Right now, in the UK, we are all suffering from the impact of increasing energy costs, fears over our energy security and the growing threat of the climate crisis on our planet. You would expect that the UK government would be doing everything in its power to enable the building of cheap, homegrown, and clean forms of electricity generation.
However, there has been an effective ban on onshore wind development in England since 2015, resulting in almost no new projects built since then. In September, the previous government committed to remove this block in England, promising that it would bring onshore wind planning policy in line with other parts of the UK, but under the new administration there is a real danger that this will no longer happen.
While onshore wind has been making a big impact in Scotland over the past decade, where wind speeds are higher than they are in other parts of the UK, the current draconian planning rules in England mean that, among other restrictions, if one person objects to an onshore wind farm it doesn’t go ahead. No other technology is subject to such treatment.
We are keen to work with the new government by ramping up onshore wind as well as offshore. This doesn’t mean giving the green light to every project, but it means applying the same rules in a fair way for energy infrastructure, judging each project individually on its own merits and consulting with local communities in detail about our projects.
The case for onshore wind in England is clear. It is quick to build – once it’s been through the planning system it can be up and running within a year. It is one of the cheapest sources of new power – less than half the cost of nuclear and up to ten times cheaper than gas – and crucially, despite common misconceptions in some quarters, it is very popular!
This summer we commissioned some independent polling which shows that more than three-quarters of people in the UK think that the government should use onshore wind farms to reduce electricity bills. It also shows that over three-quarters support building renewable energy projects in their local area.
One of the most interesting things that came from the polling was that of those who voted Conservative in 2019 over 80 per cent called for more wind farms and over 80 per cent supported a renewable energy project in their area. The new prime minister Rishi Sunak has said that he recognises the importance of strengthening our energy security by growing renewables, as set out in the 2019 Conservative manifesto – and on this evidence he would appear to have the backing of those who voted for just that manifesto.
Not only are we missing out on larger-scale wind farms, but current planning policy makes it very difficult to build even a single turbine – be that one to power a community or a business looking to take control of its energy needs. Anyone who has watched Channel 4’s The Dog House may have noticed the wind turbine that powers the Wood Green animal rescue centre. Built in 2013, before the de facto ban, this is helping to keep spiralling energy costs down and allow more money to be spent looking after their animals. Other communities, companies and charities should surely be allowed to have this option for energy independence.
Looking at the big picture, and with Cop-27 very much in people’s minds at the moment, we also need to do this to stay on track to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Since 2019, 89 per cent of local councils in England have a net-zero target and 85 per cent have publicly declared a climate emergency, and yet local people are unable to even have their say on getting an onshore wind project thanks to the current state of planning policy.
The government has already committed to meet that legally binding target to protect our environment for generations to come, backed by the overwhelming majority of people who want to see effective action against climate change as swiftly as possible. We can’t get there without cheap onshore wind.
James Robottom is head of onshore wind at RenewableUK (renewableuk.com)
Photo: Windmills of Scout Moor Wind Farm overlooking Rochdale (Patryk Czaplewski/Shutterstock)