The government has been urged to lift an effective ban on on-shore wind warms to help the UK meet newly strengthened decarbonisation goals and save consumers money.
An explosion of on-shore wind in Britain could trim £50 a year from household energy bills, compared to our current high-gas energy mix, according to research commissioned by RenewableUK, a trade body for the sector.
However, under current rules onshore wind farms cannot compete for government subsidies in auctions. Funds are available only for offshore wind.
Energy investors and environmental activists have said this means an effective ban on large on-shore wind farms, limiting the development of Britain’s clean energy industry.
If Britain is “serious” about responding to the climate crisis, “policymakers must encourage all forms of renewable power generation,” said Peter Dickson, a partner at Glennmont Partners, which manages Europe’s largest clean energy fund.
“This includes revisiting proposals for developing onshore wind in the UK,” he said.
Britain currently has around 13GW of onshore wind capacity. Growing that to 35GW by 2035 could reduce the cost of electricity by 7%, according to an analysis by Vivid Economics, a consultancy working in the environmental sector.
Onshore wind power is anticipated to be cheaper than gas-generated electricity as the costs of turbines fall and the penalties on carbon emissions rise, the report found.
The government’s own figures show that onshore wind farms are the cheapest source of new electricity generation, anticipated to cost just £50 per megawatt hour. In contrast, electricity from off shore installations is expected to cost £57.50 per MWh and the Hinkley Point nuclear project currently under construction won a guaranteed price of £92.50 per MWh.
Growth in onshore wind could also triple the number of jobs in the sector, to 31,000, and hoist exports to £360 million a year by 2035.
Additionally, investment in onshore wind is seen as essential to decarbonising the UK’s energy sector, which currently accounts for 27% of carbon emissions.
This week Theresa May committed Britain to achieving a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050—a strengthening of the previous goal, which was an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by that year.
“Onshore wind is a win-win-win. It reduces reliance on imported fuels, reduces energy prices for households and reduces carbon,” said Labour’s Alan Whitehead, shadow minister for energy and climate change.
“It is simply economically illiterate not to go for onshore wind in a big way. The government should remove their barriers to onshore wind and engage communities to get it built,” he added.
However, the Conservatives have been reluctant to amend the rules around onshore projects, fearful of upsetting a voter base concerned about preserving the countryside. While last year energy minister Claire Perry appeared to soften her stand on the subsidy ban, in January she confirmed that there would be no U-turn.
“Both I and the Scottish conservatives were elected on a manifesto that said there should be no more subsidy. We didn’t think subsidy for onshore windfarms is correct,” she said.
She said onshore wind farms that reached the point where they didn’t require subsidy, a claim rejected by the industry.