– in the House of Lords at 11:52 am on 19th November 2021.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet and thank everyone who has put down their name to speak in today’s debate. I also express my gratitude to RenewableUK for its excellent briefing session for me and colleagues on the Bill.
In their net-zero strategy, the Government confirmed that a mix of renewables would be needed to achieve their 2035 goal of decarbonisation of the power sector through
“40GW of offshore wind by 2030, with more onshore, solar, and other renewables”.
The strategy also stated that it would:
“Ensure the planning system can support the deployment of low carbon energy infrastructure”.
The Bill before the House today is simple and straightforward—it is basically one clause—and it aims to support the Government’s policies as set out in those quotations by requiring the Government to amend planning guidance to enable local authorities to grant more onshore wind applications for the purpose of meeting the UK’s carbon targets.
We need renewable energy of all types. The Government have set ambitious targets for offshore wind and have plans for nuclear, but they have not yet set a target for onshore wind and there are real obstacles to this in the planning system.
The Climate Change Committee’s progress report to Parliament highlighted this policy gap, stating:
“While onshore wind and solar are now eligible for CfDs”— contracts for difference—
“there is no clear medium- to long-term ambition.”
It went on to highlight as a priority recommendation for 2022 to:
“Address potential barriers to deploying and using low-carbon generation at scale (e.g. the planning and consenting regime for renewables and networks, exposure to climate risks) and, with Ofgem, develop a framework under which sufficient supply resilience can be ensured.”
Onshore wind is part of the renewable mix we depend on at the moment. Between April and June 2020, renewables generated nearly 45% of the UK’s electricity, with onshore wind generating 20% of that, but that will need to increase if the Government are to meet their targets.
Previously, contracts for difference did not include onshore wind, a problem addressed in the previous Bill I brought before your Lordships’ House. That issue has now been resolved—albeit in the short term, because there is still more work to be done regarding frequency of auctions—with the Government including onshore wind in the next contracts for difference allocation round.
Given the practicalities of geography of our country, most of the most suitable sites for future onshore wind may well be in Scotland, where the windiest sites are, but England and Wales will still have a contribution to make in providing onshore wind in the right places. However, barriers in our planning system mean that we are not playing our part at the moment, with planning authorities consenting to less than half the annual onshore wind capacity needed for us to remain on track to meet net zero by 2050.
I absolutely understand that there are those who have anxieties about onshore wind in the wrong places. I want to make it clear that this is not a Bill that aims to dictate to local authorities that they must approve onshore wind, but it is an attempt to provide a more balanced approach to allow them to approve projects in a way much more in line with the normal planning approval process for other renewables and infrastructure more generally.
Current guidance is based on the 2015 ministerial Statement and requires that local planning authorities should grant planning permission for onshore wind developments only if the development site is an area identified as suitable for wind energy development—as is absolutely right—in a local or neighbourhood plan and, crucially, if it can be demonstrated that the concerns of the local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has its full backing. This means that a wind farm cannot receive planning permission unless it has the unanimous support of the local community, so that one recalcitrant person in a community can stand in the way of a development that everyone else wants.
The change in guidance in 2015 has led to a dramatic decline in onshore wind applications. According to government figures, there were eight applications for onshore wind projects in the period 2016-20, compared with 237 between 2011 and 2015—a 96% decrease.
Clause 1 of my Bill seeks to move us from the current situation and take us back to a framework that balances suitability and ensures that decisions can be made at a local level in a way that industry understands. It is neither fair nor sensible to have a system that makes it much harder to develop onshore wind compared with other renewables.
The ministerial Statement which gave rise to the current regime was based on a perception of wide-scale public opposition to wind farms, but times have changed since 2015 and there is now far greater public awareness of the need for our energy sector to be decarbonised. With that awareness of the climate crisis we face, public support for onshore wind has grown. A July 2021 Survation poll found that 70% of the public support the development of onshore wind and 83% support a less punitive planning system.
In October, a European Climate Foundation poll found that 67% of people would support the construction of a wind farm onshore near where they actually live—and from an environmental perspective, things have moved on, too. A lot has been learned about how developments can fit in with nature and the local environment. Environmental NGOs such as the RSPB and Friends of the Earth support planning reform, as they recognise the essential role of renewable energy in addressing climate change, with the RSPB saying that
“we believe this growth can be achieved in harmony with, rather than at the expense of, the natural environment”.
