“Communities should be obliged to generate at least **% of the power usage in their community.”
‘Those who want a zero-carbon future can now part-own renewable energy projects, and directly benefit from lower and more stable electricity bills over the long-term. The future is consumer-owned renewable energy, and thousands of people in the UK have already joined the movement.’ [Ripple Energy]
In September, the government announced changes to allow local areas to be supported to progress onshore windfarms:
Onshore wind projects supported by local people will be approved more quickly in England, in new measures being brought forward by the government… The government has now streamlined planning rules, meaning local areas have a greater say in how onshore wind projects should be considered, ultimately resulting in electricity bill savings and increased national energy security.
And there has been some positive response locally – from a VGS member getting in touch:
“Interesting that installation of on-shore wind farms may soon be more achievable.
I have an idea that communities (size, boundaries to be defined) should be obliged to generate at least **% of the power usage in their community.
For too long, areas like Sidmouth have exported the ‘inconvenience’ of power generation to other parts of the country, with all it’s pollution, visual challenges, and the like. It is probably the classic and most extensive NIMBYism in the country, and certainly ‘down here’.
Do VGS have any ideas and/or views? Something worthwhile to focus on.“
There are several points to unpack.
NEW PLANNING REGULATIONS:
However, as reported by the FT at the time, these changes to the de facto ban on onshore wind farms in England are not enough, say critics:
Paul Maile, head of planning and infrastructure consenting at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, said the tweaks to the planning rules meant “proposals [for new wind farms] seemingly will not be considered solely upon their planning merits.” He added: “I am therefore sceptical if this will be enough to encourage developers to invest.”
Under the old rules, an onshore wind farm could be blocked if there was a single local objection to the scheme. Then-Conservative prime minister David Cameron brought in the de facto ban soon after winning the 2015 general election, amid fears from Tory MPs and the party membership about a potential backlash from local communities concerned about the impact of turbines on rural landscapes.
Only two new turbines were built in England last year, according to trade body RenewableUK, with development now concentrated in Scotland, where the rules are different.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak initially signalled he would keep the ban in place when he entered Downing Street last year. But he subsequently softened his position in December and launched a consultation on relaxing the rules to head off a potential rebellion by some of his own MPs, who back the technology.
Proponents of the onshore wind argue it is among the cheapest forms of renewable energy and that more is needed to help the UK meet its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. The changes announced by Gove soften the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework, requiring community concerns to be “appropriately addressed” rather than “fully addressed”. They also expand the ways in which an area can be designated as suitable for wind development.
However, critics said the new rules did not go far enough to encourage developers to bring forward new onshore wind projects as they would still be subject to tougher planning rules than other forms of infrastructure. “We will still face a planning system stacked against onshore wind that treats it differently to every other energy source or infrastructure project,” said James Robottom, head of onshore wind for RenewableUK, the trade group. “A lot will be open to interpretation and there are still hurdles to navigate which remain in place.”
Rod Wood, managing director of Community Windpower, one of the UK’s largest onshore wind developers, cautioned that, regardless of planning rules, windfall taxes imposed on electricity generators last year were still holding back investment.
Last month, looking back at how these changes have percolated into local planning applications, the Observer reported that onshore wind projects in England stall as no new applications have been received:
Since early September, when the communities secretary, Michael Gove, and energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, introduced changes to planning rules, claiming these would boost onshore wind investment, there have been no applications to local authorities, according to the industry’s representative body, RenewableUK, which has studied data held by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
The fall-off in onshore wind projects in England contrasts with rapid increases in investment in Germany, France and Sweden.
The collapse will add to growing unease in Whitehall after no one bid for licences in the latest auction for offshore wind projects because the price companies could charge for the energy was set at too low a rate.
LOTS AND LOTS OF WIND:
Meanwhile, the renewable energy sector notes the huge potential, as the UK sets a wind energy record:
Data from the National Grid ESO has shown that the UK set a new wind energy generation record of almost 22GW of clean electricity. The record was set in the half-hour period between 8.00-8.30am on 21 December, providing 56% of Britain’s electricity. This beats the previous record of 21.6GW set on 10 January this year.
