Onshore windfarms need not blight the most beautiful parts of England because there is plenty of room for them next to rail lines and on brownfield land, leading scientists have said.
The government decided to keep the curbs on onshore wind, introduced by David Cameron, in the recent energy strategy. This means that it will be difficult to expand onshore wind in England.
It came after the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the turbines were an “eyesore”. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, emphasised his support for offshore wind but did not noticeably back onshore wind.
Scientists have said that the contrast between policy in England and Scotland, which has devolved and less strict regulation of onshore windfarms, is made clear when travelling between the two countries.
Dr David Toke, from the University of Aberdeen, said: “As you go from England to Scotland by road or rail you will notice a definite increase in the use of land close to transport corridors for windfarms. The rules effectively banning windfarms in England are unique to planning in the UK. They are a testament to the government’s political inability to mobilise this very cheap and clean source of renewable energy to reduce our energy bills.”
Relaxed planning rules more akin to those in Scotland would not allow windfarms to be built in areas of outstanding natural beauty or other protected landscapes, researchers said.
Dr Rebecca Windemer, a lecturer in environmental planning at the University of the West of England, said: “If the planning rules on windfarms in England are changed then designated landscapes that are traditionally regarded as beautiful, ie national parks, would remain protected by their designations. Also, as windfarms can only be developed in areas with adequate wind resources, we would not see windfarms being developed everywhere.
“A revised planning policy should also give local communities the opportunity to say whether they feel that their local landscape is suitable for windfarms and to judge if the benefits outweigh the visual impact.”
A recent study by scientists at the University of Sussex and Denmark’s Aarhus University has found that if windfarms were established on the available and appropriate land, they could meet 140% of the UK and Ireland’s energy demand.
Although not all of this land would be used, in the interest of preserving biodiversity, the researchers said that the research showed how much potential onshore wind has to solve the energy crisis.
Prof Peter Enevoldsen, who worked on the report, said: “Our study revealed that the UK and Ireland had the potential to generate 2,150 TWh of energy from onshore wind, assuming a realistic capacity factor of 28%, which was the mean capacity factor of onshore wind turbines in the UK in 2020.”
He added that the UK and Ireland’s combined onshore and offshore wind generation in 2020 only met 4% of the onshore energy potential shown in the study. “Meeting the onshore potential would equal 140% of the UK and Ireland’s entire energy demand in 2020,” he said.
However, onshore wind is being ignored by policymakers in favour of nuclear power.
Co-author Benjamin Sovacool, a professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist. Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100% renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically.
“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”
Experts have also said that expanding onshore wind could empower communities by reducing their bills and giving them a stake in their local infrastructure.
Jake Burnyeat, the managing director of Communities for Renewables CIC, said: “Onshore wind is low-cost generation – less than 5p per kilowatt-hour compared with 9p for nuclear and current wholesale electricity prices, which are more than 12p. Polls and citizens’ assemblies show broad public support for onshore wind. Given onshore wind is cheap and popular, why is the government preventing it in England?
“If we are going to reintroduce onshore wind, how can the host communities benefit? Low-cost electricity is a good idea, but our energy market currently makes that very difficult. We think local communities should have a right to buy a meaningful share of any windfarm – maybe 20% or one in five turbines. The community could then use surplus income (after operating and finance costs) to fund net zero transition and fuel poverty projects in the surrounding locality.
“The ‘right to buy’ should be at cost, so that the community can make surplus, and the local ownership should be by an asset-locked not-for-profit body with a local purpose. Rather than just offering cheap electricity, we’d like to see windfarms funding the low-energy retrofit of the houses surrounding them; providing long-term bill reductions and energy savings; and creating local jobs.”