It’s time to bring onshore wind back to England

onshore wind smallThis post is by Rebecca Windemer, PhD researcher at Cardiff University. 

At the start of my research into wind energy, I met an elderly couple living opposite a wind farm in Cornwall who questioned why people were opposed to them. They talked about the benefits it had created for their area, including funding for local community groups, as well as providing renewable energy for the country. I’ve had similar discussions throughout my research, which demonstrate that there are opportunities to develop wind farms in areas where they have support.

In 2015, the UK government introduced strict regulations which effectively banned onshore wind farms in England. This was a result of over 100 MPs writing to the prime minister calling for an end to the support mechanisms for onshore wind. But there’s evidence that wind energy is popular. In fact, recent research shows that 74 per cent of people living in the voting area of those objecting MPs actually support onshore wind and 73 per cent would be happy to live near wind turbines. Sixty six per cent of the British public think the government should reverse the ban. Current policy is not reflecting their opinion.

The recent IPCC report has sparked much discussion on the need to reduce carbon emissions, and has emphasised the benefit of wind farms. Onshore wind is one of the lowest cost forms of electricity and has high levels of public support. Despite this, unpopular options, such as fracking, are being pursued instead.

We could even lose existing onshore wind capacity
Most onshore wind farms are granted planning permission for 25 years. Since the ban in 2015, the number of applications for new onshore wind farms in England has plummeted, with a 94 per cent drop over the past three years. Installing new turbines on existing sites (known as ‘repowering’) via new planning consent is currently the only way of increasing our onshore wind energy output in England. This can lead to higher energy output due to the greater efficiency of updated technology (on average the increase has been 171 per cent). But, if these sites do not reapply at the end of 25 years, renewable capacity will fall.

A new approach to revive the market
A measured approach should be taken to increasing onshore wind developments. Policies adopted in Scotland, ensuring that environmental standards are met and communities are fully engaged in plans, could provide a model for the rest of the UK. Key aspects of this approach are:

  • Environmental and landscape considerations
    Decisions about sites should consider landscape protection. Learning from existing successful sites, development should only take place in areas where the landscape can accommodate larger turbines. Assessing environmental impacts against energy yield should be central to the design of schemes.
  • Community benefits and involvement
    It is important that communities are involved from the start, working with developers to ensure projects strike the best balance between environmental impacts, energy output and economic benefits. This could be achieved by using the Scottish approach of increasing shared ownership or through adopting a more site-specific approach to identifying how communities can benefit from individual projects.
  • Economic opportunities
    Onshore wind’s scope to benefit the local and national economy in relation to jobs in a range of sectors should be considered. This includes innovation opportunities in turbine and blade design, and energy system advantages such as the potential to combine energy generation and storage.

At a point when we have to ramp up climate action, new onshore wind development is an obvious opportunity to expand renewable energy generation in a way that is popular with the public, as well as providing additional local community and national economic benefits. It’s high time for an onshore wind revival in England.

Green Alliance are jointly hosting an event with PRASEG to explore the conditions needed for onshore wind to be deployed in the UK. If you would like to register your interest in attending, please contact Pamela Rudolph at pamela.rudolph@praseg.org.uk.

[Copyright Oast House Archive]

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