Projects to go ahead
Onshore wind projects to pick up speed after ban lifted
SSEs Gordonbush wind farm in the Highlands
Onshore wind farms are expected to power ahead after the UK government lifted a ban on supporting development imposed four years ago.
David Cameron’s Conservative government blocked both onshore wind and solar from accessing the contracts for difference programme, the main method for supporting renewables, and offered no replacement.
With the renewable obligation scheme closing to large-scale solar in 2015 and wind the following year after, all available backing for these renewable technologies ended.
It led to the stalling of projects with all but one built last year previously qualifying for support under the subsidy schemes. Only 629 megawatts was built compared to 2.6 gigawatts in 2017. Solar suffered even worse with just 233 megawatts built last year against 4 gigawatts in 2015.
The CFD programme requires bidders to offer power at a set strike price. If the wholesale power price dips below this, the government makes up the shortfall. If the wholesale price is higher, the extra revenue is paid back to the authorities. The contracts last for 15 years.
As the windiest country in Europe, Scotland is already the UK’s onshore wind powerhouse, with around 58% of its installed capacity (8.1GW out of 14.1GW), as well as 80% of its consented capacity (3.9GW of 4.9GW).
Today’s announcement means onshore wind – the cheapest form of new power generation – will be able to access UK Government power auctions, enabling their financing and delivering economic benefits across Scotland.
Onshore wind and solar PV provide the cheapest way to tackle climate change– Claire Mack, Scottish Renewables
Scottish Renewables chief executive Claire Mack said: “This announcement is recognition that, as Scottish Renewables and others have said for many years, onshore wind and solar PV provide the cheapest way to tackle climate change while delivering economic benefits across the UK.
“Onshore wind employs 5,800 people in Scotland in highly-skilled, green jobs of the future. As we seek to meet our net-zero targets in the most cost effective way this technology has a key role to play.
“Scotland, with its enviable wind resource, is already home to the majority of the UK’s onshore wind power. We also have the majority of its consented capacity – that is, wind farms with planning permission, which are ready to build today.
“Access to the Contracts for Difference mechanism does not mean subsidy. These most competitive of projects will be delivered at prices far below the wholesale cost of power, with a Scottish Renewables study in 2017 showing they will actually deliver money back to government.
“Our robust planning system has already delivered gigawatts of onshore wind while giving communities a say on their construction. We have already called for communities to be involved earlier in the planning process so it’s good news that today’s announcement will strengthen that principle.”
Former Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2014 that the public was concerned by the visual impact of onshore wind turbines and turned the focus on nuclear power and fracking as the keys to UK energy security.
The ban was seen as a move to placate rural voters who opposed the siting of wind farms.
However, the mood has changed as the climate emergency has grown. The UK Government’s own studies show that the popularity of onshore wind is growing, with 78% of people across the country saying they support the use of onshore wind.
A Scottish Renewables study in 2018 showed those attitudes are reflected in rural Scotland, too, with only 11% of rural Scots saying they were opposed to new onshore wind farms.
Claire Mack: confidence (pic: Terry Murden)
Ms Mack added: “Today’s announcement will give our onshore wind sector the confidence it needs to begin to build out again across the UK, with the support of both the government and the public.
“We now look forward to working with other stakeholders, including communities, the Scottish Government and our 32 local authorities, to make sure that onshore wind projects can deliver economic and environmental benefits across Scotland.”
Following today’s announcement, onshore wind and solar projects will be able to take part in the next round of the Contracts for Difference scheme, which opens in 2021. New projects could be up and running from the mid 2020s if they are successful.
Jim Smith, managing director of SSE Renewables, said: “The UK’s new ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require a huge amount of additional renewable energy generation annually in order to meet that target, so it makes absolute sense that the next round of CfD auctions should be opened up to additional sources of scalable renewable generation, in particular onshore wind energy.”
James Diggle, CBI head of energy and climate change, said: “This is an important move that will not only make the UK’s journey to net-zero more achievable, but also more affordable for consumers by using the cheapest available technologies that can deliver real benefits to the wider economy.”
Alan Whitehead, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said: “After years of Labour calling on the Government to remove its ban on funding onshore wind and solar, it has finally relented.
“We need every tool at our disposal to fight the climate crisis, but for years the government’s obstinate resistance has forced us to fight with one hand behind our back.
“We now need to catch up on five lost years, remove the planning barriers to onshore wind energy this government put in place and look at the eye watering business rates they put on solar energy.”
SNP Shadow Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Drew Hendry said: “The Tory government appears to have finally seen sense, caving into SNP demands over onshore renewables. This signals a significant boost to the onshore renewables sector.”