Onshore wind power projects could make a return to the hard-fought competition for subsidies as Conservative energy ministers warm to turbines following sharp falls in offshore wind costs.
The Government announced an end to new subsidies for wind turbines two years ago after former Prime Minister David Cameron said that “enough is enough” for the roll out of turbines across England.
In the meantime the cost of offshore wind farms has fallen by half following steady government support, raising questions over whether onshore wind should be allowed to compete against other technologies to provide low-cost renewable energy.
Energy ministers Richard Harrington and Claire Perry both told delegates at the Conservative party conference that new onshore wind projects could return to play a role depending on whether their costs are competitive and they win the support of local communities.
Mr Harrington said he sees “no reason” why onshore wind projects shouldn’t compete against other forms of technology and clinch support if their costs are low enough and their planning permission has been granted.
“Provided that it goes through a reasonable local planning system, I see no reason why it should not be on the same level playing field as everything else,” he said.
RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck said a number of Conservative MPs expressed their support for onshore wind, “because they’re focusing on consumers’ bills and they know that onshore wind is the cheapest way of generating new power”.
“You can’t cap energy bills while denying the lowest cost option a chance to compete. Having seen the record-breaking fall in the cost of offshore wind, we now need to discover how much the cost of onshore wind has fallen too – and that hasn’t been possible for over two and a half years because it’s been excluded from competitive auctions,” she said.
Peter Aldous, vice-chair of a renewable energy all-parliamentary group, blamed the previous Labour Government for allowing wind farms to be imposed on communities, with “politically toxic” results.
“A lot of Tory MPs don’t want onshore wind in their backyards. Under the last Labour government, they were being imposed and communities didn’t like it but if communities want them they should be allowed them,” he said on the fringes of the conference.
The warmer words for onshore wind comes ahead of fresh findings from Energy UK, to be published later this week, which underlines the growing concern among investors over Britain’s plans for subsidising energy beyond 2020.
A sector-wide survey by the trade body has found that the £180bn still needed to overhaul the generation market by 2030 could be at risk unless the Government gives clarity on its long-term plans.
Lawrence Slade, the boss of Energy UK said there is little clarity about energy policy beyond 2020, leaving investors without the trust and certainty required for long-term investment and risking future projects.
“The message from investors and the energy industry is clear – if the Government provides certainty and stability, we can deliver the investment required. Without it, the future will come with a higher price tag for all of us.”
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