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Boris Johnson blows cold on onshore wind faced with 100-plus rebel MPs  

Credit:  Opposition in cabinet as well as on backbenches to expansion of turbines in England widely seen as an eyesore | Rowena Mason, Rob Davies and Helena Horton | The Guardian | Tue 5 Apr 2022 | www.theguardian.com ~~

Pro-green cabinet ministers are frustrated by Boris Johnson’s decision to back away from ambitious onshore windfarm plans for England, as it emerged more than 100 Tory MPs are lobbying against the policy behind the scenes.

The prime minister, who is to announce his energy strategy later in the week, will announce big targets for increasing nuclear power and offshore wind, as well as exploiting more North Sea oil and gas.

But he has been hit by a cabinet split over onshore wind, with Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, and Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, in favour, and others including Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, branding onshore turbines “an eyesore”.

Another nine ministers sitting in cabinet – Steve Barclay, Nadine Dorries, Simon Hart, Chris Heaton-Harris, Brandon Lewis, Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mark Spencer and Nadhim Zahawi – signed a letter calling for a cut in support for onshore wind in 2012. The letter was orchestrated by Heaton-Harris, now responsible for party discipline, who co-ran a campaign called Together Against Wind and wrote a manual that was a “step by step guide on opposing a windfarm in your area”.

A spokesperson for Heaton-Harris would not comment on his communications with the prime minister about the issue of onshore wind.

One cabinet source said those cabinet ministers and Tory MPs arguing against the expansion in England said they “should look at the polling in favour of onshore wind. They are fighting a war from 10 years ago.”

The prime minister is expected to approve financial incentives to encourage communities to accept windfarms in exchange for lower energy bills, but changes to planning laws in England to make permission easier to get are less likely.

One government source said: “If you strip away the theatrics, everybody is talking about community consent. The PM has spoken about that, Kwasi has spoken about that. That’s one thing ministers would want to ensure that communities are to be paid to directly share in community infrastructure close by.”

He added: “The workhorse of Britain’s future energy needs is and will be offshore wind. There will be more onshore wind and it will be in windy parts of Scotland. Let’s see what happens in England.”

John Hayes, the Tory MP and former energy minister who led the charge against onshore wind in 2015, warned the government against overturning the moratorium put in place at that point.

“To reverse that would be extremely politically unwise but also the argument does not stand up in terms of environmental efficiency and energy efficiency,” he said, arguing against an expansion of onshore wind on the grounds of cost, protecting wildlife, and aesthetics.

One Tory MP said there was a WhatsApp group of more than 140 anti-onshore wind Conservative MPs, who would make it very hard for any energy bill with stretching onshore wind targets to pass. “It’s certainly way more than his [Johnson’s] majority,” he said.

Another Conservative MP put the number of rebels at more than 100, adding that the prime minister was not politically strong enough to get such proposals through his own party.

But Chris Skidmore, a Tory MP who runs the net zero support group, said: “We are at a fork in the road here. We either need to double down as Kwasi is doing and saying we need secure forms of homegrown clean energy. You could say look at the North Sea – but it’s gone. We’ve extracted most of it. Fracking – we’re not the States. So what you need is the tripartite plan of wind, nuclear and energy efficiency. There is public support for onshore that there wasn’t 10 years ago.”

Renewable industry sources were not downcast about the government’s plans. “[Johnson] needs to get energy bills down quickly, he’s not going to rule out onshore wind and solar. It’s a case of how you go about doing that in a way that gets it past the nimbys. He was interested in local electricity discount schemes, where the closer you live, the more you get off your bill,” the source said.

It comes as energy scientists criticised Shapp’s comments, in which he claimed onshore wind would be an “eyesore” and destroy the view in beautiful areas.

Dr David Toke, from the University of Aberdeen, said this is false, and that there is plenty of land, for example next to train lines, that is ripe for use.

He told the Guardian: “Only a small proportion of England is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Yet, for, example, there’s very few wind turbines near to motorway routes, which can hardly be classed as beautiful. As you go from England to Scotland by road or rail you will notice a definite increase in the use of land close to transport corridors for windfarms.

“The rules effectively banning windfarms in England are unique to planning in the UK and are a testament to the government’s political inability to mobilise this very cheap and clean source of renewable energy to reduce our energy bills.”

Source:  Opposition in cabinet as well as on backbenches to expansion of turbines in England widely seen as an eyesore | Rowena Mason, Rob Davies and Helena Horton | The Guardian | Tue 5 Apr 2022 | www.theguardian.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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