6 September, 2023
Current News, by George Heynes
With yesterday’s (5 September) announcement that the UK government is to ease the de facto ban on onshore wind developments, the news has brought mixed reactions from across the energy industry.
Under the changes, which were effective immediately, onshore wind projects supported by local citizens are able to be approved more quickly in England, easing the de facto ban on new onshore wind developments – a measure that has been in place since 2015 and has been heavily criticised by the energy industry since its introduction.
The energy industry has now weighed in on the announcement which seems to have divided many. Although many acknowledge that this is a significant step in the right direction in fully lifting the de facto ban, many argue that this does very little to support onshore wind developments.
This stance has been supported by Energy UK’s deputy chief executive, Dhara Vyas, who said: “It’s welcome news that the government has restated its commitment to removing the planning barriers that have almost entirely prevented new onshore wind projects over the last decade. Making it easier to repower and extend the life of existing onshore wind farms is another important step and while polling continues to show the popularity of onshore wind, it’s also right to see how local communities can benefit.
“Onshore wind is amongst the cheapest forms of energy as well as one of the quickest to build. It should already be playing an important role as we look to rapidly expand sources of domestic, clean energy to bolster our energy security, cut bills and reduce our expensive dependence on fossil fuels.
“While today’s statement confirms the changes the government proposed last year, it has not, as yet, put onshore wind in the position where it is treated in the same way as other infrastructure planning applications. Without that, this will represent a missed opportunity as developers will remain reluctant about committing the time and expense of putting forward new onshore projects knowing they still face a higher risk of being blocked.”
Vyas’ perspective on the new government measures for onshore wind is also backed by James Robottom, head of onshore wind at RenewableUK.
“The proposed changes don’t go far enough. We will still face a planning system stacked against onshore wind that treats it differently to every other energy source or infrastructure project. A lot will be open to interpretation and there are still hurdles to navigate which remain in place. There has been a slight softening at the edges but nothing more. As a result, we’re not going to see investment into new onshore wind at the scale needed to rapidly cut bills and boost energy security,” Robottom said.
“While industry will work with government to see how these changes might be able to support a limited number of new developments, this is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate onshore wind in England after eight years of lost progress.
“It’s clear that a significant number of Conservative MPs support holding the government to its promise to end the ban on onshore wind, and opposition parties are clear in their support for more significant planning reform. We need to build on this emerging cross-party consensus to develop a planning system that is fit for purpose, which supports communities who choose to host clean cheap energy projects, as well as our industry’s ability to invest in them”.
Adding to this overarching response, Good Energy chief executive, Nigel Pocklington, said: “Time will tell whether this is enough to encourage investors to return to a sector which has been subject to a de-facto ban in England for far too long.
“The government should listen to the overwhelming support from the public and encourage the faster buildout of such projects, which are among the cleanest and cheapest forms of renewable energy, and one of the quickest to bring into operation.
“A rapid expansion of onshore wind in this country can lower household bills, reduce polluting emissions from fossil fuels and provide increase energy security. We can’t afford to waste any more time.”
Despite this, there are a number of firms that see the move as positive for onshore wind and could help spur growth in the sector. This perspective is supported by Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation, who said: “The announcement is exactly what we’ve been asking for. We’ve had over 20,000 requests from communities wanting local wind turbines with discounted electricity through our Fan Club – and now it’s possible to build these again after 8 years with a de facto ban.
“This is amazing news for communities – nine out of 10 Brits would welcome a wind turbine near them if it cut their bills. We’ll now move rapidly to roll out even more Fan Clubs, and unleash Winder (Tinder for wind), to speed up the development of new onshore wind – providing cheaper energy for communities that want it.
“Streamlining the red tape, making the process more democratic, and speeding up the way local authorities can allocate sites for wind are all big steps in the right direction. New onshore wind can now be an even bigger part of the UK’s energy mix.
“This is especially significant in today’s cost of living crisis where it’s vital we accelerate bringing one of the cheapest and quickest forms of energy to customers.”
Sam Richards, founder and campaign director of Britain Remade, also believes the introduction of the new measures are positive and are something the Prime Minister “should be proud of”. He said: “I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has dropped the effective ban on new onshore wind farms being built in England. This is a big win for the thousands of Britain Remade supporters across the country that have been calling on the government to drop the ban.
“The change tips the balance back in favour of local people who back onshore wind in their area, and should end the perverse situation we currently have whereby a single objection could block a development even if the majority are in favour. The changes will mean councils can use new ways of measuring levels of local support, something Britain Remade has being calling for – and our polling shows that in every part of England a clear majority would back new wind farms in their area.
“This is a decision the Prime Minister should be proud of. Lifting the 2015 ban will make Britain more energy secure, cut our dependency on volatile international gas markets, reduce energy bills for millions, and create high skilled jobs across the country.”
Battery energy storage developer Balance Power believes that although this is a step in the right direction, “we can’t celebrate yet” pointing towards the overwhelmed grid and grid connection delays.
“Lifting the ban on new onshore wind is certainly a triumph. But we can’t celebrate just yet. With an overwhelmed grid, and connection queues already a decade long, we’re in a tight spot as it is,” Phil Thompson, CEO of Balance Power.
“Whilst more renewable power is needed, it’s essential it’s developed in tandem with energy storage while fast tracking the infrastructure upgrades needed to ensure our decarbonised grid is secure and flexible. Otherwise, we risk adding to the queues and wasting or curtailing more surplus energy. By omitting energy storage and plans to upgrade the grid, the Energy Bill will signal to investors that the UK is not yet ready to do the leg work to reach net zero.
“Green policies are at risk of becoming a tit-for-tat between parties in the lead up to the election, with little tangible action being taken. We don’t have time left to waste, and we certainly won’t achieve net zero without considering the diverse range of technologies needed to decarbonise the energy system.”