In 2015 David Cameron began a strategy that placed planning barriers on new wind projects in England effectively removing central government backing. This resulted in a 95% reduction of planning applications by 2018. In addition, onshore wind farms and solar power were prevented from bidding for long-term clean energy contracts that are available to other forms of renewable power.
On Monday of this week however, the UK government finally ended the block on new onshore wind turbines after four years and announced that the next round of clean energy auctions would include both onshore wind and solar technologies once again.
Why the change of heart?
Johnson’s move is a result of a number of factors, not least the lower prices of power generated by wind farms, making electricity cheaper than alternative forms of low-carbon alternatives such as nuclear power.
In addition, the government’s strategy to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is unlikely to be met without making the most of every form of renewable technology available, including wind and solar.
The Conservative’s original energy manifesto covered a number of initiatives that pledged large scale investment in green technologies. At the time, Johnson’s opponents called him a tactical player, making promises he had no intention of keeping in order to win over the 25% of Britons that now count “environmental concerns” as one of their top 3 political issues.
Furthermore, following his election, Johnson promised to make the UK “the cleanest, greenest country on earth with the most far-reaching environmental policy”. What many considered an empty promise appears to be coming to fruition, at least on the basis of Monday’s announcement.
Under the new plans announced this week, wind farm and solar projects will be eligible to apply for a new “contracts for difference (CFDs” auction in 2021, potentially resulting in new wind farms being built as soon as 4 or 5 years from now. Onshore wind in particular is now so cheap to generate that its floor price is expected to be at or lower than current market prices making it free of government subsidy.
Monday’s announcement is a start – however for onshore wind to truly take hold, In England planning blocks on turbines will need to be lifted. In contrast, Scotland, lacking the onerous planning rules present in England, has already drawn up a list of a number of potential wind farm projects north of the border.
Ahead of this year’s global climate talks in Glasgow, the UK’s approach to environmental sustainability is stepping up its game. As fracking is fighting to survive, solar and onshore wind comes to the fore once more. Coupled with plans to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, could this be the beginning of a new era that truly sees the end of fossil fuels?
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