(Bloomberg) — The UK said it will end an effective ban on new onshore wind farms, nine months after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak caved in to a rebellion led by lawmakers from his own Conservative Party.
Planning rules will be “streamlined” to allow onshore wind projects to be approved more quickly, the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities said on Tuesday in a statement. The new procedures will ensure that in local areas affected by projects, the “whole community has a say, not just a small number of objectors,” it said.
The plan — which takes immediate effect — means the UK will be able to resume construction of one of the cheapest forms of renewable power, boosting efforts to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to shore up energy security in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. But it also risks alienating the Tory Party base, many of whom live in rural areas and object that onshore turbines blight the landscape.
Sunak is following through on a commitment his government made in December to Tory rebels who forced him to reverse the longstanding policy opposing new onshore wind farms. The government has since dragged its heels on bringing in the necessary changes to planning rules that at present mean new wind farms can effectively be blocked by a single objection.
Tuesday’s statement was also an effort to stave off a fresh rebellion by Conservatives led by former cabinet minister and ex president of the United Nations climate talks Alok Sharma.
He had sought to amend energy legislation working its way through the Commons on Tuesday to force the government to change planning rules within three months of the bill becoming law. Supporters included former Prime Minister Liz Truss. Last year’s rebellion had also included former Premier Boris Johnson, who is no longer an MP.
A consultation on proposed changes to planning rules closed in March, and a second one then opened, effectively delaying a final decision for several more months. The result was that developers remained unable to build one of the cheapest sources of renewable power, at a time when Sunak’s administration committed to granting 100 new licenses for oil and gas production in the North Sea.
Britain’s Onshore Wind Boom Is Waiting for Sunak’s Green Light
The de facto ban was put in place in 2015 by then Prime Minister David Cameron. Sunak promised to uphold that policy when he ran for the Tory leadership last year, citing the “distress and disruption” onshore wind farms can cause to local residents. Then the rebels forced him into a U-turn.
Before Tuesday’s statement, clean energy campaigners argued the changes Sunak was proposing to onshore wind planning regulations didn’t go far enough, with local consent still being required. The opposition Labour Party has called for onshore wind planning rules to be brought in line with all forms of major infrastructure.
“Why should onshore wind face more planning obstacles than new housing or roads when it’s one of the cheapest, greenest and fastest forms of electricity to develop?” Greenpeace UK Policy Director Doug Parr said in a statement. “Sunak seems to be fudging this amendment to try and appease his backbench MPs with an ideological opposition to wind turbines.”
Andy Fewings, Energy & Renewables Partner at Bidwells, which is currently overseeing 4.2 gigawatts of onshore wind projects, said the government’s proposed changes “won’t go far enough.”
“Against a backdrop of rising costs in the supply chain, planning uncertainty is a key barrier to attract investment, generate jobs, and facilitate the transition to Net Zero and reach Energy Security in the UK,” he said. “We urgently need a planning system that is both pragmatic and enabling for all energy generation technologies.”