Environmental impact of policies that led to collapse of onshore wind was not considered by government

Exclusive: ‘This ill-considered action has thrown away a strong British industry of the future and potentially increased energy prices by effectively outlawing the cheapest form of clean energy in the country today,’ says Alan Whitehead, Labour’s shadow minister for energy and climate change

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 06 May 2018 19:17
Comments
New onshore wind farms such as this one near Sheffield are set to become a rarity
New onshore wind farms such as this one near Sheffield are set to become a rarity

The government failed to consider the climate or the economic costs of a policy change that contributed to the collapse of onshore wind in the UK.

Planning applications for new onshore wind developments have plummeted by 94 per cent since the introduction of new policies governing their construction in 2015.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information rules for The Independent by Christine Ottery at DeSmog UK and environmental group 10:10 Climate Action have revealed the government did not conduct relevant impact assessments before implementing these changes.

They found no assessments had been made of how the new policies would affect carbon emissions, despite the key role onshore wind is thought to have in transitioning to a greener energy system and meeting climate targets.

There was also no detailed assessment of how policies would affect the future of the nation’s wind industry, or consumers’ fuel bills.

Instead, the only impact assessments that were carried out were into the effect of such policies on equality and “the strength of family relationships” in local communities.

Onshore wind is one of the cheapest and most efficient sources of renewable electricity, and surveys show most British people support it.

“This is a shocking revelation,” said Caroline Lucas, MP and co-leader of the Green Party.

“For no assessment to be made in relation to the impact on the industry really does expose the government’s contempt for onshore wind, and their utter unwillingness to see reason.

“We know that ministers are more motivated by a small cabal of their own backbenchers than the evidence on this issue – and their failure here underlines this.”

Alan Whitehead, Labour’s shadow minister for energy and climate change, said the lack of impact assessments showed “a shocking display of poor governance”.

“This ill-considered action has thrown away a strong British industry of the future and potentially increased energy prices by effectively outlawing the cheapest form of clean energy in the country today,” he said.

The government action in 2015 was part of a wider strategy aimed at giving communities more say in where wind turbines can be built.

The policy change came after a group of more than 100 MPs wrote an open letter to David Cameron calling for him to remove support for “inefficient and intermittent” onshore wind.

Under the new rules, onshore wind developments were only allowed to proceed in areas designated suitable by local authorities.

There was also a transfer of power from the government’s energy and climate change department to what is now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

While onshore wind has not been banned outright, these policy changes, combined with the withdrawal of subsidies, have been described by experts as an “effective ban” due to the block they put on new projects.

Historically, new wind projects were reliant on government subsidies. Following the 2015 general election the Conservatives made a manifesto promise of “no subsidies” for new operations, effectively stifling the industry.

However, wind farm technology has now progressed to the extent that many onshore wind farms being built across Europe are set to be subsidy-free.

Industry experts see onshore wind as playing a key role in the UK transitioning to a greener future.

“It’s the cheapest option for new power in the UK, and in the 2020s we have to procure very large amounts of new power to replace very large amounts of power that is going offline and to meet our carbon budget,” said Luke Clark, director of external affairs at trade association RenewableUK.

“Given its low-cost nature, onshore wind should certainly have a role to play in meeting those needs.”

In response to the government’s lack of preparation, Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “This looks like another snap policy decision made in the rush to nix onshore wind that wasn’t really fully considered”.

Eight young Floridians file lawsuit against the state of Florida over climate change

“In rushing through as many roadblocks to onshore wind as possible, the government knackered the industry, as we have seen in the years since.”

Analysis by ECIU has revealed that policies blocking the development of onshore wind could add £1bn to the UK’s energy bills over five years.

“Families facing high energy bills are being let down by the government’s ongoing ban on the cheapest new energy source – onshore wind,” said Ellie Roberts, a campaigner at 10:10 Climate Action.

“So the fact that the government only performed a minimal, barely relevant assessment on wind planning barriers will come as a real slap in the face.”

Despite the restrictions on onshore wind resulting from laws put in place to satisfy local communities, wind power also has considerable popularity among the British public.

The latest government figures showed record public support for renewables, with more than 75 per cent of people supporting onshore wind specifically.

The same survey revealed that two-thirds of people would even be happy to see a large-scale renewable energy development built in their area.

A UN report released in April found that, despite global investment in renewable energy shooting up in 2017, the UK had seen a decline of around two-thirds.

Report author Angus McCrone of New Energy Finance noted the role played by weakening support for onshore wind in this funding drop.

After the announcement of the new policy, the Department of Energy and Climate Change – now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – released an assessment in which it considered the impact of changes on the cost and duration of onshore wind applications.

It concluded there would be “no change in the level of onshore wind generating capacity”.

BEIS has stated the government could still back onshore wind where there is local support, such as on the Scottish islands.

However, though last year saw the highest number of onshore wind turbines ever built, only two new projects have received planning permission since the changes came into place.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for England, but it can be developed where there is public support.

“People can have their say on wind power during our planning policy consultation, which is open until May, and there was also the chance to offer views during the Housing White Paper consultation.”

A government spokesperson said: “With government putting clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy, and up to £557m of funding for new clean energy projects, the renewable energy sector is thriving and powering our nation with a record 15 per cent of all electricity coming from wind power last year – the highest ever for the UK. Government has been very clear, however, that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of affected local communities.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in