UK Onshore Wind – The right decision

Since the 2015 general election, the UK government had largely excluded onshore wind and solar energy from support through Contract for Difference auctions while removing central government planning backing for such projects. This was probably one of the worst decisions of the Cameron administration. This has now  been reversed and decisions on onshore wind installations will be made “in a way that works for everyone, listening to local communities and giving them an effective voice in decisions that affect them”. Contracts for Difference for Low Carbon Electricity Generation Consultation March 2020

This, should be seen in the context of the overall UK policy context which is stated in the consultation:

“Decarbonising the power sector is a vital part of the UK’s efforts to meet its world-leading net zero target. Whilst we cannot predict today exactly what the generating mix will look like in 2050, we can be confident that renewables will play a key role, alongside firm or flexible low carbon generating capacity such as carbon capture usage and storage technology and nuclear power. Net zero defines what we must achieve by 2050, but not how to get there, and we must take the necessary decisions now to deliver the low cost and secure, low carbon power system we will need to reach net zero.” 

These are important policy decisions which I called for in my book Zero Carbon Our Choice. They will help both new onshore wind and improving the efficiency of existing onshore wind by using more efficient turbines – repowering.

“Under the English planning regime, new wind farms must be located within areas allocated under Local Plans, and to be approved they have to have met severe planning tests. The rules are not as strict in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, as a result, the need for a proposal to meet these requirements alongside demonstrating full public support has led to an effective moratorium on onshore wind, with no new developments applying for permission in the past four years to 2019.

The second restriction relates to repowering. This is a key element in sustaining and increasing onshore wind capacity in terms of the re-design of existing wind energy sites when wind turbines reach the end of their operational life after 20-25 years. This is achieved by replacing older wind turbines with new, highly efficient technology in a more effective layout across the site, increasing the wind farm’s generating capacity whilst utilising an area where planning permission has previously been granted. A recent report from Renewable UK, the renewable energy industry’s trade association, found that over 8GWs of the UK’s existing 13GW onshore wind capacity is set to be retired in the next ten years, amounting to almost a fifth of the UK’s entire renewable energy output.

First-generation wind farms were the pioneer projects for the industry, often located in areas with the best wind resource, and repowering these turbines with modern technology could lead to an increase of over 300% in generating capacity. This zero- carbon power gain from the efficiency gains from technology development is the sort of low hanging fruit which should be a priority.” Zero Carbon Our Choice.

This government policy change should stop local councils from refusing applications to repower existing wind farms despite positive recommendations from planners and the support of central government. As I have discussed in my book “Onshore wind is another example of the tussle between investing in renewables and the “natural” landscape.” This new government policy recognises the need for the “up to a four-fold increase in renewable generation” which the Committee on Climate Change have advised is required.

This will require a change to how we view the landscape in Britain if we are to meet these demanding targets to reduce emissions. In terms of the opposition to onshore wind, are wind turbines any more intrusive than Electricity pylons which march across the country including the areas of outstanding national beauty (AONB)?

Cotswold AONB

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