Onshore wind: why the debate does not seem to be running out of steam

The relaxation of planning rules to further boost onshore wind power in England did not materialize in the government’s energy strategy last week, except for one aspect – possible community partnerships based on a cheaper energy for those who live near wind turbines

Permissions for turbines in England have fallen by more than 95% since 2015, when it was announced that even for a single turbine to be built, it needed the support of the local community, one of two tests intentionally difficult to achieve.

Meanwhile, the popularity of wind power has grown steadily, even before events drove up energy prices and drew attention to the countries where Europe buys its gas.

It is not uncommon for wind farm developers to try to gain the support of local communities by, for example, paying for a village hall or a football pitch. This is not unique to wind power and can only be done outside the planning system.

Today, however, smart meters allow a positive feedback between energy consumption and the inherent intermittency of wind generation. And energy companies are increasingly generating some or all of the electricity they supply from their own wind farms. Put the two together and you get a scenario where if you live near a wind farm you might be able to buy electricity for less when the wind is blowing and much less when it is blowing hard . This prompts other sensible behaviors, encouraged by other smart technologies running dishwashers, immersion heaters, car chargers, washing machines, etc., to use electricity when most or all of electricity from a local supply network comes from the wind or the sun.

That this can be done when national electricity bills regularly exceed £3,000 a year, it is reasonable to join the dots and start asking local communities: ‘Do you want a wind farm? The answer could well be yes, if it sees bills restored to roughly recent levels, if not less.

In Scotland, ministers are urged to boost onshore wind power. However, offshore renewables are likely to be the primary focus for ensuring energy security, although there is also an urgent need to ensure grid stability and address demand-side issues, through battery storage and the production of hydrogen, for example.

Public consultation on the Scottish Government’s draft National Planning Framework 4 was completed at the end of March. The current Greenbelt and Wilderness designations in this document will need to be reviewed if there is to be a significant increase in the development of onshore wind and solar projects in Scotland.

In England, the government intends to consult a limited number of supporting communities on the supply of new turbines, in return for these guaranteed reductions on their energy bills.

As the United Kingdom seeks to strengthen its energy independence, this is a debate that does not seem to run out of steam.

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Contact Rob Asquith

Savills planning

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