Government May Revoke Onshore Wind Restrictions, Yet Hurdles Could Persist for Developers
Inside sources suggest that No. 10 is negotiating a compromise with dissenting backbenchers, potentially ending the informal moratorium on new onshore wind farms in England.
Despite a long-standing promise, Chancellor Rishi Sunak appears finally on the cusp of overturning the virtual prohibition on new onshore wind projects in England.
Reports emerging this morning from The Telegraph indicate that high-level discussions have been ongoing with a band of contrarian Conservative MPs, spearheaded by the erstwhile Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma. This contingent is rallying around an amendment to the impending Energy Bill, compelling the government to relax planning obstructions for new onshore wind ventures.
Earlier this season, Sharma went public with the amendment, gathering a noteworthy ensemble of over 20 Conservative backbench supporters, including ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss. With cross-party support signalled by Opposition ranks, the faction is audaciously optimistic about upstaging the government in the vote.
Negotiations are thus feverishly underway between Ministers and these MPs, intending to reach a middle ground that would prevent the need for the contentious amendment.
In the works are plans for an official statement to the Commons. This would commit the government to rework existing planning regulations, which currently allow a single objection to torpedo an onshore wind farm planning application.
Yet, the rebel brigade demands ironclad assurances. They seek evidence that actual, tangible alterations to the status quo will ensue, especially since the genesis of this amendment came from the government's dereliction of its earlier vows.
Former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke led an abortive backbench revolt last fall. It dissolved on a government pledge to lift the de facto ban—a promise still unfulfilled, as a spring consultation left the existing rules largely untouched.
"We aim to hold the government accountable to its commitments and catalyze investment in one of the most economically viable energy options," stated Sharma.
Insider information suggests that Downing Street will back changes enabling local councils to adapt their planning strategies in response to community feedback, thus greenlighting projects that have mitigated planning impacts.
Sam Richards, the founder and campaign director of Britain Remade, cheered the developments. "It's about time. Onshore wind is economical and popular, with our polling showing a two-thirds majority in favour of local wind farm developments."
However, scepticism reigns among industry professionals. They argue that the ripple effect on future onshore wind projects could be negligible even if a compromise is struck based on Sharma's amendment. Current project denial rates are steep; removing appeal rights for developers will only exacerbate the situation.
James Robottom, the leading authority on the onshore wind at RenewableUK, said, "The real issue is that onshore wind still confronts a higher burden of proof for approval than other infrastructures like waste incinerators. The playing field is far from level."
Greenpeace UK's Doug Parr voiced similar reservations, "The government seems to be stalling genuine progress on energy security and affordability for mere political appeasement."
In brighter news, RWE, an energy giant, disclosed that construction has officially commenced on its 1.4GW Sofia Offshore Wind Farm in the North Sea, heralding a new era of offshore wind capabilities.
As the UK stands on the brink of announcing the results of its clean power contract auction, apprehensions are sky-high. Warnings are aplenty that the government's tepid response to rising costs in material and labour could result in a lacklustre auction, jeopardizing long-term sustainability goals.
The clock is ticking. The stakes are higher than ever for the government and millions who yearn for a more sustainable, cost-effective energy future.