With thorough environmental impact assessment, locating sites away from sensitive sites or important migration routes, and developers working closely with local communities, as I believe happens in Scotland, it is possible to find a balance and ensure that developments are compatible with the landscape and have community support. Renewable UK, in its Onshore Wind Prospectus, highlights the potential benefits of wind farms, such as peatland restoration, wildflower meadow creation, community benefit funds and improvement to outdoor access and recreation facilities. This is not just theory. Cornwall Council’s climate emergency development plan demonstrates how this balance can be achieved by allocating suitable areas for onshore wind, in consultation with the local community. This Bill would ensure guidance that encourages this line of approach.
The Bill is not concerned only with changing the guidance in relation to new sites. Clause 1(2)(c) covers the important issue of repowering existing wind farms. We urgently need a policy environment that supports this. If we cannot repower existing wind farms, we risk losing 8 gigawatts of existing onshore wind capacity when they come to the end of their lives. So we also need a planning system that supports the replacement of existing turbines with modern, more powerful and more cost-efficient ones. Can the Minister comment on that point when he replies? I know that he is acutely aware that this is the critical decade for climate, and I hope he will agree that we need a different approach to planning for onshore wind.
My Bill concentrates on the net-zero imperative for a more balanced planning regime, but there are also economic benefits of onshore wind, which is significantly cheaper than offshore wind and could help support the Government’s levelling-up agenda, as many of the windiest places are located in rural or less affluent parts of the UK. Renewable UK has published an Onshore Wind Prospectus, urging the Government to set a target for onshore wind of 30 gigawatts by 2030, to run annual contracts for difference auctions and to reform Ofgem—particularly to include net zero in its remit. Renewable UK estimates that this additional onshore wind capacity would boost a green recovery by providing £45 billion of gross value added to the UK economy; 57,000 full-time jobs, which would help support a just transition; 60 million tonnes of CO2 removal, equivalent to 1 million cars off the road; and £16.3 billion paid back to consumers through £25 per year given back to each household on their energy bills.
To conclude, we need a clear policy from government to help achieve our net-zero targets, give long-term certainty and clarity to investors and reduce bills for consumers through the cheapest form of renewable energy, onshore wind. I hope that my Bill is a first step to setting out a clear medium to long-term ambition for onshore wind and addressing the barriers to deployment of low-carbon generation at scale, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. I look forward very much to the contributions of noble Lords and hope very much for a positive response from the Minister. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of this Bill, tabled by my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I declare my interest as a co-chair of the Peers for the Planet group.
As has been eloquently expressed, onshore wind is our cheapest as well as a hugely trusted and now well-developed form of renewable electricity. It has been providing 10% of our electricity, or around that, from 2018. However, it has seen something of a huge decline in England and Wales, thanks to changes introduced in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto. One of the two barriers, as has already been discussed, is around the fact that contracts were no longer being provided for support for these technologies. The Government deserve praise for addressing that, and we will soon see an auction for CfDs in which onshore wind can compete, which is a great step forward. However, in England and Wales specifically, we still see a very considerable barrier to development through planning guidance, which was also changed.
I do not need to repeat it, but I will stress that the two factors requiring that onshore wind must be featured in a local plan in an identified area, and the decision that it should receive the full backing of the local community, generate a huge amount of uncertainty for developers and create a distortion in planning, because normal planning would not require this for other forms of renewable energy. Could the Minister tell us how many local authorities have introduced local area plans where onshore wind is identified as being allowed? Could he also tell us how he defines the term “the full backing of the community”? It seems to leave a huge amount open to judgment for local planners, which is what is deterring developers—to such an extent that we saw a 96% drop in applications between 2016 and 2020. We absolutely need to see new planning guidance, with clarity that allows appropriate developments that achieve the right balance to come forward.
Times have changed since 2015. We have just seen the international climate talks conclude in Glasgow, where it became absolutely clear that we all need to do much more to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and that countries such as the UK, which is in a very fortunate position to be able to lead, should be leading, and considering what more we can do. Onshore wind has been a huge success, and it has been stalled; it is time to bring it back, so we can use it to meet our zero-carbon electricity target for 2035.
