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    Voices: Britain can do better than being a delusional Don Quixote over wind farms

    December 7, 2022 - Donnachadh McCarthy


      The UK government’s 2015 ban on the installation of onshore wind farms is the insane poster boy for the democratic, economic and climate shambles of current UK climate policy.

      Despite being the outgoing UN Cop president, we were the only nation on Earth at the conference whose government supported a continuing ban on onshore wind farms. The global south delegations, facing devastating humanitarian and economic impacts from unfolding climate destruction, showed remarkable restraint in refraining from shouting down Rishi Sunak’s glib platitudes.

      Wind is the cheapest form of electricity on the market, around nine times cheaperthan the current price of electricity generated in gas-fired power stations.

      The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) estimates that without the ban, onshore wind could have electrically powered another 1.5 million homes this winter, cutting dependence on soaring fossil gas markets and £800m from consumer bills.

      Some Tory MPs, led by former-levelling up minister Simon Clark, tabled a proposal requiring the government to change planning guidance within six months of the new Levelling Up Bill passing. This would allow local planning committees to grant permission for new wind farms where they have local support.

      The ban is a democratic shambles. It flies in the face of majority support for wind farmsacross the public, political, industrial and media worlds. A recent YouGov poll found that a 67 per cent majority of the public support them, including 65 per cent of rural voters and even 66 per cent of Tory supporters! Only 15 per cent opposed the lifting of the ban.

      Labour supported the amendment, but wanted the planning system to be even more permissive. The Liberal Democrats told this column that they would have voted in favour also. Over 30 Tory MPs signed the amendment, including the outgoing head of Cop26, Alok Sharma, and former Tory prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

      Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, told this column: “Onshore wind would strengthen our energy security and lower bills. It was brilliant that 20 members of our parliamentary caucus signed the amendment. It rightly contains a strong local consent mechanism to ensure it won’t be forced on communities who don’t want it.” The CBI also supports the lifting of the ban, citing it as an example of how the government was blocking green economic growth.

      It was originally introduced by the Cameron government, following a concerted campaign led by the Mailand Telegraph to ban onshore wind farms. The only exception to the ban in England is for solitary domestic sized wind-turbines under 11.1 metres, which are permitted development.

      However, the raw self-harm to the British economy seems to have finally seeped through to some former media opponents.The Sun issued an editorial demanding an end to the ban, as did theTelegraph’s City Editor. Given this huge supportive coalition, who on earth is in favour of the ban?

      It is a small but very powerful mixed bag of right-wingers. The usual suspects in the Mail and Spectatorcontinue writing oppositional columns, with one thundering that “If Rishi Sunak caves into the wind turbine zealots, the lights will go out in Britain and perhaps in his premiership too!”

      The climate-sceptic lobbying group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, maintain oppositionthrough their rebranded “Net Zero Watch” outfit.We approached the Tory MPs’ “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” for comment, but received none. One of the few Tory MPs to go public was John Hayes MP, who declared that wind farms are “stealing the legacy of the landscape for generations to come”.

      And finally, there is Rishi Sunak who supported the ban in his first leadership campaign, bizarrely stating that wind farms cause “distress and disruption”. But the 2019 Tory manifesto is silent on onshore wind, other than a commitment to continue supporting renewables.

      In response to the amendment, the government yesterday announced a “consultation” on weakening the ban, but not abolishing it. It looks set to retain many of its destructive features, including requiring a local council to have formally designated an area for wind energy before a developer can submit a planning application, and a more onerous proof of public support than just the usual vote of the democratically elected planning committee.

      To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

      RenewableUK told this column: “All we want is for the government to allow wind farm developers to apply for planning permission, just like any other developer.” They also want the government to maximise contracts for difference for onshore wind in the next round, as it reduces costs for consumers and enables financing.

      They state that doubling onshore wind by 2030 could add £45bn of growth to the economy, with 27,000 well-paid jobs and cut a staggering £16bn from consumer bills in the intervening years. And crucially, it would cut six million tons of CO2 per year. Onshore wind is now so cheap, it needs no state subsidies. But it does need the national grid infrastructure to be ready to connect its farms to the grid.

      It really would be a democratic outrage if Rishi Sunak’s “consultation” retains most of the restrictions as a fudge to keep both wings of his party united. The government does not need to pass legislation to end the ban. It can just simply tweak the National Plan Policy Framework to do so.

      So, if you live in a Tory constituency, especially if you are a Tory or floating voter, please politely email your Tory MP demanding wind-energy be treated like any other developer. Britain must stop being the lone Trumpian Don Quixote, aiming our lances at non-existent windmill demons! It is not only shameful in a global climate crisis – it’s embarrassing.


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