The UK government is to relax its de facto ban on onshore wind following growing pressure from MPs.
It is to consult on changes to the national planning policy it has announced, following “positive engagement with MPs.”
In November, Simon Clarke MP, the former Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, put forward an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill that would allow local planning authorities to approve onshore wind projects.
The amendment has gained significant support from other members of the Conservative party, including the likes of former Prime Ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, as well as Alok Sharma, president of COP26.
Central to the government’s new proposed changes planning policy, is that planning permission will be dependent on a project demonstrating local support and satisfactorily address impacts identified by the local community.
Local authorities will have to show their support for certain suitable areas, moving away from the rigid requirement for sites to be designated in local plans, as is currently in place.
The changes would still ensure communities are “at the heart of decisions on onshore wind”, the government said, adding that the changes introduced in 2016 to put local councils in charge of onshore wind applications as opposed to permission being granted through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, will remain.
A YouGov survey earlier this year found that if it led to cheaper bills, 9 in 10 people (87%) would support an onshore wind turbine in their community.
“Onshore wind is one of the cheapest and quickest forms of energy we can generate right here on our soil – and by removing the red tape, we can build it fast for communities that want it,” said Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Group’s generation arm.
“By putting this green power in the hands of supportive local communities, we can bring cheap local energy to more people, increasing our energy security and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels.”
Along with the change to national planning policy, the government is also set to launch a technical consultation to explore how local authorities can demonstrate local support, and respond to the views of the community with regards to onshore wind generation in the local area.
The new digital engagement techniques that will be used during the planning process will ensure that those in the local community can make their views known.
Additionally, the government is looking for views on how to further develop local partnerships for supportive communities, ensuring that there are benefits for all in the area that hosts new onshore wind infrastructure. This could be done through lower energy bills, for example, Octopus Energy’s Fan Club provides cheaper energy to customers near wind turbines during periods of particularly strong wind generation.
The change to the planning policy has been widely welcomed by those in the energy sector, in particular given the high power prices driven by the international gas crisis currently, which has added weight to the need to expand clean, domestic generation.
“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,” said RenewableUK’s CEO Dan McGrail.
“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 £45 billion to our economy, grow our domestic renewable supply chain and support the competitiveness of British business”.