Meeting that target will be made much more difficult through the natural ageing of our existing onshore wind infrastructure. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, described the fact that we will start to see capacity fall off from our onshore wind industry, and by 2027 to 2030 we could lose 3.6 gigawatts, which could rise to 8 gigawatts by 2040. That is enough to power 5 million homes. How are we going to reach our zero-emissions target in 2035 if we are losing that scale of capacity from this trusted source of clean power?
The good news is that, if we do repower existing sites, we can expect to see more power out, for less footprint. A study from Renewables UK in 2019 said that 19 sites had been repowered to date and that that had increased capacity by 160%, with one-third fewer turbines. So this is absolutely a win-win for everybody, if we can allow the repowering of sites to come forward. The communities that have wind farms in their landscapes are already accustomed to them, and many people have found that the objections they feared before they were built have fallen away on them being actually brought into being, and that in fact they see many benefits.
I also reiterate the point about cost savings. This is the cheapest form of renewable electricity available to us; indeed, it is the cheapest form of electricity full stop. A Vivid Economics study in June 2019 estimated that, if we reached 35 gigawatts in 2035—that would be adding an extra 20-plus gigawatts to current levels—we would see a 7% reduction in our electricity bills compared with continuing to use gas. That report was written in 2019, and we all know that we have seen very high volatility in gas prices since then.
It is absolutely clear that we should not be dependent on imported gas for our energy security. It will not provide us with the reliable and cheap electricity that we need to reach our targets. Many noble Lords will hopefully instinctively understand this: when I was working in the power industry, we knew that gas demand spiked with wind; when there was a windy night in winter, we knew that gas demand would rise. So why not harness the wind in those periods, so that we can reduce our reliance on gas?
I conclude by saying—as has been said before—that this is not just an environmental question, it is one of development, jobs, investment in supply chains, winning exports and Britain leading in the world again. In 2015, times were very different. In the six years since then, climate change has risen up the agenda, the public are aware and people care—the youth of today are demanding more of us. I fully support the Bill and hope that the Minister will provide us with a positive response. This is something we can do today to unlock huge investment and get those millions, billions and trillions flowing into clean energy, which we need to see if we are to meet our Paris targets. So I hope that we will have a good debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this important Bill. Countless reports have strongly recommended much greater investment in renewable energy. Without such investment, the UK is extremely unlikely to reach its net-zero carbon target by 2050. One such report, which UCL and Vivid Economics submitted to the Climate Change Committee, recommended:
“Significant new renewable generation capacity is needed to accommodate rapid uptake of electric vehicles and hybrid heat pumps”.
Without it, those changes will not really be able to take place. The report goes on to say:
“Over the period to 2035, up to 35 GW onshore wind … could be needed.”
Moreover, the Net Zero Strategy recognises the need for more onshore wind, stating that carbon budget 6
“also requires a sustained increase to the deployment of land-based renewables such as locally supported onshore wind and solar in the 2020s and beyond.”
The problem is that it fails to set out how this is to be achieved. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister could tell the House what assessment the Government have made of the recommendation of 35 gigawatts of onshore wind by 2035.
As has been said by both the previous speakers, one great advantage of onshore wind is that its cost is relatively low. Indeed, it is the lowest-cost form of new electricity generation, so much so that the cost of electricity from onshore wind projects is currently lower than the wholesale electricity price. Forecasts suggest that it will become even cheaper, providing considerable benefit to consumers—and we must think about the consumers in this area. It has been calculated that 30 gigawatts of onshore wind by 2030 would create approximately £16.3 billion of consumer payback, cutting energy bills by £25 per year.
The fact that the Government have included onshore wind in the next auction round for contracts for difference is therefore very welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, more clarity on this with respect to the longer term would lead to greater certainty for investors as well as cheaper electricity for consumers. At present, auctions are approximately every two years. Renewable UK recommends annual auctions. More frequent auctions would reduce the risk for investors by increasing the availability of finance and bringing down costs even further, allowing investment to happen at lower capital cost. So would the Government be prepared to commit to annual CfD auctions for onshore wind as part of a long-term plan? It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm this.
I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to updating the energy national policy statements so that there can be even greater clarity on the need and urgency for low-carbon infrastructure. Can the Minister tell the House what the progress of the review in respect of nationally significant infrastructure projects has been? Since 2008, onshore projects have not been included following changes to the Planning Act 2008; nor was this rectified in 2015, which was disappointing. Will they now be mentioned?