RenewableUK Chief Executive Dan McGrail said: “Setting a new wind energy record is a great achievement to celebrate during this festive period. Wind power is taking centre stage in our modern clean energy mix, strengthening our energy security and keeping Britain powered up at the coldest, darkest time of the year.
“In the new year, the renewable energy industry will be working closely with the Government to ensure that we maximise investment in new projects, most critically through the next auction for new clean energy projects, to lower everyone’s energy bills and get us to net zero as fast as possible. We’re calling for Ministers to be ambitious when they set out new parameters in March for next summer’s auction, which we hope will secure a record amount of new renewable energy capacity and boost jobs in the sector.”
But as well as ‘parameters’ such as unattractive price mechanisms for wind energy, the capacity of the system is not yet up to it, as so-called wasted wind power adds £40 to household energy bills:
When it is very windy, the grid cannot handle the extra power generated. Wind farms are paid to switch off and gas-powered stations are paid to fire up. The cost is passed on to consumers.
The government said major reforms will halve the time it takes to build energy networks to cope with extra wind power. Energy regulator Ofgem announced new rules in November, which it said would speed up grid connections.
Most of the UK’s offshore wind farms are in England – Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire is the largest in the world. Meanwhile, around half of onshore wind farms are in Scotland but most electricity is used in south-east England. Carbon Tracker said the main problem in getting electricity to where it is needed is a bottleneck in transmission between Scotland and England. The practice of switching off wind farms and ramping up power stations is known as “wind curtailment” and the costs are passed on to consumers, it said.
LOCAL COMMUNITY WIND POWER:
One way to encourage local community support would be to unlock energy infrastructure, with the UK Onward think tank earlier in the year urging the government to “mandate community benefits for all renewable energy projects and grid infrastructure, and introduce a new “Green Energy Covenant” to provide support and guidance to communities”.
Again, it’s about harnessing wind to benefit rural communities, with the engineering sector realising that “suitably sited wind power generation with strong community support is integral to the decarbonisation of national energy supplies”.
But what about local communities actually owning such energy production projects?
The initiative, situated near Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire, will be fully operational without relying on government price support mechanisms. The funding includes £4 million from Thrive Renewables, a renewable energy investment company, and an additional £1.6 million from Social Investment Scotland, a responsible finance provider. The profits from electricity sales will be reinvested into the local community, potentially funding various community projects.
There’s another very promising project happening in Ayrshire, providing the UK’s biggest community-owned wind farm – spinning citizen-controlled power
Its thousands of members from households and businesses across the UK part-own the assets, representing a new model of popular, non-corporate ownership of clean power set – or so Ripple’s founder Sarah Merrick believes – to transform Britain’s transition to clean energy. Co-op members control their individual investments on a one-person per vote basis via arms-length co-ordinators such as Ripple, and not according to the value of equity they inject.
Ripple Energy is a cooperative which enables you to buy part of a wind farm to power your home – and is very pleased to be part of the UK’s largest community wind farm:
‘Those who want a zero-carbon future can now part-own renewable energy projects, and directly benefit from lower and more stable electricity bills over the long-term. The future is consumer-owned renewable energy, and thousands of people in the UK have already joined the movement.’
And Ripple is doing the same in Devon, offering a ‘shared’ scheme that could save £200 a year, in the construction of a 42MW solar park in Derril Water, not far from the Cornish town of Bude.
Finally, a regular objection to wind turbines and wind farms is that they’re “ugly” – although when it comes to the aesthetics of development, power plants and windfarms can vie for first place. Another refrain is that “wind turbines create pollution and kill birds” – and whilst the likes of the RSBP support the technology, there is the question of what we do with old wind-turbine blades.
There are technologies with much lower impact, however, including bladeless wind turbines and the so-called low-tech wind turbine. And there are clever ideas emerging on solar and wind powering street lights.
Rethinking wind energy: Vortex Bladeless S.L. develops and markets bladeless wind turbines that do not need the shaft, gears, bearings or mechanisms normally worn out by friction.
Illustrated is the Vortex Bladeless model, reinventing the wind energy power solution.
Otherwise, an online search on new wind power technology reveals hundreds of possibilities.
This then, is happening now and will be the future of energy production – locally and worldwide.