Boris Johnson will next week push through proposals to build more onshore wind farms as part of the UK’s new energy supply strategy, despite opposition from several cabinet ministers.
The prime minister is expected to approve the relaxation of the planning regime, which developers complain acts as a block on new onshore projects that have been subject to a de facto ban since 2015.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, confirmed this week that the government wanted to ease planning rules to encourage the building of more onshore wind farms, which are cheaper than offshore turbines.
“I think the prime minister has been very clear that onshore wind has got to be part of the mix and we’ve got to look at planning. We are not saying we are going to scrap all planning rules, and all of these things have got to be in line with community support,” he said in an interview with the i newspaper.
Allies of the prime minister said he would give onshore wind a cautious go-ahead as part of the broader energy supply strategy despite pressure from some MPs in his own party to reject Kwarteng’s plan.
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Onshore wind farms have long been unpopular with grassroots Conservatives in rural areas because of their visual effect on the landscape, as well as their impact on birdlife.
In the wake of the Tories’ 2015 election victory, then prime minister David Cameron in effect killed off the construction of new onshore wind farms under pressure from other cabinet ministers and backbench MPs, saying he wanted to “rid” the countryside of the “unsightly” structures.
The following year, onshore wind was excluded from the government’s system of subsidies for low-carbon electricity. This move was reversed by Johnson in 2020 but he did not change the planning regime.
Officials said the energy supply strategy, which will also include an uplift in nuclear, solar and offshore wind and North Sea oil and gas, did not yet have final sign-off from Johnson but he was expected to give it the go-ahead and publish it next week.
The review is aimed at removing the need for any Russian oil and gas imports and reducing the country’s exposure to highly volatile commodity markets, while still adhering to the Net Zero 2050 climate targets.
Six of the Johnson’s cabinet were part of the campaign against onshore wind that led to Cameron’s moratorium and were signatories of a letter in 2012 urging the government to cut subsidies. They included Priti Patel, now home secretary, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister — the letter was co-written by chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris.
Some of those cabinet ministers are understood to still be opposed to giving the green light to onshore wind turbines.
But Kwarteng wants greater onshore wind production to be part of the strategy because he sees it as “the quickest, cheapest and easiest way” of improving the UK’s energy security, according to one ally of the business secretary.
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Planning for onshore wind farms varies across the UK’s devolved administrations. Developers complain, in particular, that onshore wind farms in England still fall under local authority planning regimes which have to apply strict considerations to proposed projects.
The prime minister is also facing a cabinet split over the issue of lifting the moratorium on shale gas, with the energy strategy expected to authorise a review with the proviso that it would only be removed if safety concerns can be addressed.
Many Tory MPs, including Rees-Mogg, are keen to lift the “fracking” ban, but others agree with Greg Hands, energy minister, who told the Commons this month that shale gas was “not the solution to near-term issues.”
Another cabinet minister told the Financial Times that fracking had the potential to cause “huge uproar” among Tory voters given the disruption to areas of scenic countryside.
Source: Financial Times