Energy firms have launched a lobbying offensive that could result in a new generation of wind turbines being built in rural Britain.
Executives at major power companies are urging the Government to lift the restrictions which currently block the building of onshore windfarms.
Their demands could trigger the construction of a swathe of giant turbines as the country battles to meet ambitious targets to slash carbon emissions and to provide the power for electric vehicles.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that bosses at ScottishPower and SSE have lobbied Government at the highest levels in recent days.
They say current legislation announced four years ago is preventing hundreds of millions of pounds of investment from being funnelled into the cheapest form of energy after coal and gas.
Keith Anderson, chief executive at ScottishPower – the biggest windfarm operator in the UK – discussed the matter with new Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom on Wednesday. It is understood the company has urged the new Government to ramp up efforts to meet low-carbon targets and ‘turbo boost electric vehicle infrastructure’.
Building turbines on land has been criticised by conservationists who argue that it can affect birdlife and ruin views. But the companies insist their preferred sites tend to be those with consistently high wind speeds in remote areas such as the Highlands of Scotland.
Alistair Phillips-Davies, Anderson’s counterpart at energy giant SSE, has sent a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson stating that ‘public opinion has moved a long way in a short time’ and pleading for a review. Recent opinion polls appear to confirm that opposition to wind turbines is fading.
Energy sources said there have been ‘positive signals’ that the Government could be open to reforms. Power firms want onshore windfarms reinstated into a minimum price guarantee for electricity supply to the grid – putting it in line with offshore wind and solar.
The lobbying comes as Johnson’s new ministerial team faces a battle to quadruple renewable energy generation in an attempt to meet low-carbon targets set for 2050.
Meanwhile, the Government is under pressure from climate change protest groups including Extinction Rebellion and campaigners such as Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who has become famous throughout the world.
According to new research by Save Money Cut Carbon, which advises companies on cutting power use, a surge in electric vehicle ownership could potentially shut down the National Grid by 2040 if ways are not found to boost our generating capacity.
Mark Sait, chief executive and co-founder of Save Money Cut Carbon.com, said: ‘The spike in demand from electric vehicles could very well cause blackouts.’ The Government has been poring over potential policy changes that could unleash business investment.
One energy industry source said: ‘Post-Brexit there is a mission to build a lot more infrastructure to get the UK economy forging ahead. The biggest opportunity is gearing up to lead the world towards our net zero carbon ambitions.’
Onshore wind costs between £45 and £75 per megawatt hour, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That compares with up to £160 per MWH for offshore wind and £220 per MWH for nuclear power.
Until 2015, the Government offered a guarantee on the minimum price that companies would get for selling onshore wind power to the grid. Firms say the removal of this guarantee has hamstrung efforts to build as many as 1,000 new turbines.
Last February, former Business Secretary Greg Clark refused to alter the Government’s position. However, industry sources said they believed Johnson’s new ministerial team could be convinced that reintroducing the guarantee would ‘underpin the investment case’ for onshore wind and deliver an economic boost.
Campaigners backing more wind power production include the Conservative Environment Network, a group of more than 40 Tory MPs who argue that public perception has improved and barriers should be removed.
According to a poll conducted in March by the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 79 per cent expressed support for onshore windfarms – compared with 65 per cent support in a survey seven years earlier.
The latest poll found that 82 per cent of those questioned support wave and tidal energy, 83 per cent back offshore windfarms and 89 per cent support solar power.
The number backing nuclear power was 35 per cent.
Matt Finch, an analyst at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank, said electric vehicles will mean that within ten years Britain will need to generate 25 per cent more electricity. He said: ‘Onshore wind is now the cheapest way to build electricity.’
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