I end by supporting everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about the planning process. I hope that the Minister accepts the polling evidence about public opinion on this issue, which is very positive, and that when he responds to the debate he will be able to give the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the answers she sought on planning, so that the bids for onshore projects may get consent in greater numbers in the future.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this Bill. It is absolutely crucial that we address the barriers that have led to onshore wind being neglected and planning applications for it plummeting since the ministerial Statement of 2015 changed the rules on planning guidance. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and other speakers have said a great deal about the planning process and the barriers that face onshore wind, so I will not repeat much of what they have said.
What I really want to concentrate on is why I think it is so important that we use everything in our arsenal to tackle the climate emergency. It was in 1989 that I left the job I was doing then to go back to my scientific roots, to find out what it was that was causing concern about the climate—I was already concerned about the environment in any case. I left to start a master’s in environmental technology at Imperial College. The talk then among the students, and a lot of the lecturers, was about the amount of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere, and that it was beginning to rise. The Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii was monitoring it. There was some cause for concern and real agreement among everyone that we had to, at all costs, keep carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to below 400 parts per million. In 2013, the Mauna Loa observatory recorded that 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been breached. Today, the figure stands at 417 parts per million.
Ice cores from the British Antarctic Survey, among other sources, show us that over the last 800,000 years, since we started to collect records of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, we have never seen concentrations above 300 parts per million. So we are now in uncharted territory. We are seeing extreme weather events that mean we must act urgently. So to me it is a no-brainer that we must do everything we can to get proven, reliable sources of renewable energy that are scalable and cheap and that provide jobs—and we must do that as soon as possible.
Onshore wind is really cheap. There has been some concern about the figures coming out of BEIS. Could the Minister therefore confirm that these figures—I believe they are in its last costings on the levelised cost of electricity, which assess the cost from all sources on a level playing field—show that onshore wind was in fact the cheapest and considerably cheaper than gas? I would really appreciate that. If that is information he does not have at the moment, would he write to me with that? Just from scouring the internet, it is clear that onshore wind is very cheap. The evidence is corroborated by the BBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg and IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. I want to make sure that this is also the case with BEIS.
Before I go on to some of the historic objections that have been raised, the other real advantage—I thank RenewableUK for this information—is the environmental co-benefits that wind farms can bring. I will cite the example that RenewableUK gave of Scottish Power Renewables’ Mark Hill Wind Farm in South Ayrshire, where a former forestry plantation is being restored to give 192 hectares of natural woodland and 800 hectares of peatland. Here we have seen the return of otters, hen harriers, et cetera, and many other environmental benefits to the area.
In the past, we have had historic objections and a lack of community consent. The Survation polls mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, show that those objections are just no longer there. Anecdotally, when I visited friends of mine in Derbyshire 10 years ago, they really objected to the wind turbine that was going to be put up on the hill behind them. This summer, when I visited again, they said they have no further objections and would very much welcome the continuation and expansion of wind power there. These feelings are corroborated by the survey.
Secondly, embedded carbon in the construction of wind turbines was also a concern. RenewableUK tells us that the carbon in the construction will be got back within six months, and the remaining 20 to 30-year lifetime will provide very green energy indeed.
Lastly, on the recyclability of concrete in wind turbines, for many years about 85% of the materials used were recyclable. Today, the new technology means that the resin used in blade construction can be totally recycled, and we are now looking at 100% recyclability.
I really hope the Government will see fit to back this Bill. In order to deal with the climate catastrophe facing us, we have to do everything we can as quickly as we can.
I think I need to declare an interest and do so very explicitly. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to Scottish Power. I am a director of Scottish Power, which operates 40 wind farms and generates about 2.8 gigawatts at the moment. All our generation is green. When I joined the board, we had two large coal-fired stations and a lot of small combined-cycle gas turbine stations. We have sold the gas stations and closed the coal-fired stations. Between 2020 and 2025, we plan to invest some £3.7 billion in onshore renewable generation—wind, solar and battery—and we have a 3-gigawatt, UK-wide renewable future project pipeline. We also have offshore wind farms.
I say all that because although I cannot match the expertise of those who have already spoken—particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Hayman—I want to be transparent about my interests and establish some credential for what I am going to say about national policy. I know a little bit about what I am talking about.
