July 8, 2024
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UK Government Removes Planning Barriers to Boost Onshore Wind Farms

The UK Government, has removed restrictive planning policies to accelerate the development of onshore wind farms, aiming to double their capacity by 2030 and support the country's transition to renewable energy.
UK Government Removes Planning Barriers to Boost Onshore Wind Farms
Karsten Wurth - Unsplash

In a significant shift in UK energy policy, the new Labour Government has eliminated two stringent 'policy tests' imposed by the previous Conservative administration to restrict the development of onshore wind farms. This move is part of Labour's broader strategy to double the UK's onshore wind capacity by 2030.

Under former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, onshore wind developers were required to demonstrate "proved community support" if their projects were not included in local development plans. This policy was intended to relax the de-facto ban on onshore wind farms that had been in place since David Cameron’s tenure. However, the policy proved ineffective, with the UK lagging behind even war-torn Ukraine in onshore wind development between July 2022 and 2023.

The Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) announced today (8 July) that it has scrapped the community support clause. This clause was often interpreted to mean that any opposition could veto a project, allowing a single person's complaint to halt an entire development.

This policy change will be formally enacted following the State Opening of Parliament later this month and will apply exclusively to England.

Labour’s election manifesto had clearly outlined the party’s commitment to renewable energy, including new large-scale and small nuclear projects, quadrupling offshore wind capacity, tripling solar capacity, and doubling onshore wind capacity by 2030. This translates to scaling the UK’s offshore wind generation capacity to approximately 60GW, onshore wind to 30GW, and solar to 32GW.

Ed Miliband, the newly appointed Secretary for DESNZ, had prioritised removing these planning barriers in the lead-up to last week’s general election. Miliband stated, "Every family has paid the price of the ban on onshore wind farms in higher energy bills. This ban has undermined our energy security, increased costs, especially for those on lower incomes, and hindered our fight against climate change. Removing this ban sends a clear message to investors that the UK is committed to becoming a clean energy superpower."

To further support renewable energy development, DESNZ will work on broader reforms in collaboration with the National Infrastructure Commission and Ofgem. These reforms aim to streamline the delivery process for large projects deemed Nationally Significant and revise the National Policy Statement to benefit smaller projects. This initiative is crucial, as project delivery times have been increasing over the past decade.

WindEurope's recent analysis suggests that the UK could potentially host 145GW of onshore and offshore wind capacity. However, achieving this requires a concerted plan to expand and optimise the electrical grid. WindEurope has called for both the EU and UK to move away from a 'first come, first served' approach to grid connections, recommending instead a system that fast-tracks projects meeting key milestones and filters out less feasible projects.

Both Labour and the Conservatives agree on the importance of ensuring that local communities benefit from wind farm developments. The previous Conservative government had reformed the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction schemes to include annual auctions and a premium for developers delivering 'non-price factors' such as local job creation. These reforms aim to help developers manage inflationary pressures.

Labour plans to continue this work and update the Community Benefits Protocol for onshore wind in England. This protocol, first supported by the UK Government in 2013, will guide developers in setting aside funds for community schemes, ensuring benefits are directly negotiated with local residents.

By removing these planning barriers, the Labour Government aims to reduce energy costs, enhance energy security, and expedite the UK's transition to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

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