Onshore wind farm restrictions continue to stifle Britain’s renewable energy potential

12th October 2020 | Commercial Energy

Boris Johnson seems to have had a change of heart. Despite once saying that wind turbines couldn’t “pull the skin off a rice pudding”, the prime minister recently announced his intention to turn the UK into “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”, increasing the government’s offshore wind target to 40 gigawatts of energy by 2030. But he and his party remain less enthused about onshore wind. In Johnson’s speech there was no mention of the planning barriers that restrict onshore wind developments to areas designated by local authorities and require clear local support. These restrictions, which are almost impossible to meet, were introduced due to pressure from Conservative MPs in 2015. This was at the same time as subsidies for building onshore wind farms – including a fixed price guarantee for the energy they generate – were scrapped.

Onshore wind farms

When announcing the changes, then Energy Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that there were enough projects in the pipeline and that they were “reaching the limits of what is affordable, and what the public is prepared to accept”. Despite this, onshore wind has an important role to play in the UK’s renewable energy mix. Between April and June 2020, renewables generated nearly 45% of the UK’s electricity – and onshore wind generated 20% of that. If every home in the country is to be powered by wind in ten years as Johnson promises, current government policy needs to change. With a different approach to planning, onshore wind can be developed quickly and cheaply, providing benefits to communities that offshore wind farms often can’t.

Subsidies for onshore wind are expected to be restored in 2021 as the government has proposed reopening the contract auction scheme. But there’s currently no plan to lift English planning restrictions, which mean councils can only grant permission for a new wind farm if they meet two requirements.

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