I very much congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her Bill. It is badly needed. I could argue that, for example, it would be good to see Clause 1 refer to installing battery storage on wind farms with a single connection point to improve flexibility. I might similarly suggest a reference to installing photovoltaic solar capacity on existing wind farm sites. I might also query the inclusion of Wales within the scope of the Bill because, in my experience, planning works better in Wales.
If the noble Lord will forgive me, the Bill states that it applies to England and Wales. I am advised by the Table Office and the Public Bill Office that this is a convention—that, in fact, the devolution arrangements mean that the planning regime in Wales is for Wales, just as the one in Scotland is for Scotland; and that, in practice, this Bill would apply only to England. I apologise; it was not my choice.
I was puzzled because planning is a devolved function in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
However, those are small points. The big point about this Bill is Clause 1(1), of course, which calls for a review. The present system—or, rather, the lack of any system—for planning applications in England has created a paralysis that, if prolonged, will inevitably mean the country missing the target of net zero by 2035. My company’s onshore wind programme pipeline is heavily weighted to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because, since 2015, the Government have washed their hands of the approval process in England, leaving it entirely to local opinion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, a single local objection sinks a proposal or delays it sine die. Open-ended consenting timelines that are five to 10 years long and often end without consent obviously deter investment. Between 2011 and 2015, 435 turbines were erected on 108 sites. However, as the noble Baroness said, between 2016 and 2020, applications went down by 96%. Only 16 turbines were permitted in those five years.
This really matters. The analysis I have seen suggests that, to reach net zero by 2035, the country will need a fourfold increase in offshore generation, a doubling of solar generation and a trebling of onshore wind. The Climate Change Committee says that the onshore wind capacity, now some 14 gigawatts, some of which is nearing the end of its operational life, will need to be about 35 gigawatts. This means new capacity of about 1.25 gigawatts a year. Currently, we are installing about 600 megawatts a year, very little of it in England, so we need to go twice as fast as we are now. We will not manage that unless the paralysis of planning in England comes to an end. That is why this Bill is so important and why the Government should welcome it and get behind it. I really hope they do. It is all very well the Government puffing our legally binding targets. If you will the end, you should will the means.
Of course local opinion matters, but going for 30 gigawatts by 2030 would create 30,000 full-time construction jobs and 30,000 full-time operating jobs. We can all think of communities across England, not least those where the Government want to see levelling up, where such jobs would be welcome. Currently, it does not and cannot happen in England because a single objection kills a proposal. Local unanimity is needed, so applications are not made and jobs are not created. Without a predictable future project pipeline order book, supply chains maximising UK content and cutting costs cannot be created. If all this persists, the decarbonisation targets will not and cannot be met.
Pace the Prime Minister, we really cannot have our cake and eat it. One cannot be proudly green, decisive and determinant—rhetorically—and refuse to get one’s hands dirty about delivery. One cannot be laissez faire when one is surely bound by one’s target. One cannot just leave it to one’s successors. If I were to be undiplomatic, which is unthinkable, I would say that that would be almost as hypocritical as—
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord of the advisory speaking time.
—promoting the decarbonisation of transport and, at the same time, freezing fuel duties for a decade. That was very tactless. I urge the Government to welcome the Bill of noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as I do.
My Lords, this debate has been unanimous in both backing the Bill put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and thanking her for her work and the very clear, unarguable argument she presented for it. Like others, I declare my involvement in Peers for the Planet. I am pleased to follow all of the speakers in this debate who have already made the very clear environmental and economic arguments for this Bill.
I will not repeat those but will take a look at why we are here today and why we need this Bill. The Bill gets the Government out of a political tangle of their own making. It also ensures that they deliver what they have promised to do. If we think about why we are here today, we go back to the time when David Cameron shifted from hugging huskies to talking about not liking “green crap”. This was at a time when the then Government were wooing UKIP-leaning voters before the Brexit referendum and a UKIP candidate was on the record for complaining about what would happen when the renewables ran out. We know what happens when the far right gets a hold on politics. Many nasty, disastrous things happened and our current policy on onshore wind is one more disastrous effect of the politics of that time.
We are seeing some reversal of this. Boris Johnson has disavowed his former claim that wind power could not
“pull the skin off a rice pudding”.
As others have said, we know that onshore wind enjoys broad support from the public—70% of the public in one recent survey. It also has support from conservation charities such as the RSPB, which points out that the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife is of course climate change. One survey, a UK-wide poll carried out in July 2021 by Survation on behalf of RenewableUK, found that, if there are public concerns, these are about efficiency and harmony with nature.
