Rishi Sunak is planning to lift the de facto ban on building new onshore wind farms, according to a new report from The Telegraph.
The building of onshore wind farms in the UK has been effectively banned since 2016, with only a few select sites progressing since then. In fact, just two onshore wind turbines were built in the whole of England throughout the entirety of 2022 – despite being the cheapest form of electricity generation.
Revoking the ban would be a long time coming, with Rishi Sunak previously signalling his willingness to allow onshore wind farms earlier this year during the Spring Budget. However, since then the Government has remained relatively quiet on the issue – something many backbench MPs have been unhappy about.
According to The Telegraph, a large contingent of Tory MPs were preparing to back an upcoming amendment of the Energy Bill tabled by Sir Alok Sharma, the former President of COP26, who was appointed by Boris Johnson. The amendment by Sharma would have scrapped the ban on new onshore wind, effectively forcing the Government’s hand.
It’s said that the amendment has received widespread support from all wings of the Conservative Party, as well as from opposition parties including Labour. Prominent MPs who have signed up to the amendment include Liz Truss, the former Prime Minister, who has previously backed efforts to end the onshore wind farm ban.
However, rather than facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat in Parliament, Rishi Sunak has supposedly agreed to ease the restrictions in exchange for the amendment being withdrawn. In fact, ministers could announce changes to planning rules that would allow councils the authority to allow wind farms to be built in their areas, as long as there is public support. There’s no confirmed timeline as to when these changes will be announced, but it could be as soon as this week, before the vote on the Energy Bill on Tuesday.
In a statement to The Telegraph, Sir Alok Sharma noted, “The Government committed to change planning rules by the end of April 2023 to overturn the de facto ban on onshore wind but this has not happened to date.
“This amendment therefore seeks merely to deliver on the Government’s own promise and help to unlock investment in one of the cheapest forms of energy, and ultimately bring down household bills and improve the UK’s energy security.”
What will the new onshore wind farm planning rules look like?
While we have yet to receive exact wording as to how the Government plans to change the planning rules surrounding onshore wind farms, it’s expected to be more ‘flexible’, according to Government sources.
Under the current rules, onshore wind farms are not technically banned – but councils can only approve new sites if local concerns have been ‘fully addressed’. That means even one objection could theoretically derail an entire project, which is why so few wind turbines have been built since the rules were put in place in 2016.
It’s now expected that councils will be given the opportunity to take a pragmatic approach, where they can force developers to act on concerns and suggestions from local constituents, but when the project has broad public support, it can still progress – even if there are still outstanding objections.
Why is the ability to build onshore wind so important?
The UK has one of the world’s largest fleets of offshore wind turbines, but it has come at a cost. Offshore wind has historically been more expensive than onshore wind, with historical prices showing that electricity generated by an offshore wind farm costing around £106 per MWh vs £63 per MWh for onshore.
However, the price for electricity generated by offshore wind has declined in recent years. In fact, in the latest report from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, estimates that that levilised cost of electricity for projects commissioning in 2025 will be £44 per MWh for onshore wind vs £44 per MWh for offshore wind – meaning they’ve reached pricing parity.
So, why the fuss around onshore wind? Well, while it may have reached price parity with offshore wind, onshore wind is still the winner when it comes to ease of construction. Additionally, they’re easier to maintain given the fact engineers don’t require a boat to get to them and the infrastructure required to connect them to the National Grid is typically already available.
It’s not a case of onshore wind vs offshore wind, but more of a case of allowing more choice. Allowing the construction of more onshore wind farms will enable the UK to build more renewables, rather than take away from any offshore wind farms being constructed.