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Megan Batchelor: Unshackle British wind to banish high bills

Megan Batchelor, CEN's Climate Programme Officer

Britain mustn't forget the lessons learned last winter on the pitfalls of relying on gas to heat and power our homes and businesses. Our best bet to beat the global energy crisis and cut Britons’ bills is to get on with liberating onshore wind in the planning process and keep up tax relief to help it thrive.

There is a pressing need to deploy more low-carbon power sources to cut energy bills. As one of the cheapest and fastest electricity sources to deploy, onshore wind stands out as an over-regulated, untapped resource of renewable generation that can help reduce our reliance on gas while cutting emissions.

Development cannot afford to wait: failure to build more onshore wind is costing Britons £5.1 billion a year on their energy bills. It will risk continued pain for households’ choice between heating and eating each winter as the gas squeeze shows no signs of abating.

The tax relief on renewables investment in plants and machinery introduced in the Spring Budget - ‘full capital expensing’ - was an encouraging step in the right direction. It should be made permanent to allow the British renewables industry enough time and space to take off and grow sufficiently to meet our net zero targets.

As well as capital expensing, the government promised to consult on the planning rules for onshore wind as part of its flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. As it stands, there is currently a de facto ban on the technology, brought in after 2015 in the face of community backlash over lack of engagement in the development process for generation sites.

The aim was right - giving communities a say in what gets built in their area, as opposed to designating sites top-down from national government - but the actual result has bent the rules backwards in the other direction. Just two onshore wind turbines were built in England last year, and only one is set to be built this year. Current planning rules mean even if a community wants onshore wind in their area - and polling shows that most conservative voters do - the objections of one resident can block the application and put paid to their neighbours’ wishes for cheap, clean electricity.

More relaxed planning rules would help create a market for onshore wind by making it more viable for developers. It is important that the rules do not again bend too far the other way; suggestions to designate onshore wind generation sites as ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’, thus overriding local authorities, risk putting us back to square one on community support.

The government committed to consult on the National Planning Policy Framework rules for onshore wind; a proactive rule change would make it easier for communities to voice their support and get generation sites where they want them. The government response - with a release of the updated NPPF to boot - has been slated for ‘Spring 2023’. A second consultation on what community benefits for onshore wind could look like is set to finish in early July.

Regardless of the middle-ground approach the government chooses to take in responding to these consultations, it needs to do so without delay to allow sites to start attracting investment and get the ball rolling on growing the sector.

The government must enact measures like these to cut our reliance on gas traded on volatile international markets. Failing to grasp onshore wind power's ability to cut bills and emissions will continue exposing British families and businesses to costly gas imports.


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