No fresh bids to build onshore wind since planning boost

Not a single application has been made for an onshore wind scheme in England since the government relaxed planning rules with great fanfare 10 weeks ago, it has emerged.

Membership body RenewableUK said its data showed zero bids to build turbines on English soil after ministers acted to make it easier for such projects to secure approval.

Rules that previously allowed councils to reject windfarm applications on the basis of one local objection were amended as the Energy Bill was debated in the Commons on 5 September.

Planning authorities can now take greater account of support for such projects, with COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma saying “the de facto ban is lifted”.

However, the latest data suggests there is no immediate end in sight to the hiatus in onshore wind construction. Just six turbines have begun operation in England since 2020, compared with 13 in 2019 alone and more than 1,000 in the five years to 2017.

RenewableUK head of policy James Robottom said alterations to the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework regarding onshore wind in September were extremely minor and left room for different interpretations.

“The government’s very slight changes to the planning system aren’t going to bring about a significant increase in the number of new onshore windfarms in England,” he said.

“There are still restrictions to onshore wind which are not faced by any other infrastructure, despite widespread cross-party support to end the de facto ban, which is dampening the confidence of investors who would otherwise be interested.

“As a result, local communities which support onshore wind are being denied the chance to benefit from cheap, clean power, and construction companies are losing out on opportunities to win new contracts. We need to see fresh measures that build investor confidence so that we can grow the onshore wind industry in England, drive down energy bills and boost our energy security”.

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, welcomed the planning changes despite the lack of evidence of their impact.

“We recognise that it will take some time for developers to come forward with new schemes now that they are able to do so,” he said.

“We would anticipate that as a relatively low-cost, low-carbon form of generation, we should see growth in onshore applications in England in the future, and would encourage developers to work with national and local government to allow this to happen as promptly as possible.”

A National Infrastructure Commission spokesperson said: “The single biggest step for encouraging onshore wind projects would be including these schemes in the system for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Levelling the playing field in this way would help boost energy security and unlock one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are backing both onshore and offshore wind as a key part of the UK’s renewables mix, installing an additional 339MW of additional onshore wind capacity in 2022 alone – equivalent to over 100 turbines.

“The last Contracts for Difference round saw a record number of successful projects across renewables, including onshore wind projects. The streamlined National Planning Policy Framework aims to make it easier and quicker for onshore wind projects to come forward where there is local support.”

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