Energy companies are attempting to overcome planning restrictions on onshore wind farms with an upgrade programme that could make hundreds of existing turbines taller.
Octopus Energy has set its sights on up to 1,000 turbines which it hopes to reconfigure or replace, providing electricity for up to half a million more homes than they currently supply. In many cases the refit would involve installing bigger blades or adding as much as 20 metres to existing turbines’ height.
The private company is seeking to open talks with turbine owners with a view to taking over their generators, “repowering” them and selling their electricity.
It has teamed up with wind turbine maker EWT as part of a plan to overhaul the turbines, many of which are in the North of England, by 2030.
Electricity from the turbines could be sold more cheaply to nearby households when the wind is blowing hard, expanding an existing Octopus tariff.
The proposals, which Octopus said would only go ahead if nearby homeowners approve, risk sparking a backlash among rural families concerned about bigger turbines’ impact on the landscape.
It comes after Tory leadership candidate Rishi Sunak signalled his opposition to new onshore wind turbines and insisted he would scrap plans to relax rules which restrict new projects.
Zoisa North-Bond, chief executive of Octopus Energy Generation, said: “It’s quite difficult to build new models at the moment given where planning sits on onshore wind.
“But with repowering, we have the ability to be able to go in and look at sites which have already been designated and developed for that purpose.
“For turbines coming to the end of their life or those that are not as efficient as they could be, we can go in and put in much more powerful models. In some instances these could power up to two to three times more homes.
“It’s something that could be really imperative to our onshore wind strategy if it’s difficult to build more given current planning restrictions.”
There are about 9,000 onshore wind turbines in Britain, supplying about 10pc of its annual electricity. They are one of the cheapest forms of generation to build.
However, installation has slowed since 2015 when David Cameron excluded the technology from subsidies and tightened planning restrictions, declaring communities were “fed up” with having turbines nearby.
New farms have been eligible for subsidies again this year for the first time since 2015, as the Government tries to boost renewable power supplies to meet net zero targets.
Boris Johnson was earlier this year reported to be poised to relax the planning regime to allow for new farms to be built.
In its energy security strategy published in March, however, the Government said it would not introduce “wholesale changes” to current planning rules for onshore wind.
Instead, it pledged to consult with a “limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, including lower energy bills”.
It stopped short of setting new targets for the technology, unlike ambitious proposals for offshore wind and nuclear power, amid fears of a push-back from MPs.
Mr Sunak, who is currently trailing Liz Truss in the race to become the next Tory party leader, last month said he wanted to “reassure communities” that he would “scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore”.
It comes despite polling last week by an environmental group indicating the majority of Conservative party members back the technology.
In a 2021 YouGov poll commissioned by trade group Renewables UK, 70pc of respondents said they supported the installation of more onshore wind turbines.
Octopus Energy has long had ambitious plans to build more of them.
It bought its first two small turbines in 2021, in South Wales and Yorkshire, generating power for about 500 homes.
Under its ‘fan club’ tariff, households living near the homes get discounts of up to 50pc on their electricity when the wind is blowing hard. It hopes to use this model for many of the turbines it plans to take over and redesign.
It has previously said it wants to spend about £4bn on introducing fan club projects around the world within the decade, up to £2bn of which could be in the UK.
Ms North-Bond added: “There’s a huge untapped opportunity to repower wind turbines that communities have already hosted for many years. This means powering even more homes with cheaper, local, green energy, helping to drive down energy bills and provide energy security.”
Turbines could be made taller to increase output. Ms Zoisa-Bond said: “I was looking at an example the other day where you could get as much as three times the output with a height increase of 10-20 metres.
“So you could increase turbine heights if we had the demand to do so. Even with repowering, you’d always need to go back and speak with local authorities and work with local communities.”
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