Efficiency concerns can be addressed by technical arguments and the concern about the impact for nature can be addressed by the careful, appropriate siting and design of wind farms. Indeed, the US Department of Energy’s 2015 report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power, found that, in the United States, the rate of avian collisions with wind turbines was 1,500 to 5,000 times lower than for buildings in general. I have never heard anyone using bird strike as an argument to stop any other sort of building, yet we know that is often waved as an unjustified argument against wind farms.
Whenever we talk about energy, I make the point that the cleanest, greenest energy you can possibly have is the energy you do not need to use. Energy conservation remains the awfully poor Cinderella of government energy policy; we have seen very little government money going to that over the past decade. However, we do need energy, and onshore wind and solar power are now the cheapest options, as well as offering big environmental benefits.
We have a lot of hot air in Westminster—who can avoid that one?—but we cannot fuel Britain’s energy transition by talking; we can do it only by practical action. Even if the Government will not take action on this Bill now, will they not consider, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, outlined, Clause 1(2)(c), which allows existing wind farms to re-purpose?
I started by saying that we are here because of politics, not because of engineers, the environment or the economy, but it is of course a non-party-political Cross-Bencher who has proposed the Bill, offering a common-sense solution to the situation the Government now find themselves in. I must conclude by reminding everyone that we are now speaking from a Chamber of the Government of the nation that remains the chair of the COP climate process—until Egypt takes over in a year’s time—and the world is watching what is happening here. I was at COP 26. People ask why the UK’s policies are so failing to deliver on its promises and targets, and it is things such as this that people talk about. So, the world is watching the Minister as he answers today, and I hope he will be thinking about that when he gives us his answer.
My Lords, I join everyone else in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing the Bill and her wider work for Peers for the Planet. It has been pretty clear that the Government have to think again. This is an anomaly in our planning system that needs to be addressed, because it threatens to inhibit our ability to reach net zero on the path we have already determined.
The Government need to recognise that there have been serious changes over the past decade or so in the economics of renewable energy, political attitudes and public attitudes, and they need to take them on board. By 2010, at least, we were clear that onshore wind was the cheapest and most convenient form of renewable energy. At the time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, David Cameron was in his “hug a husky” mood and the coalition Government saw a large number of turbines approved in their period of office.
Regrettably, there was a bit of a backlash. I am the first to recognise that not every site that has been suggested for wind turbines should necessarily be agreed, but the fact is that the 2015 Tory manifesto and the subsequent change in planning rules has led to a presumption against onshore wind, and that presumption needs to be changed. By 2015 David Cameron had, I assume, not only forgotten about the huskies; he also wanted to get rid of the Liberal Democrats and was prepared to adopt a rather hard-line view on onshore wind. That was a mistake, and the Government need to recognise it as such.
Of course, there have been other changes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, Boris Johnson came in with a bit of a reputation as being not very sensitive to climate change issues, but that has changed dramatically with the responsibility thrust on the Prime Minister because of COP 26 and the process that goes with it. He has declared that, effectively, he wants all our homes heated by wind energy. Onshore wind must be a very significant part of in order to meet that objective by 2030 or 2035. The renewables industry has suggested that by 2030, the aim should be 30 gigawatts. That seems about right, but only provided that there is more of a level playing field in the planning process and the whole process of auctions and contracts for difference, which were the subject of a previous Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that, regrettably, did not see the light of day.
The presumption against planning permission for onshore wind needs to change. It does not exist for any other form of infrastructure development. Ideally, I hope that today the Government will signal that they will take over the Bill. Failing that, I hope that the Prime Minister’s office will instruct the Minister today that we must signal our support for the Bill or get the Government Whips in this House to give time, so that its subsequent stages can be seen through and it can be part of our energy policy.
I think that chimes with the policy the Prime Minister has now enunciated. It chimes with what is necessary to stay on the path—or get on the path—to net zero and it chimes with public opinion. Fewer than 50% of people supported onshore wind 10 or 12 years ago, but well over 70% of people now support it, including those in rural areas. It has the additional advantage over offshore wind of having short supply lines and of being able to develop an industry and support in this country, rather than being almost totally dependent on the manufacture of parts abroad. It would help with the levelling-up agenda and our industrial strategy.
