Planning rules for onshore wind farms could be relaxed in next week’s government strategy paper on the UK’s future energy supply, after Boris Johnson expressed frustration at the long delays facing projects .
Prime Minister reportedly ‘horrified’ after being told by industry figures at a meeting on Thursday that onshore wind turbines could be erected in a day but would take up to 10 years to get approval planning.
Industry sources present at the meeting said The Independent that the Prime Minister has made no commitment on the issue, but that their hopes for change have been boosted by his obvious enthusiasm for wind energy and his desire to find solutions that could give a quick boost to the local energy. He did not rule out any sources, they said.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has been pushing for regulations in England to be relaxed, giving local opposition so much leverage that it has acted as an effective moratorium on development since they were introduced in 2015.
He shares the UK renewable energy industry‘s belief that onshore wind offers the quickest and cheapest route for Britain to bring soaring energy bills under control, escape reliance on Russian oil and gas and achieving net zero goals. It set targets to increase onshore wind capacity from 15 to 30 GW, alongside increases of 14 to 50 GW in solar, 11 to 50 GW in offshore wind and 7 to 16 GW in nuclear. Thousands of additional onshore wind turbines would be needed to achieve this goal.
Without change, wind farm developments over the next few decades will be confined to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where planning rules are less restrictive. Sticking to existing planning regulations would also prevent upgrades to early English wind farms in areas like Cornwall, dating from the 1990s, which could generate four to five times as much power if retrofitted with modern turbines .
Chief executive of trade body RenewableUK Dan McGrail said The Independent“Onshore wind is the UK’s cheapest source of new energy, so it has a crucial role to play in lowering electricity bills as we can build shovel-ready projects faster than any other energy source.
“Most of these will be in Scotland and Wales, where wind speeds are highest, but we also have a great opportunity to allow new onshore wind projects to proceed in parts of Scotland. England where the public enjoys support.
“This will enhance UK energy security by reducing our reliance on volatile international gas prices which hurt consumers. We work closely with government to maximize our renewable energy capacity through a range of clean technologies, creating tens of thousands of jobs, attracting billions in investment and providing practical solutions to climate change so that we can get to net zero as quickly as possible. ”
Mr Johnson’s vocal support for offshore wind in evidence before MPs on Wednesday fueled concerns that he was siding with ministers, including Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris and Brexit Minister Jacob Rees- Mogg, who consider the erection of turbines in English counties politically unacceptable. .
But after meeting with industry leaders on Thursday, sources said there was now a “working assumption” that onshore would feature in the new strategy.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister told the meeting he had an ‘insatiable desire to further maximize the supply’ of wind energy and discussed what more could be done to ensure that terrestrial networks with local support can be “built in time”.
It is understood that final decisions remain to be made on how high the bar should be set for local opposition to block a project, and what incentives – such as discounted or free electricity – can be offered to encourage communities to accept developments.
At the heart of the long-delayed strategy – originally promised “within days” by the prime minister a month ago – will be a dramatic increase in nuclear power and new investment in offshore wind.
Mr Johnson would like 25% of the country’s energy to be supplied by nuclear by 2050 and said new-type mini-reactors could be in place by the end of this decade.
But renewable energy providers are pressuring him to use the opportunity to remove political blockages that stand in the way of a rapid expansion of alternative green energy sources.
The Renewable Energy and Clean Technology Association (REA) said measures to make it easier for green energy providers to connect to the electricity grid and the introduction of industrial fuel switching tariffs could see an explosion in projects over the next two years.
They call for the annual auctions of energy supply contracts to be simplified and bi-annual to allow the rapid implementation of small-scale green projects.
Around 600 onshore wind and solar projects across the UK have planning permission in place and could be operational within 18 months if contracts are made available – enough to fully replace UK consumption of Russian oil.
And about 1 million hectares of warehouse roof surface could be covered with solar panels with modifications to the support mechanisms to guarantee a price for the electricity produced in the longer term.
“The government needs to be bold with its energy security strategy,” said REA’s chief executive, Dr Nina Skorupska.
“This is a crucial moment – over the next few months the UK needs to quickly switch from fossil fuels to renewables or we could continue to suffer from energy price volatility.
“Our sector is clear: we are ready for a massive deployment of small, medium and large-scale renewable developments if the government is proactive in removing barriers and providing other enablers. We could more than double the number of projects planned over the next two years and the number of jobs created would also increase by about two-thirds – the government must seize these immense opportunities.
A new poll suggests ministers’ fear of a ‘Nimby’ reaction to wind farm developments may be overblown.
An overwhelming 72% said they would support new wind farms in their area if the development was coupled with a guarantee of cheap or free energy, in a survey conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies for Politico Playbook.
In contrast, only 38% said they would support a nuclear power plant near their home under the same conditions.
More than half (52%) said they would support more oil and gas exploration permits in the North Sea.
But Government Minister Kit Malthouse made it clear that offshore wind would continue to be favored over onshore in the new strategy, telling Times Radio: “We have very extensive, even massive offshore wind developments , currently in progress.
“On land, I think it’s fair to say that we think there’s less opportunity, not least because we’re concerned about protecting a lot of our countryside, where people are convinced the landscape needs to be protected, but we have a huge ability to come wide and we should pursue that as hard and as fast as possible.