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More hot air over onshore wind? Let’s hope not.

The Government is expected to publish a revised Energy Security Strategy shortly. It’s focus looks likely to be on more wind and nuclear, with talk amongst the Conservative ranks about lifting the moratorium on fracking.

A number of companies are also looking to reopen exploration for North Sea oil. But, emitting more CO2 clearly isn’t in line with climate objectives - particularly in light of the COP26 agreement and the stark warnings from the most recent IPCC report. Pushing the development of more wind is, however, and it needs to be deployed even quicker. 

It was reported this week that there is 86GW of offshore wind in the pipeline (in other words eight times more than is currently operational) being pre-planning, planning, consented , in construction and operational. That is a whopping number and a reflection of the incredible work being done by the industry to deploy these schemes. Onshore wind though is a different matter entirely. 

It has been too political. Negative news articles are frequent and talk of everything from the potential impact on house prices to noise pollution. Some just don’t want them in their back yards. But, the simple fact is that onshore wind can be deployed quickly and cheaply. Before the Government’s effective moratorium on onshore wind in 2015, it was being proposed without subsidy. 

To meet our energy challenge the potential of onshore wind in England needs to be released. The 6GW target figure promoted by some actually seems low in the context of the massive decarbonisation challenge before us. Scotland is doing phenomenally well to develop its onshore industry and there are ambitions of Snowdonian proportions to do the same in Wales.  And yet, England has not consented a new onshore wind farm in the past six to seven years and the last major onshore wind farm public inquiry was in 2016 (in which the writer acted for the developer). 

The fact is that even before the onshore wind moratorium, many schemes were being refused at local level and ended up at inquiry. The sheer cost and resource intensity of this approach was enough to put off many developers (and create huge frustration) and it could lead to a fruitless path after years of deliberation. 

So what’s the solution? Perhaps taking onshore out of the Town and Country Planning Act and putting it back into the Planning Act is a realistic solution. But, this could also be mired in politics; putting the Government on a direct collision course with voters at a time when local elections are imminent and - by the time larger scale schemes were to come forward - national elections. Also, it's not like the DCO process was used much for onshore wind when it was in the Planning Act (again, the writer was involved in an onshore wind scheme and there were only a couple of others that used the process). 

But, the context today is very different to 2015 and the risks we face much clearer to a much wider section of the population. We know that onshore wind could make an extremely positive contribution to our energy security in the months and years ahead.

Some local councils and sections of Government clearly understand the climate emergency and the need for energy security. At the local level decision making is increasingly looking at more action to combat climate change  - many have declared climate emergencies and are focused on consenting renewable energy and more sustainable ways to run and deliver services.

Now is the time for the Government to be brave. Onshore wind has been neglected in England for years.  But, the perfect storm of energy price rises, energy security and climate change makes the argument for onshore wind powerful. To get the industry moving, we need a simple, clear and explicit policy that supports onshore wind. Contingencies, having local backing, having sites allocated and pushing more constraints on developers will not work. For the industry (developers, investors, stakeholders) to have the confidence to bring forward proposals, it needs the Government’s full and unwavering support.

For more information on this article, please contact our Energy & Resource Management team.

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