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07/04/2022

Approval times for offshore wind to be cut as part of energy strategy

Words: Laura Edgar
Wind farm construction of the English coast / iStock-1216475141

The UK Government has announced that it will use planning reforms to cut approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one as part of its British Energy Security Strategy.

It sets out how Great Britain will accelerate the deployment of wind, new nuclear, solar and hydrogen power and builds on the prime minister's 10-point plan, published in November 2020.

In the near term it supports the production of domestic oil and gas.

The strategy has been published two days after the IPCC published its Sixth Assessment Report, which emphasised that to limit global warming major transitions in the energy sector will be required. This will involve a "substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification and improved energy efficiency”.

The government is seeking to deliver up to 50GW by 2030 of offshore wind power, which it says is “more than enough to power every home in the UK”. Of this, it wants up to 5GW to come from floating offshore wind in deeper seas.

The government says the British Energy Security Strategy will increase the number of clean jobs in the UK by supporting:

  • 90,000 jobs in offshore wind by 2028, which is 30,000 more than previously expected.
  • 10,000 jobs in solar power by 2028 – almost double the government's previous expectations.
  • 12,000 jobs in the UK hydrogen industry by 2030, which is 3,000 more than previously expected.

This will be underpinned by new planning reforms that will cut the approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year. There will also be an overall streamlining to “radically reduce” the time it takes for new projects to reach construction stages while improving the environment. Offshore wind prices have fallen by around 65 per cent since 2015.

Despite onshore wind prices reducing by 50 per cent since 2013, which the government acknowledges, consultations will be held on developing partnerships with “a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills”.

The government's ambition is that up to 24GW by 2050 will come from nuclear power, which it describes as “safe, clean and reliable”. This would represent up to around 25 per cent of Britain's projected electricity demand. Small modular reactors form part of the nuclear project pipeline, if the technology allows.

As part of the nuclear ambitions, a government body, Great British Nuclear, will be established immediately to bring forward projects. It will be backed by “substantial funding”. The £120 million Future Nuclear Enabling Fund will be launched this month.

The government is committed to progressing work on up to eight reactors, equivalent to one reactor a year instead of one a decade, including Wylfa site in Anglesey.

The strategy also features:

  • Increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, which could grow up to five times by 2035, consulting on the rules for solar projects, particularly on domestic and commercial rooftops. The government says residential rooftop solar panels are now less than half the price they were 10 years ago.
  • Oil and gas: A licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects planned to launch in autumn, with a new task force providing bespoke support to new developments – recognising the importance of these fuels to the transition and to the nation’s energy security, and that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than that imported from abroad.
  • Heat pump manufacturing: The government will run a Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition in 2022, worth up to £30 million to make British heat pumps “which reduce demand for gas”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the strategy “will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills”.

The British Energy Strategy has been published at a time when global energy prices are rising, with more pressure coming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The government argues that consumer bills will be lower this decade than they would have been had it not taken the measures it has.

Energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “We have seen record high gas prices around the world. We need to protect ourselves from price spikes in the future by accelerating our move towards cleaner, cheaper, home-grown energy.

“The simple truth is that the more cheap, clean power we generate within our borders, the less exposed we will be to eye watering fossil fuel prices set by global markets we can’t control.

"Scaling up cheap renewables and new nuclear, while maximising North Sea production, is the best and only way to ensure our energy independence over the coming years.”


Reaction:

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance said: “It is unbelievably reckless for the UK Government to put its foot down on the accelerator and expand production of the oil and gas that is speeding us towards further climate devastation.

“By doubling down on oil and gas, they are keeping us locked in an unaffordable and destructive energy system that is only delivering billions in profits for oil companies whilst millions of people are forced to choose between heating and eating.

“There is a massive gaping hole where there should have been energy-efficiency measures to improve people’s homes to make them warmer, greener and cut their bills.

“Whilst the announcement on growing offshore wind is a positive step, it is fatally undermined by new expanding fossil fuels and commitment to create a toxic legacy for thousands of years from new nuclear power.

“The Scottish Government is due to publish its own energy strategy later this year and it must deliver what the UK Government has failed to do – commit to an end to new fossil fuels, increase renewables, provide support for insulating homes and deliver a Just Transition for workers and communities.”

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Danny Gross commented: “Households are facing soaring bills and need help right now. The quickest way the government can do this is through renewables and funding a council-led, street-by-street free insulation programme.

“By targeting those most in need first we can make sure fewer people face dire circumstances next winter when the cold weather bites. Instead, the astonishing lack of action on energy efficiency will leave people freezing, desperate and out of pocket next winter.

“This fails as a strategy, as it does not do the most obvious things that would reduce energy demand and protect households from price hikes.

“Delving deeper into the UK’s treasure trove of renewables is the surest path to meeting our energy needs – not the fool’s gold of fossil fuels.