If the Prime Minister is to deliver his green agenda and the commitments that were made in Glasgow, the Government need to make this relatively straightforward adjustment in our planning process and allow it to happen. I therefore hope that the Minister can signal today that that is precisely what the Government intend to do.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing the Bill, not just because it implements a Liberal Democrats manifesto commitment —I urge other noble Lords to follow that line—but, as we have heard, because it is felt across the House that this is a major shot in the foot that the Conservative Government of 2015 put in place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this Bill is about attempting to find a more balanced approach. The Government’s current approach is totally unbalanced. As we have also heard, onshore wind is critical to the decarbonisation of our economy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, reminded us, it offers the cheapest form of energy, not just of renewable energy, so we clearly need more of it.
I have some experience of the Conservative attitude to onshore wind because I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that David Cameron’s shift from “Vote blue, go green” to “all the green crap” took place rather earlier than 2015. In fact, it appeared to take place just about as soon as the coalition was formed and he had his feet under the Cabinet table. From then on, the then Prime Minister, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was even more hostile to any greenery, pursued this agenda. This proposal, which was implemented after the end of the coalition, was one of the proposals that they tried to push on us during the coalition. It has never been explicable to me how Conservative MPs, leaders and chancellors who make so much of energy bills could have put in a place a situation where one of the cheapest forms of producing energy was curtailed. It was a massive act of environmental vandalism.
As the Library briefing note tells us, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, have underlined, the 237 applications for wind farms between 2011 and 2015 plummeted to just eight between 2016 and 2020, after the Conservatives introduced the new guidance in 2015. Forgive me for making a partisan point, but there can hardly be a clearer contrast between the commitment we got to decarbonisation with the Liberal Democrats in government and the appalling record on onshore wind since.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also made the important point that we need not only to increase very significantly our production of green energy over the coming years, if we are to have any hope of meeting our carbon targets, but to focus on reducing our energy consumption. We have no chance of getting where we need to be, even with this excellent Bill, unless we do that.
I reiterate the points we made in the COP 26 debate: the Government have to act, particularly on building and heat, where the strategy was so woeful on new measures to reduce energy wastage. That is absolutely key. The second point here was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: the Government need a proper energy policy. They have to think not just about generation but about storage and distribution. Storage is absolutely critical, and there needs to be much more focus on that to ensure that our intermittent renewable sources can be as effective as possible.
The Prime Minister tells us that every house will be powered by wind generation within 10 years. Whether or not that is true, the aspiration that we move to an entirely renewable system is certainly commendable. But the Minister will have to tell us how we can achieve that in the absence of the sort of change of policy proposed in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, told us that we will need to treble our onshore wind capacity if we are to meet these targets, so I hope the Minister will tell us how he responds to that.
I will conclude by saying this. The Government have set a series of impressively ambitious targets for decarbonising our economy, which I welcome and which are welcomed across this House. But as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, if these targets are to retain any credibility at all, the Government will have to start willing the means as well as the ends, and to start doing that quickly. This is one clear first step that they could take, so I very much hope that the Minister in his reply gives full support to the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
It is a pleasure to take the Second Reading of the Onshore Wind Bill today, as it brings me and your Lordships’ House back in touch with my noble friend Lady Worthington. She is my mentor and immediate predecessor as Labour’s Front-Bench shadow Energy Minister in this House.
I mention this as, in 2015, she and I had to handle the Energy Bill, as it then was, when the Cameron Conservative Government took on UKIP clothes and effectively killed onshore wind, along with the UK solar industry, as part of the UK’s future energy mix. It turned the dial back on the necessary transformation of the energy market, undermined consumer and investor confidence at the stroke of a pen and denied so many the opportunity to be able to do their bit through solar panels to provide renewable energy to the grid. But for these missteps, would we be in a better place now in this climate emergency? The mindset is certainly slow to change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, explained the Bill very ably, stressing the importance of onshore wind being in the right place and being the cheapest form of renewable energy generation. From these Benches, Labour believes that renewables will play the dominant role in our energy mix into the future.
Yesterday, the House debated the outcome of COP 26. The climate emergency is such an existential threat that we cannot afford to reject viable zero-carbon sources of power. This party is determined to provide much greater support for renewables. The Government must stop blocking onshore wind with their planning rules and should invest in wind-power jobs through a green industrial strategy.
