Support from local communities is vital for onshore wind
With two major decisions on renewables this week, for those who wanted to paint this government as a bunch of carbon burning Dad’s Army Brexiteers, the caricature needs re-thinking, writes Richard Graham MP.
This week the government has caught the energy sector by surprise again with two major decisions on renewable energy.
Firstly it has allowed new onshore wind and solar farms to be built where local communities support them (via a special Contract for Difference funding ‘pot’). And then they have raised the option of a third funding pot for new developing technologies which would include tidal stream and wave.
As onshore wind and solar are some of the cheapest forms of electricity generation, this new auction could help households struggling with the cost of living or living in fuel poverty. Similarly, businesses who face competitive pressures from companies overseas stand to benefit from the lower energy costs. The potential for a green industrial revolution in the UK is considerable. The onshore wind and solar supply chains already provide 12,000 jobs and £140 million in exports. A new auction will not only safeguard those jobs, but also create thousands more.
So the government can both bring down energy prices while boosting total green energy production and capacity. For those who wanted to paint this government as a bunch of carbon burning Dad’s Army Brexiteers, the caricature needs re-thinking.
Meanwhile the stimulus to marine energy, especially if this new pot goes ahead and the government also considers a proposal of tax credits (IPPA) to enable more technologies to scale up, should at last lead to our offshore islands creating significant energy from the strength of our waves and tides. We know that this is a widely popular idea and that there are technologies being developed in all four parts of the UK.
Support from local communities is vital, and it will be the natural cap for onshore wind in Britain. Reforms to the planning rules made in 2015 will ensure that local communities have the final say over new wind farms in their area. New guidelines for how renewable energy developers should engage with local communities, published alongside the announcement, will also ensure that we do not go back. There should also be in my view a complete block on new onshore wind in designated landscapes, such as Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, given the potential for onshore wind turbines to alter for ever the character of protected areas.
That is also the answer to Dale Vince of Ecotricity, who claimed that 14 giant turbines across the Cotswold Hills could power the whole of Gloucestershire’s electricity needs. He may be right, but local councils would not vote for them. However on a different site, the Hempsted Recycling Centre in Gloucester, on a hill overlooking the River Severn and almost entirely invisible to all, onshore wind could be a very attractive and popular solution. The government is right not to plan centrally, but to allow each constituency and council to come up with their own ideas and their own planning permission.
The key benefits of more onshore wind and solar, and eventually marine energy too, will be a cheaper, cleaner, more diverse energy supply, helping to deliver our world-leading net zero target by 2050. There is one other big incentive. At this November’s COP26, the UN climate change summit in Glasgow gives us a huge opportunity to negotiate further action from the international community. It will be our first big international test after leaving the EU, and we must have our own house in order. Supporting these clean energy technologies is a very welcome measure to strengthen our record here in the UK on tackling climate change.
Now we foot soldiers on the ground just need to make it happen. Let’s leave a local legacy of new green energy projects.
Richard Graham is Conservative MP for Gloucester.
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