Onshore wind farm ban could have added £800m to household bills

Without a 2016 ban on the construction of onshore wind farms in Britain, the technology could have generated enough energy to power 1.5 million homes through the winter, new analysis suggests.

Government policies over the last decade which hampered the roll-out of onshore wind power in Britain might be adding close to a billion pounds to energy bills this winter, according to research from the Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a UK-based non-profit body funded by a range of climate-focused philanthropic foundations.

The effective ban on this energy source ban was first brought in by former prime minister David Cameron in 2016 after pressure from Conservative MPs who worried about the impact of wind turbines damage on rural communities. 

Without this decision, developers could have built enough turbines to generate around 2.5 terawatt-hours of energy – enough to power 1.5 million homes through the winter – and reduced the need to use gas power plants, saving 4.9TWh of gas, according to the ECIU.

Overall, the decision to ban the building of onshore wind farms might have added around £800 million to bills this winter.

“Putting in place the ban on onshore wind has cost bill-payers dear this winter," said ECIU head of analysis Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin. 

“This alongside a lost decade of installing insulation in homes has left many households paying hundreds of pounds more and the taxpayer picking up the rest of the tab through the energy price freeze.”

In the five years before the ban around 330MW of onshore wind capacity was hooked up to the grid every year, the analysis found. However, only 270MW was installed in the combined six years since it was implemented.

The analysis has been published in the midst of a debate regarding the lifting of the ban on onshore wind. 

Although Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to keep the effective ban on new onshore wind in England, more than 30 Conservative MPs – including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – have backed an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill which would overturn the ban. 

Labour has also said it would support the amendment and pledged to lift the ban if the party wins the next election, a move that has increased the pressure on the government regarding this issue. 

“This analysis shows how banning onshore wind has left us more reliant on expensive gas this winter, exposing more families and businesses to the effects of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” said Conservative MP Simon Clarke, a proponent of lifting the ban. 

“Unlocking Britain’s wind potential, where communities agree, would cut everyone’s energy bills and allow local residents to benefit from rebates for hosting these cheap renewables.”

Proponents of the technology argue that it is quicker, cheaper and easier to install and maintain than offshore wind. However, both technologies, and more, are likely to be needed to reach the country’s environmental goals.

Greenpeace has called the moratorium "one of the most absurd and damaging policies ever introduced by a UK government" as they urged Sunak to "put facts before ideology...do the right thing and bin the ban".

The ECIU said that its own polling suggests around a quarter of Conservative party voters support onshore wind farms in their areas, compared with a fifth who would oppose any plans. Another recent poll by RenewableUK also said nearly two-thirds of Conservative supporters (64 per cent) think the government should end the block on onshore wind development where there is local backing for projects.

Despite the parliamentary divisions, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said he was not aware of "any imminent changes" to planning restrictions. 


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