14 June 2023

The public wants more onshore wind, so why is the Government dithering?

By Simon Clarke MP

For too long, England has been missing out on a potentially abundant source of cheap energy: onshore wind power. Quick to build, these turbines can cut electricity bills and carbon, delivering on our climate targets and aiding the Government’s goals to reduce inflation and grow the economy.

But six months after the Prime Minister agreed to lift the ban, the Government still needs to agree on new planning rules to put the wind back into the sails of onshore renewable projects in England.

We need to get the rules right; communities deserve a genuine say on projects and the right to say no. The trouble with the existing rules is that they allow only one or two objections to effectively veto otherwise popular proposals.

The Government has proposed tweaks to planning rules so more wind farms can go ahead where they have community backing. Ministers are now seeking views on how local residents can benefit financially from hosting wind farms, from lower bills to local investment.

But these proposals, while positive steps forward, could go further still. And more concerningly, given stubbornly high inflation, they still haven’t been confirmed and implemented.

Onshore wind is incredibly popular. Polls suggest 73% of Conservative voters in 2019 would support wind turbines near them, while 82% of voters want the government to help local communities generate energy near them.

But in getting the right balance, we can’t afford to dither and unintentionally delay cheap, clean energy. In the past five years, we’ve only built 15 new turbines, and only two turbines last year, despite our focus on energy security to combat Putin’s energy war.

Ukraine itself out-built England in 2022, constructing 19 turbines to power 200,000 homes since the Russian invasion began. We shouldn’t be too disheartened – we did complete the world’s largest offshore wind farm last year, Hornsea 2 – but we can’t continue with a nonsensical block on onshore wind projects.

We Conservatives have a strong renewables record. We’ve scaled up renewables so they generate more than 40% of our electricity today compared to 7% in 2010. Even before the gas crisis, cheap renewables had cut our country’s energy bill by £6.1bn, the equivalent of £221 per family.

A renaissance in onshore wind should be our next success story, lowering the cost of living and demonstrating our climate ambitions. It would provide a positive response to Labour’s pledge to end new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.

It’s not enough just to oppose. We have to demonstrate our alternative to voters: we must build the cheap, clean and secure energy our country needs first.

If we don’t unlock onshore wind soon, the Labour Party could attempt to amend the Energy Bill to impose their own solution. We need to be on the front foot and deliver a balanced plan that respects local democracy while unleashing cheap, clean energy.

With an election expected next year, we must deliver on our pledge to unleash onshore wind. With so much hanging in the balance – high energy bills, national energy security, and local investment – it’s time the Government delivers on its commitment to give communities a genuine say on local renewables.

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Simon Clarke is MP for Middlesbrough South & East Clevelend, and a former Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.