar to 32GW.

Now-DESNZ Secretary Ed Miliband had promised to scrap onshore wind planning blockers as a priority in the lead-up to last week’s general election.

RenewableUK CEO Dan McGrail said the change is “long overdue” and noted that the majority of the British public support renewables including new wind farms. Recent DESNZ-led polling revealed that 78% of the general public support onshore wind in general, with just 7% opposed. The same poll found that only 14% of people would oppose an onshore wind farm in their area.

Miliband said: “Every family has paid the price of the ban on onshore wind farms in higher energy bills.  This ban has undermined our energy security, put costs on people’s bills – especially those on lower incomes – and held us back in our fight against climate change.

“Getting rid of this ban and giving priority for planning permission for much needed infrastructure sends an immediate signal to investors here and around the world that the UK is back in business, an immediate step in our mission to make Britain a clean energy superpower.”

Overcoming planning roadblocks

The DESNZ statement confirms that the Government will develop a broader set of changes to support renewable energy development, as Labour seeks to deliver a decarbonised electricity grid by 2030.

Ministers will work with the National Infrastructure Commission and Ofgem to reform the process for delivering large projects deemed Nationally Significant. They will also revise the National Policy Statement, in a move that will impact smaller projects.

This work had been kick-started already, in light of ever-increasing project delivery times over the past decade.

Analysis from WindEurope this month estimates that the UK has the potential to host 145GW of wind capacity onshore and offshore, but most is unlikely to be delivered without a concerted plan to expand and optimise grids. The EU has such a strategy – the EU Grid Action Plan. This does not cover the UK due to Brexit.

WindEurope has called on the EU and UK alike to reform ‘first come, first served’ approaches to grid connections, instead filtering out projects that are unlikely to come to fruition and fast-tracking projects meeting key milestones.

Community benefits

One thing which Labour and the Conservatives are aligned on is the need for wind farm developers to ensure that local communities see socio-economic benefits.

Sunak’s Government set about reforming Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction schemes so they are hosted annually, and so developers receive a premium for delivering ‘non-price factors’ such as local jobs in the supply chain. This premium will help developers deal with inflationary pressures.

This work should continue ahead of the next CfD round. The new UK Government will also update the Community Benefits Protocol for Onshore wind in England, as an additional measure.   This will outline how developers should set aside and allocate funding for community schemes like improvements to parks, schools and public buildings. Benefits under the protocol, first supported by the UK Government in 2013, must be directly negotiated with local residents.

Related news: Renewable energy firms made to wait for 2024 CfD results after appeals lodged

Related feature: Who are Starmer’s Cabinet reshuffle picks for energy and environment?

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    On-shore wind farms may well be profitable for developers, and perhaps local communities, but they are still usually in areas of natural beauty, and not per se beautiful.
    There is room for more SMRs, clean, and a much more concentrated source of power than wind.
    Wind, moreover is erratic, and beyond our satisfactory control; we can stop it, but not start it!!!
    And politicians are rarely electrical power engineers. PPE is fine, but no substitute.
    Ah, me.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie