Talking to your MP about wind energy

The UK is the windiest country in Europe meaning we could power ourselves several times over using wind power alone. According to the Energy Savings Trust 40% of all wind in Europe blows over the UK. Therefore, wind power can play an important part in the UK’s energy mix.

Onshore Wind

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Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of electricity generation in the UK, though only 8% of MPs are aware of this. Government data shows that over 3/4s (73%) of the public now support the use of onshore wind and only 2% strongly oppose. However, a 2018 survey found that MPs consistently overestimate opposition to onshore wind, with 52% of MPs believing that strong opposition to onshore wind is over 20%. It is therefore clear that among MPs, there can be confusion around the levels of opposition to onshore wind, so it is important to highlight to your MP these high levels of public support for onshore wind.

Government Policy

Once the current projects are complete, there are very few plans to build any more onshore wind farms due to a lack of government support since 2015:

  • The UK government has introduced stricter planning rules on onshore wind, which effectively halt the development of new projects. 10:10’s analysis of the government renewable energy database found a 94% drop in planning applications for onshore wind since these planning conditions were introduced. These planning conditions also add to consumer energy bills given than onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy in the UK.
  • The 2015 Conservative Manifesto promised no subsidies for new onshore wind projects, making them financially unviable. Price reductions of onshore wind, improved technology as well as a maturing industry now mean that the industry does not actually need subsidies. However, onshore wind developments do still need a centrally agreed fixed price contract*, which are currently unavailable despite being available for fossil fuels, biomass, nuclear and offshore wind.

Despite the above, over the past year, Ministers for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have made several positive public comments over the last year, including Claire Perry telling parliament that government are actively working on a way to bring forward new wind projects. This is a great time to push for action.

Consideration of the landscape and wildlife

It is important to take into account arguments surrounding landscape and wildlife, though given increasing public support for onshore wind, what is effectively a blanket ban across the whole of the UK limits development anywhere. There is still great potential for onshore wind development that takes nature into consideration. For example, the RSPB estimate that the UK has the potential to generate 140TWh/year from onshore wind at sites was there is low ecological risk. 60% of this capacity is in England, and represents enough to power 20 million homes.

Economic case for onshore wind

The Government stated in the Clean Growth Strategy that they would keep energy costs as low as possible for households and businesses, yet current policy limits the development of the cheapest form of energy in the UK. In the latest report from the Committee on Climate Change, a key recommendation to the government is to support cheap, low cost options, which onshore wind certainly is.

ECIU compared the economic cost of onshore wind to other forms of energy:

  • Compared to nuclear and biomass, onshore wind is cheaper by more than £100 million per year.
  • Compared to offshore wind, onshore wind is £30 million cheaper.

The UK also risks losing its competitive advantage. Projects announced in the years leading up to 2020 are due to support around 18 GW of onshore capacity, though none of this will be in the UK.

Repowering wind farms

ECIU, in their report Repower to the People also point out that a particularly cost-effective move could be to upgrade and repower wind farms that are at the end of their life. With around 750 wind turbines coming to the end of their terms in the next five years, the UK will face a decision over whether to dismantle the sites or upgrade them. Due to improvements in wind turbine technology, upgrading the sites would lead to significant increases in capacity and would be highly cost effective given the rapidly falling costs of the technology. Repowering these turbines would produce enough energy to power at least 800,000 homes.

You can read the full report from ECIU referenced above here.

*Fixed price contract:the payment does not depend on the resources used or time taken. These contracts are used to control costs.

Offshore wind

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The UK is the world leader in offshore wind and in June 2018 it was reported that the UK topped the global offshore wind league table. According to Renewable UK (2018) the UK currently has 13GW of installed or contracted capacity. It is also becoming increasingly cost competitive and less reliant on subsidies. The cost of new offshore wind has fallen by almost 50% since 2015, making the technology cheaper than both gas and nuclear.

Currently, offshore wind powers the equivalent of 4.5 million homes per year in the UK, and by 2020 will generate more than 10% of UK electricity (Renewable UK). By 2030 it has the potential to supply over a third of the UK’s power needs. A recent report highlights how the industry is investing in communities across the UK- over the next 4 years the industry is expected to invest over £17.5 billion in offshore wind projects, regenerating local economies across the UK.

An industry of innovation

Innovation in the offshore wind industry is happening at a fast pace, with developers expecting to install 15MW turbines in the future- the largest models currently installed are 8MW. Also transmission technology is fast developing, with cables using 66kV technology rather than 33kV are currently being installed. This enables increased power transmission back to shore.

Plans have been announced to invest £48 billion and increase capacity to 30GW by 2030. In order to achieve this the offshore wind industry is seeking to negotiate a sector deal with the government; the sector can assist the UK in achieving its climate change targets. 

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What can I ask my MP to do?

  • Ask your MP to write to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) about the changes to the national planning guidelines in England and how they effectively block new onshore wind projects. Currently, HCLG are making a decision on the final wording of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which includes the wording for the planning block on onshore wind. Now is a great time to ask your MP to challenge the HCLG.
  • Another ask for the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government could be ‘how will you support community energy projects in the planning system given that it is all but impossible for communities to bring forward wind projects?’ Read our resource on community energy here
  • Many MPs think that onshore wind is expensive and disliked by the public. Why not have a conversation with your MP with the message that onshore wind is cheap and popular? Using case studies can be a good way to get this across. We can help more with this and we would be delighted to help- contact us here. Your MP has to know a little about a lot so you can play an important role in educating your MP on this issue.
  • In their 2015 manifesto, the government stated that they would 'halt the spread of subsidised onshore wind.’ In 2017 this was updated to 'large-scale onshore wind is not right for England.’ So technically, there is no manifesto block on bringing forward onshore wind subsidies at the moment. The government are instead trying to ensure that projects don't end up in England. It may be helpful to clarify this for your MP because if they choose to approach this issue with the relevant ministers on your behalf, the response may be that there is no ban on onshore wind/no manifesto commitment against all wind projects. 
  • You could ask your MP to write to the government requesting that it overturns its 2015 promise of no subsidies for onshore wind projects. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (2017) estimates that this ban adds roughly £100 million per year to energy bills.
  • You could discuss with your MP the benefits of repowering wind farms that are approaching the end of their lives. Perhaps they would be willing to raise this point on your behalf in Parliament.
  • Highlight to your MP the ability of onshore wind to meet the Government’s target of lowering energy bills for households and businesses. You could ask your MP to write to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, to ask how the government plans to lower energy bills without the use of onshore wind.
  • You could ask your MP to support a sector deal for the Offshore Wind Industry. It could be particularly useful to highlight that the deal could lead to 11 000 new skilled jobs and significant reductions in consumer costs.

Further Resources

10:10 have a wonderful 'Wind Power Pack' available for further help on meeting with your MP on wind energy. Amongst other things, the packs include a fair-trade cotton tote bag and a guide on talking about wind power to your MP and your friends. Head to their website and purchase one for £7 here.

Date of Publication: 4.07.2018

Date of update: 27.07.2018