Yesterday, the de-facto ban was lifted on onshore wind in England. Sort of. Since 2015, there has been an effective ban on onshore wind in England, where one objection from someone in the local community can block an entire project. This restriction has now been loosened.
Despite the exciting headlines in the press about “lifting the ban on onshore wind”, planning laws are a complex subject and the devil really is in the detail. Here is what our CEO and Founder, Sarah Merrick, has to say on the matter.
Although the change means wind farms can no longer be blocked by a single objection, wind farms are still treated differently to other infrastructure projects. And arguably are worse off. Unlike other forms of development, wind farms will still have to be developed in certain areas of the country. Although the way to define these “suitable locations” has been broadened beyond just local plans, no other infrastructure projects are restricted to certain locations. Wind farm developers will still be reliant on local planning authorities proactively implementing local development orders. And these local authorities are busy, under-resourced and not specialist renewable energy developers. Communities wishing to bring forward their own projects are likely to have their plans put to a potentially divisive local referendum.
Identifying and developing new wind farms requires substantial investment from developers prior to applying for planning consent. As it stands, there are still additional hurdles for developers to jump over, including the need to be in a suitable location and the vague requirement to demonstrate that the “proposal has community support”, beyond the usual community engagement already seen through the planning process. It is wrong for onshore wind to be treated differently to all other energy infrastructure. Developers need confidence and clarity to invest, and these changes may not go far enough.
Ripple has already shown people-owned wind farms work. Our first project, Graig Fatha in south Wales, has already saved people £100s on their energy bills. Our second project, Kirk Hill in Scotland, will be doing the same for thousands more from early next year. People across England and beyond are lining up to own wind farms – to bring down their electricity bills long term and do their bit on climate change. If new projects continue to face difficulty getting consented, fewer people will be able to benefit directly from the transition to clean, low cost energy. It’s a huge missed opportunity. We need onshore wind to be treated the same as other infrastructure projects to truly unlock its potential in England.