Rural Solar Farm Uk

Renewable projects could boost support with local community finance – report

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Renewable energy projects would find greater acceptance in rural areas if they provided financial support to the local communities that they impact, a think tank has said.

According to a report from Onward, renewables typically have the public’s backing, even among rural voters who are most likely to see new projects near them.

A total of 57 per cent of rural voters would support an onshore wind farm three miles from their home, while just 17 per cent oppose it, the poll showed. Even new grid infrastructure has marginal net support, with 31 per cent in favour and 30 per cent opposing.

But small, vocal minorities will always push back against any development. These campaigns are effective at placing pressure on local and national politicians of all parties, and resulted in the effective ban on onshore wind projects in 2016. 

According to Onward’s polling, over three quarters of rural voters agreed renewable energy projects should financially contribute in some way to local communities. Ireland, France and Germany have all utilised different forms of community benefits to support the development of their electricity networks.

Community benefits programmes can significantly increase local support for new infrastructure, the research found.

Some 43 per cent of rural voters said that they would support local renewable energy projects without any community benefit offer. But a further 37 per cent said that they would only support the projects conditional on community benefits. So a scheme that came with community benefit would secure 80 per cent support overall - compared to only 9 per cent of voters who said they are opposed regardless. 

The government’s target for a net zero power system by 2035 requires doubling onshore wind, quintupling solar power, and making large grid infrastructure upgrades. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the move away from fossil fuels has become even more urgent as ministers seek to increase energy security and reduce the UK’s exposure to volatile prices.

In December, the government also scrapped its decision to impose a de facto ban on onshore wind farms, which could eventually result in new infrastructure plans being made across rural Britain.

Jack Richardson, head of energy and climate at Onward, said: “We need to stop blocking development and instead tie it to local investment.

“Our new research shows that this approach has the backing of rural voters: over three-quarters think new projects should have community benefits attached, and nearly half want boards of local elected representatives and community leaders to decide how community benefits are spent.”

Former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said: “Onward’s proposed green energy covenant is an important contribution to the growing campaign to lift the ban on onshore wind.

“We need to streamline the planning process and bring down barriers to growth. This report provides a way to build an enduring political consensus to do so.”

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