With winter fast approaching, we will once again be asking ourselves how we can ease
household energy bills. Alongside this, focus remains on our energy security, as Russia’s
war continues in Ukraine and Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel destabilise the Middle East’s
energy production. In that context, the government is right to be encouraging additional
cheap, homegrown renewable energy. New polling shows there is strong support from
Conservative voters for this strategy too.
Renewable energy will simultaneously protect British households from volatile fossil fuel markets and give us a much-needed economic boost. If we doubled our onshore wind capacity, we would generate £45 billion of economic activity and help create 27,000 jobs. Our solar industry could be just as lucrative, potentially offering £70 billion to our economy. As the cheapest forms of new energy, they will mitigate rising energy costs whilst weaning us off unreliable foreign imports.
However, there remains understandable nervousness among my colleagues concerning renewable projects. We have all received emails from constituents in opposition to proposals for new renewables projects. In the early 2010s, communities felt they had onshore wind imposed on them when local decisions were overturned. This triggered a backlash against renewables. The government responded by effectively banning onshore wind. Only this year has the government adopted a more balanced approach, allowing new onshore wind where there is community support.
But the politics of renewables have changed. New polling by policy research specialists Public First shows renewables are popular among our party’s voters. They ran a survey over the summer in 19 rural seats held by Conservative colleagues - selected because they are already, or are proposed to be, a site of a major renewable energy project - and found there is a silent majority who back renewables. Among voters who put their trust in our party in 2019, a staggering 77% support renewable projects, demonstrating they are an electoral asset.
The polling also showed there are plenty of ways to bring local communities with us as we expand renewable energy production. For instance, 73% of those who voted for us in 2019 would be more likely to support renewables in their area if they saved money on their energy bills each month, while half would if the developer gave money to the local community through a community fund. This polling shows why the government is right to champion community benefit schemes in return for hosting new wind farms or pylons.
I am also glad to see the government resist pressure to add excessive restrictions to solar on farm land. Public First’s research shows that half of Conservative voters support a new solar farm within three miles of their home. Even if it were visible from their window, almost three quarters of voters would not actively oppose a new solar farm.
But despite the evidence of this unambiguous and widespread public support for renewables, it is not universal. Where opposition exists, it is often strong, and I know many of my colleagues will at times feel inundated with concerns on these issues.
But, just as I’ve argued strongly that we can’t win elections opposing new homes for the next generation, so too we can’t win by opposing cheap, clean renewable energy schemes. It’s the wrong approach economically and environmentally, as well as electorally. With 66% of our 2019 voters believing the rollout of renewables has been too slow, we must continue to support local renewable projects.
With the next election looming, we need to offer a positive vision for the future. Successive Conservative governments have enabled the development of the five biggest offshore wind farms in the world and the best decarbonisation record in the G7; we should point to these achievements with pride. We have to show the electorate not only we have delivered action on climate change, but we have a plan to finish the job. Let’s not be afraid to make renewables core to our offer.
Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.