This post is by Alethea Warrington, campaigns manager at Possible, and Adam Barnett, political affairs manager at Friends of the Earth.
The unprecedented energy crisis the UK is facing is only going to get worse as bills keep shooting up and we move into the autumn and winter. To avoid millions of people going cold and getting poorer, the government needs to implement policies quickly to lower the cost of energy and end reliance on expensive gas. Today (8 June 2022), MPs are debating draft legislation which presents a unique opportunity to achieve this, by unblocking onshore wind and handing local energy decisions back to communities. We urge them to take this opportunity.
As well as urgent action to insulate homes and directly support households facing fuel poverty, to tackle this crisis we need to make better use of the UK’s abundant renewable energy supply. We have huge potential to power our homes using clean, cheap, locally produced energy, but at the moment policy barriers stand in the way. These include a virtual ban on new onshore wind projects in England, despite the fact that the vast majority of people support wind, regardless of who they vote for. Polling for The Times in April showed that 72 per cent of people in the UK are in favour of wind farms being built in their local area, with only 17 per cent opposed. In contrast, just 52 per cent support more permits for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and less than a quarter agree with restarting fracking.
New wind projects are an opportunity to level up
New wind projects are now an astonishing six times cheaper than using gas to generate electricity. And onshore wind could be up and running quickly, with projects commissioned now generating secure, low cost power to homes as soon as next year. This is in contrast to the decade or more needed for new gas or nuclear projects. Rolling out onshore wind would also be a vital way to create new employment opportunities and level up across the UK, with the potential to add £45 billion to the UK economy and create 27,000 jobs. These jobs would be spread across the country, regenerating communities, including in rural areas, with community-owned projects re-energising local democracy and participation.
In the recent Energy Security Strategy, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committed to consult on developing partnerships for a small number of communities which want new wind projects. While the recognition that people want onshore wind is a welcome step, by only permitting a few projects to inch forwards the government’s plans fall far short of the scale of potential demand for affordable, clean, locally produced energy. With energy bills soaring, and concern about climate change growing, we need bolder action.
Wind is more popular than pizza
Some MPs are concerned that some of their constituents don’t want onshore wind, but this is just not supported by the evidence: onshore wind is more popular than Netflix or pizza. It’s certainly far more popular than cold homes and the doubling, or even tripling, of energy bills faced by households across the UK.
No one is calling for a free for all for onshore wind. What is needed is a sensible planning regime which allows those communities in England which want appropriately sited wind projects to take them forward, in a way which respects the local area and protects nature. At present, wind projects face higher planning barriers than new fossil fuels projects. A very small, but vocal, minority who dislike wind turbines shouldn’t be allowed to keep on vetoing clean, cheap energy for the vast majority of us.
Onshore wind is an essential solution to bolster the UK’s renewable energy mix. And it’s an easy win on many fronts: it will help to lower energy bills, bring jobs and investment to disadvantaged areas, reduce dependence on Russian gas and support the nation’s climate goals. That’s why we’re asking MPs to support amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, to undo the block on onshore wind and restore decision-making power over local energy projects in England to communities, where it belongs.