The energy crisis requires a holistic renewable strategy – not just new onshore wind
With energy prices rapidly rising due to international gas prices, the government is right to focus on growing our own supply of low-cost electricity as quickly as possible and, in this day and age, that means more wind and solar power.
The plummeting cost of renewable energy has been a quiet revolution, not just in the UK but across the world. The old trade-off of tackling climate change or keeping bills low is no more. As we speak, we are building offshore wind farms which will reduce the cost of energy bills, and if we had the wind and solar energy the government is planning to procure this year alone on the grid already, every UK household would have saved £100 on their energy bills last winter. We’re also fortunate that wind and solar can be incredibly rapidly constructed. You can build a wind or solar farm in under two years, far faster than new nuclear or gas facilities.
The test for government isn’t our commitment to renewables, but increasing the pace of its build out and ensuring that we continue to keep public support and consent for it.
Support for onshore wind and solar has risen in recent years, and I was delighted to see the removal of VAT for new rooftop solar in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, enabling those who support the technology to take advantage of its low-cost power. It’s a principle the government should take forward with onshore wind.
Last week Octopus Energy opened a new scheme, offering people who support a local onshore wind farm near their house a discount of up to £350 on their energy bill. It is telling that within days of the scheme opening they received thousands of applications. A YouGov poll shows 33 per cent of the public likes onshore wind more than they did five years ago, including those living within five miles of a wind farm themselves. An effective ban on onshore wind in England is outdated in a world where people are actively calling for developments in their local area to reduce their bills and tackle climate change, so it’s right government looks to move away from it.
Our challenge isn’t being ambitious in our renewables strategy, but ensuring we have the policy to deliver it
Whilst we should be clear on the role for onshore wind and solar, we should also be clear that offshore wind will be the backbone of our energy system. The UK is in an enviable position of having more offshore wind in planning and development than any other country. Although setting new targets for offshore wind would be welcome - particularly setting a 2035 target for floating wind as Andrew Bowie has argued – the rapid development of renewables requires us to be as ambitious on grid development as we are on the technology itself.
The UK’s approach to grid development is incredibly outdated and unsuited to the challenge ahead of us. When the government brought net-zero into legislation, every department shifted to deliver low-cost renewables at pace.
Unfortunately, the organisation which makes our key decisions over grid development, Ofgem, is an arm’s length body and wasn’t reformed. As a result, Ofgem is restrained into delivering a “just in time” system of grid development where it only invests in new transmission lines when the necessity of doing so if overwhelming. This is slowing the pace of renewable roll out and dampening investment, ultimately to the cost of bill payers in the long term whose benefits are served by having more renewables on the grid.
We should reform Ofgem’s remit and start proactively investing in grid in windy and sunny parts of the country we know we’re going to be developing more renewable energy, like Scotland and Wales.
Similarly, the whole planning and consenting process for wind and solar needs reform. The RSPB are right, we can and should develop new wind farms in harmony with nature. We need a strategic approach to doing so, and we need it rapidly. Given this, I’m keen to see the government give clear strategic direction and resources to our Environmental Regulators and Planning Authorities to prioritise standardising and streamlining our consenting process for these critical technologies.
There are so many benefits to renewable energy. It’s popular, provides energy security, and offers us the opportunity to maintain our commitments to tackle climate change whist keeping energy bills low and our economy competitive.
Our challenge isn’t being ambitious in our renewables strategy, but ensuring we have the policy in place to deliver it. That is the true test of the energy strategy.
Kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.
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