UK set to reverse de-facto ban on onshore wind farms
The government has U-turned on its decision to maintain the ban on onshore wind farms in a consultation exploring how local authorities in England could approve new projects in the future.
In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron cut support for onshore wind farms after pressure from Conservative MPs who worried about the impact of wind turbines damage on rural communities.
In her brief tenure as Prime Minister in September this year, Liz Truss promised to bring onshore wind, as well as fracking, back to the UK. But Rishi Sunak swiftly reversed these decisions as soon as he came into office.
Facing a rebellion from Tory backbenchers, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has now confirmed a consultation looking at how new onshore wind facilities could begin construction again as long as there is sufficient support from the local community. Planning matters are devolved, so a change in the rules would apply only in England.
With energy costs rising to all-time highs this winter, research from last week suggests that without the 2016 ban, onshore wind could have generated enough energy to power 1.5 million homes through the winter and saved consumers a total of £800m on their bills.
According to Renewable UK, the country currently has 14,200 megawatts (MW) of onshore wind capacity operational which provides around 10 per cent of the UK's power. Prior to the imposition of the de facto ban, annual deployment totalled around 300MW – equivalent to 100-150 turbines per year.
Under the new proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and satisfactorily address any impacts identified by the local community.
Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.
The government said the new rules will continue to maintain consistency with environmental protections first introduced in 2015, so that valued landscapes such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt are protected.
It will also seek views on developing local partnerships for supportive communities, so that those who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure can benefit from doing so, such as through lower energy bills.
Further considerations will be made on how the planning system can support communities to have a say on the necessary infrastructure to connect wind farms to the grid and encourage the upgrading of existing wind farm sites
Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Dr Doug Parr, said: “This imminent U-turn is like a long-delayed train - we’re wondering why on earth it’s taken so long but we’re glad it’s finally here.
“This was an absolute no-brainer from the start. Onshore wind could have been designed as the perfect solution to the climate and energy crisis. We desperately need affordable, clean and ready-to-go homegrown energy, and onshore wind ticks all those boxes - and it’s popular to boot.
“Now the government should finally take the brakes off this energy source and let the country enjoy the benefits that have long been denied to it by a small minority of anti-wind MPs.”
Responding to the announcement, RenewableUK’s CEO Dan McGrail said: “Lifting the de facto ban will mean we can generate more cheap power to help hard-pressed billpayers and cut our dependence on gas. Creating a level playing field for onshore wind will boost our energy security while ensuring there is local support for new projects, and we look forward to working with Government and communities on the detail of a new approach.
“Backing onshore wind is one of the best solutions to the energy crisis, as projects can be up and running within a year of getting planning permission. Growing the UK’s onshore wind capacity could add £45bn to our economy, grow our domestic renewable supply chain and support the competitiveness of British business”.
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