“The acceleration in developing offshore wind is certainly welcome, but ministers must go further and make the most of the UK’s massive onshore wind resources. Wind turbines are fast to build, popular with the public and could provide cash-strapped households with huge quantities of cheap renewable power.  

“Nuclear power is not the solution either. New nuclear power stations would take well over a decade to build and they’re expensive, hazardous and produce waste that will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years. We have been here before, with eight nuclear sites announced in 2010. Over a decade on, the only one under construction is seriously behind schedule and over budget, with a price far above current renewables.

“Other countries have taken much bolder action to meet the scale of the challenge. Britain can – and must – raise its ambition, to ensure everyone has access to clean, affordable energy."  

At the moment, as Hedley Planning Services points out, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in England states that new onshore wind turbines cannot be granted permission unless an area is identified as suitable for wind energy in a local or neighbourhood plan. It also needed to be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed.

Joe Ridgeon, a director at Hedley Planning Services, commented: “The government needed to be braver and bolder because onshore wind could have been the quick win needed here. It isn’t the change in the onshore wind planning system that many were hoping for to help meet our energy needs for generations to come.

“More onshore wind turbines would contribute significantly to a virtually zero-carbon economy with ambitions for achieving net zero. This would see the UK no longer adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Investment in these technologies would create jobs and opportunity across the region’s burgeoning renewable energy sector as new investment comes forward and individual homeowners, landowners and businesses look to secure their own future energy needs with wind turbine schemes.”

He says developing partnerships with only a limited number of supportive communities does not go far enough. “Differentiating small wind turbines from larger onshore wind farms and understanding the benefits and low visual impact they bring, could be hugely significant. Moreover, farms and rural landowners would be able to return energy control to UK businesses, helping them to become more competitive on the back of a reduced carbon footprint and improved UK energy security."

RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail believes that the strategy “puts the rocket boosters” under the UK’s transition to renewable energy and will cut consumer bills.

“The new targets mean that our world-leading offshore wind industry will do the heavy lifting in getting Britain permanently off the hook of gas power by boosting our nation's home-grown energy supply. Reforms to speed up the planning system and how quickly we connect new offshore wind are essential to meet these new ambitions.  

“We need to make use of every tool in the box to boost our energy independence, so it’s right that government is looking again at planning rules so that onshore wind can proceed in parts of England where there is support, as it's the cheapest source of new power and the quickest to build.

“Ramping up the roll-out of innovative technologies is vital too, and the increased targets for green hydrogen and floating wind will help us to build up new industries. Producing renewable hydrogen using electricity from wind will provide valuable flexibility to our future clean energy system, replacing gas in a wide variety of sectors like industry, transport and heating.  

“In the short term, we have a unique opportunity to boost renewables by maximising the amount of capacity we can secure in the current clean power auction, and step up in each subsequent annual auction to the hilt. Another key priority is ensuring that the regulator Ofgem has a clear mandate to enable investment in vital new grid infrastructure we need to deliver projects on time and at lowest cost”.

Joshua Carson, head of policy at Blackstock Consulting, argues that the “biggest barrier” to achieving the government’s aims will be the “extraordinarily“ long public consultation and inquiry process when planning proposals are submitted.

“While there is top-level ambition to achieve clean, green energy created in the UK, an archaic approach to planning for nationally significant infrastructure remains a critical stopping block to the transition to net zero. Excess and often round-about local consultation, which can take over a decade in some cases, is one a series of constraints to delivery which needs serious re-examination if we’re to tackle energy security with the urgency the government is suggesting.”

Brian Berry, chief executive at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The Energy Security Strategy completely misses the mark in tackling energy consumption in our homes. After the disappointment of the Heat and Buildings Strategy this was an opportunity for government to implement a national retrofit strategy, focussing on improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty and leaky homes. While the strategy does deliver 0 per cent VAT on energy efficiency improvements to properties, a welcome move that the FMB has long been campaigning for, this only helps those with the money to pay in the first place. A broader, insulation led, retrofit strategy would have been an immediate solution to reduce energy consumption, boost the economy and importantly, help save homeowners money on their bills during a cost-of-living crises.”

Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden, said: “We are shocked that in the same week the UN has warned it would be political and economic madness to invest in fossil fuels, the UK government has decided to do just that as the strategy includes the issuing of new licences for oil and gas in the North Sea.    

“The UK Government needs to learn its ‘3 Rs’ - Rapid transition away from fossil fuels, more renewables and major retrofits. The UK should be diversifying supply by concentrating all efforts into quick and cheap renewable energies.  

“But this strategy will be meaningless if we fritter away that energy once we get it. That is why the government needs to fully prioritise energy efficiency measures, alongside the welcome measures on heat pumps, that turn cold houses into cosy homes, and help hard-pressed families save on their energy bills.   

“We must invest now in a national campaign to retrofit the UK’s cold and draughty housing stock, including the specialist skills needed to carry out the work. This will boost local businesses, create new jobs, and support the government’s net-zero and levelling-up targets.”


Image credit | iStock

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