Block on onshore wind and solar farms removed, Government confirms

A block on onshore wind and solar farms is to be lifted to help tackle climate change, the Government has confirmed.

It reverses a move by the Tories to end support for onshore wind to appeal to communities who opposed turbines in their areas, which prompted widespread criticism that they were curbing the cheapest form of clean energy.

Since 2015, onshore wind projects – along with solar farms – have been prevented from competing with other technologies in auctions to secure contracts that pay an agreed price for electricity low carbon power schemes.

But the Government has launched a consultation setting out details of the next round of auctions, in 2021, which will be open to onshore wind and solar – and may include floating offshore wind.

It also announced proposals for new guidance for developers on engaging with communities over onshore wind across Britain.

And it would remain the case that no English project could go ahead without local people’s consent, the Business and Energy Department said.

Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Ending our contribution to climate change means making the UK a world leader in renewable energy.

“We are determined to do that in a way that works for everyone, listening to local communities and giving them an effective voice in decisions that affect them.”

The Government said the measures would help meet the quadrupling of renewable energy generation in the UK that its advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says is needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The CCC is among those who have called for a reversal of the block, warning a failure to create a route to market for onshore wind and solar slows efforts to cut emissions and increases costs for consumers.

Official polling for the Government shows high levels of public support for onshore wind, with 78% backing the technology while only 6% oppose it, and solar power has even higher levels of support.

Renewable energy campaigner at climate change charity Possible, Alethea Warrington, said: “After years of campaigning, today we can finally celebrate the UK’s cheapest new energy source, onshore wind, being brought in from the cold.

“As our cheapest source of clean energy, onshore wind is hugely popular with people in the UK, who understand that we need to use all the tools in the box to tackle the climate crisis.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Onshore wind and solar are not only some of the cheapest sources of energy, reducing costs for everyone, but they are a vital part of putting the UK on track to net zero as quickly as possible.

“The Government now needs to engage with local communities in order to get large amounts of onshore wind and solar off the ground.

“Leading by example, by tripling the UK’s wind and solar by 2030, is a prerequisite for successful UK leadership at this year’s global climate talks in Glasgow.”

The Conservative Environment Network has also welcomed the move, saying that new projects, only where they were supported by the community, could be up and running by the mid-2020s.

Sam Hall, director of CEN, said: “They are the most cost-effective forms of new energy generation and so will help us get to net zero in the most cost-effective way.

“Polling shows that a large majority of people support onshore wind, however it is right that the planning system will give communities the final say over new projects in their areas.”

Energy UK’s Audrey Gallacher said: “This will send strong and positive signals which will allow industry to invest, plan, and deliver new low carbon generation at the lowest cost to consumers.

“To fully unleash the full potential of onshore wind, we would also encourage the Government to also review planning rules so that applications for new onshore wind turbines in England face a fair and reasonable local planning process and are treated in the same way as other renewable or low carbon energy projects.”

Solar farm
Solar farms will also be allowed to compete for subsidies, the Government is set to announce (Peter Byrne/PA)

RenewableUK said the decision would mean “shovel-ready” onshore wind projects which already had planning consent could compete for subsidies and help avoid an energy gap as coal comes offline by 2024.

The industry body’s chief executive Hugh McNeal said: “The Government is pressing ahead with action to meet our net zero emissions target quickly and at lowest cost to consumers and businesses.

“Backing cheap renewables is a clear example of the practical action to tackle climate change that the public is demanding, and this will speed up the transition to a net zero economy.”

The Solar Trade Association (STA) also welcomed the plans to hold new clean power auctions which the technology could participate in.

The industry body said it could help deploy cheap, clean power and cut costs to consumers by £200-£300 million a year.

Chief executive Chris Hewett said: “The Government is backing a winner in solar, which is not only the UK’s most popular energy technology, but also highly cost-effective and one which offers unique opportunities to enhance local biodiversity and agriculture.”

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