Wind policy: let's get detailed

Since coming to power in 2015, the Conservative government has done it’s best to stop onshore wind in its tracks, despite all the awesomeness it can bring.

No more subsidies

First off the government closed the Renewables Obligation subsidy early for onshore wind. That meant that there was no financial support for any medium to large scale projects. All that’s left is support for small scale wind - and even that isn’t much.

By cutting support for the cheapest low-carbon tech we have, the government has made it more expensive for the UK to meet our renewable energy targets. So much for saving public money.

Oh, and they’re also continuing to subsidise new gas generation. Neat, eh?

No more planning permission

Next, English planning guidance was suddenly changed. The new rules, introduced by decree (rather than with parliamentary approval), added two new - and unique - planning conditions for wind.

1. Applications can only be successful if they have ‘fully addressed’ the concerns of local communities that have identified planning impacts and can therefore be said to have their ‘backing’.

Well we don’t want locals being ridden over roughshod. So this sounds reasonable right?

Thing is... Despite writing the rules, the government won’t clarify what it means by ‘fully addressed’ local concerns, or the ‘backing’ of local people. If ten people remain unconvinced, does a project have enough backing? Five people? One? No-one knows.

Result: for most, the risk of submitting a planning application is just too high to bother.

2. No wind application can be given permission unless it is a site that has already been ok-ed in the Local Authority’s local or neighbourhood plan.

People make some plans and then build some wind turbines, right?

Not really. Local planning authorities don’t have to include renewable energy in their local plan. And even if they did, lots of councils don’t have the time or money to do the work and get them in there.

Not only all that, but local plans work on five to ten year cycles, and neighbourhood plans aren’t easy either. So this isn’t something you can sort quickly.

Result: wind projects are locked out of the planning system before they’re even started.

It’s worth saying, both of these planning conditions are unique in the planning system. No other type of proposal has to meet super-strict pre-conditions like these. Like fracking, for example.

All this adds up to something that looks suspiciously like a ban on onshore wind in all but name. And we just don’t have time for that.

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Photo: Ross Gill