Two-thirds of British public oppose 'ban' that has destroyed country's onshore wind industry, poll says

'This shows yet again that the idea of a Britain which hates onshore wind is just nonsense'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Monday 16 July 2018 15:18
Onshore wind turbines such as the ones in East Kilbride, Scotland, have lacked government support since the 2015 election
Onshore wind turbines such as the ones in East Kilbride, Scotland, have lacked government support since the 2015 election

Two-thirds of British people think the government should ditch the policies that have all but killed off the UK’s onshore wind industry, according to a new poll.

Since new rules governing the construction of onshore turbines were introduced following the election in 2015, planning applications for new wind farms have plummeted by 94 per cent.

As the government struggles to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions targets, experts have criticised the effective ban on technology that is widely considered the UK’s cheapest new power source.

Aside from the environmental and industry arguments for promoting onshore wind, the technology has considerable support from the British public, as the government’s own data on public attitudes to renewable energy have shown.

Now, a new opinion poll by YouGov has revealed 66 per cent of voters would support a change in policy that allowed onshore wind farms to be built in places where they have local backing.

Current policies were initially introduced following a Conservative promise to “halt the spread of onshore wind farms” which “often fail to gain public support”.

Making good on this pledge, the government banned onshore wind companies from competing for subsidies and imposed new planning restrictions that added further hurdles to farms' construction.

Despite being see as a vote-winner, the YouGov poll found 61 per cent of Conservative supporters agreed the government should stop excluding onshore wind from the country's energy mix.

“The government’s policy is massively out of step with public opinion, including the views of Conservative voters,” said Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, the trade body that commissioned the poll.

A representative sample of over 3,500 people were asked about their views on onshore wind, and only 15 per cent of those surveyed opposed the idea of a change in government direction.

“Whether it’s the over-65s, people in rural communities or younger voters who want action on climate change, abandoning the onshore wind ban is popular across the board,” said Ms Pinchbeck.

The UK has seen considerable progress in its renewable energy sector, which has been largely responsible for the 43 per cent cut in carbon emissions that has taken place since 1990.

However, critics have warned of a “dramatic and worrying collapse” in green investment in recent years as a result of the government withdrawing support from some forms of solar and wind power.

Excluding onshore wind from all but a handful of UK locations means the country must rely on more expensive technologies to meet future power requirements.

“It’s difficult for voters to square why the government is bringing in laws to cap energy bills on the one hand, while choosing to further push up costs for bill payers by blocking cheap, new wind power on the other,” said Ms Pinchbeck.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “This shows yet again that the idea of a Britain which hates onshore wind is just nonsense.”

“So we now have a situation in which onshore wind is shown to be popular, and is the cheapest form of new electricity generation, and something that investors are queueing up to fund if ministers open the door,” he told The Independent.

“Rebooting onshore wind is also front and centre of advice given by the National Infrastructure Commission and the Committee on Climate Change. So it is quite hard to find any kind of hard evidence that is getting in the government’s way.”

The government has recently changed the rules slightly and allowed some onshore wind projects to compete for subsidies, but only those operating in remote islands off the coast of Scotland.

In response to the YouGov poll, a spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Our renewables sector is a British success story and we already have 7,000 onshore wind turbines across the UK, generating enough electricity to power seven million homes.

“The government does not believe new large scale onshore wind power is right for England. However, it could be right for other areas where it has local support.”

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