UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly preparing to overturn a ban on building onshore wind farms that has stymied the sector for nearly a decade.
Ministers are “poised” this week to announce changes that would allow local councils to approve wind farms where there is broad public support, according to The Telegraph.
A law passed in 2015 has meant that an objection from even a single resident could thwart a planned onshore wind farm, amounting to a de facto ban on such projects in England where the rules apply.
The latest move comes just weeks after ex-UK Prime Minister Liz Truss teamed up with 20 other MPs from Sunak’s governing Conservative Party – including COP26 president Alok Sharma – to try and overturn the ban.
Sharma had tabled an objection backed by the MPs to the UK government’s energy bill, which is currently passing through Parliament.
MPs are preparing to vote on that bill on Tuesday after returning from their summer break.
The UK’s Labour Party supports Sharma’s proposal, meaning that, together with the rebel Tories, only six more MPs would need to lend their support to the amendment for it to pass.
In order to avoid a bruising government defeat, The Telegraph reports that ministers have been in talks with MPs to try and find a compromise. Negotiations are expected to continue today (Monday).
A minister – perhaps the UK’s newly minted secretary of state for energy security and net zero Claire Coutinho – would reportedly submit a written statement to Parliament this week committing to changing the current rules in exchange for the amendment being dropped.
According to government sources, the changes would allow councils to “more flexibly address the planning impacts of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak raised hopes last year that he would raise the restrictions. However proposed planning rule changes in March left the UK wind industry “bitterly disappointed”.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, whose party is currently ahead in the opinion polls with a general election due next year, recently fleshed out his own plans on the issue, saying he would immediately lift the ban and require local authorities to “proactively identify” areas suitable for renewable power generation such as wind and solar.
Speaking on the BBC on Sunday, UK celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has campaigned against the onshore wind ban, said: “The one thing we need to do for the young people of today is protect them from the devastating effects of the climate crisis and there’s an opportunity to do that this coming week.”
“It only takes one spanner to stop a wind turbine,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall, saying that that spanner has been the UK’s recently department energy secretary Grant Shapps, who was moved to the defence ministry last week.
“Now there is an opportunity to lift the ban on onshore wind and give us much more energy security and cheaper electricity bills” as well as fighting the climate crisis, which Fearnley-Whittingstall said is "absolutely at the heart of this”.
The Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit has estimated the ban on onshore wind cost UK billpayers £800m ($1bn) last winter in the midst of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The news over the potential U-turn on onshore wind comes ahead of the imminently expected results of the UK’s auction for contract-for-difference power deals for offshore wind farms and other renewables. Amid huge uncertainty over the future of UK offshore wind after Sweden’s Vattenfall abandoned one high-profile project, there have been warnings the auction could flop due to government “red tape”.