Boris Johnson has hinted he is cautious over plans for an onshore wind revolution amid Cabinet fears that it would mean thousands of turbines are built in Tory heartlands.
At a hearing of Parliament’s Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister stressed his support for offshore wind in a sign that he is less convinced about the need for a major increase in projects on land.
It comes amid Cabinet disagreements over a proposal to rip up 2015 planning reforms that made it almost impossible for new onshore turbines to be built. The change, which is being debated as part of a wider overhaul of energy policy, would pave the way for new wind farms across swathes of rural England.
Mr Johnson told MPs that he was keen to take action that will help wean the West off Russian gas.
He said “you have got to recognise that in the UK we have just failed, for a generation, to put in enough long-term supply”, and added: “It’s been one of those colossal mistakes. Renewables are fantastic: offshore wind – and I stress offshore wind – I think has massive potential. But so does nuclear.”
A Downing Street source cautioned against reading too much into the comment, stressing that no final decision had been made about a new onshore wind drive.
For much of the last decade the value of building wind turbines on the UK mainland has been a fiercely debated issue within the Conservative Party.
Complaints from residents in areas they were constructed, often in rural Conservative constituencies, led the party leadership to take a critical stance.
But supporters believe that public opinion may have changed in recent years, with a growing awareness of the climate threat and offers to cut energy bills for those near wind farms.
Onshore projects continue to win approval and be constructed in Scotland, but given tight planning laws it is all but impossible for them to be built in England.
A change to those planning rules is being considered. A decision will be taken in the much-delayed energy strategy, which had been due earlier this month and may come next week.
Elsewhere in Mr Johnson’s committee appearance, he reiterated a belief that a major increase in nuclear power is needed in the UK.
Mr Johnson suggested that small, modular nuclear power plants of the kind being developed by Rolls-Royce could be up and running before the end of the decade but acknowledged new developments would not come soon enough to address immediate cost-of-living pressures.
He said: “I’m not going to pretend that you are going to get a nuclear reactor on stream in real time for our constituents in the next couple of years, no.
“We have got to do lots of other things, including transitional hydrocarbons and basically helping with the cost of living wherever we can.
“But long term and medium term we have got to be looking at big ticket nuclear solutions, Sizewell and other projects, but we have also got to be looking at small modular reactors.”
The Prime Minister also noted the use of hydrogen as a potential fuel for heavy machinery, lorries and for heating homes.
He said: “Hydrogen could be a fantastic solution, particularly for heavy goods vehicles, for farm machinery, for diggers, for ships.
“Hydrogen really could be the answer. How do you get hydrogen? You get hydrogen out of hydrocarbons.”
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