That is why I mentioned yesterday Labour’s green investment pledge to invest £28 billion extra every year until 2030 to create the greener, fairer country that we need. This includes a national mission to insulate every home and make EV cars and hydrogen transport more affordable, creating the well-paid jobs in new industries like renewables and helping to transform existing industries, such as steel, to make the climate transition to rebuild our communities. We need to go faster along this pathway, cutting a substantial majority of carbon emissions by 2030. This is indeed the decisive decade for climate action.
The Conservative moratorium on onshore wind and solar PV needs to move on. Official figures show a loss of 33,800 direct jobs and a further 41,400 jobs in a supply chain for low-carbon and renewable sectors between 2014 and 2019. Thousands of jobs have been lost in solar, onshore wind, renewable electricity and bioenergy as well as in the energy-efficiency sector. The energy-innovation progression needs to be regenerated.
The Library’s helpful briefing for this debate highlights that, between 2016 and 2020, there has been a 96% decrease in planning applications for onshore wind developments. In October, the trade body RenewableUK published a report that found that planning authorities are approving just over 600 megawatts a year of onshore wind on average—well short of the 1.25 gigawatts needed to remain on track to hit the UK’s climate goals. RenewableUK said that substantial investment by 2030 in viable onshore wind would cut household bills by £25 a year, create 27,000 jobs and help in more rural areas.
The Climate Change Committee has said that the UK needs to install up to 35 gigawatts of onshore wind capacity by 2035, as part of the drive to hit the UK’s net-zero emissions targets by 2050. At present, the UK has about 14 gigawatts of onshore wind, with most of it installed in Scotland. Planning regimes vary in the devolved Administrations, with England being the most heavily restricted. The National Planning Policy Framework, last updated in July, says that proposals for onshore wind cannot go ahead unless objections from the local community have been fully addressed. Can the Minister clarify whether this means that it should be unanimous?
He will know that the Government’s December 2020 energy White Paper said that onshore wind is one of the
“key building blocks of the future generation mix”.
Following constant pressure, it is welcome that onshore wind is now allowed to bid for contracts for difference payments and may now compete in the next allocation round from next month—December 2021.
Mentions of onshore wind were extremely scarce in the Net Zero Strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has quoted the main policy announcements:
“40GW of offshore wind by 2030, with more onshore, solar, and other renewables – with a new approach to onshore and offshore electricity networks to incorporate new low carbon generation and demand in the most efficient manner that takes account of the needs of local communities like those in East Anglia.”
Today’s Bill would force the Government to change their planning guidance, which they could do anyway without legislation if they so choose. Can the Minister tell the House what net zero adds up to? What is his Government’s view?
My Lords, like everyone else, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, very much indeed, on securing a Second Reading for her Private Member’s Bill. She has spoken passionately, as she often does, about the importance of onshore wind in meeting our net-zero and carbon budget ambitions, and advocating the need for reform.
Deploying renewable electricity is intrinsic to the decarbonisation of the power sector and the UK’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A low-cost net-zero consistent system of the future is likely to be comprised predominantly of wind and solar. There should be no doubt of the value that this Government place on a strong renewable power sector. Over recent years, the Government have committed to delivering a deep decarbonisation of the grid, implementing new legislation, stimulating growth with ambitious policy pledges, and marrying this with the provision of appropriate financial support.
Let me begin by quickly recapping the role of onshore wind, before setting out how the Government intend to deliver a planning system that will give local planning authorities the capacity to make decisions that are consistent with our carbon budget and net-zero ambitions.
Onshore wind is an important part of the renewable electricity mix. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, we currently have 14 gigawatts of onshore wind installed in the UK, the most of any renewable technology. Last year, onshore wind generated a record 11% of our electricity. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, I confirm that onshore wind is now among the cheapest forms of electricity generation. The most recent Electricity Generation Costs report, published by my department, estimated that onshore wind projects have a levelised cost of electricity of £46 per megawatt hour, making it the second-cheapest form of electricity generation, behind utility-scale solar.
We will need more. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, the Government acknowledge that targets can be useful in giving certainty to sectors with long investment horizons. However, the Government do not believe in the need to prescribe a specific proportion of generation that will come from all technologies in 2050 or, indeed, in 2030. There is no single optimal mix of technologies to decarbonise electricity generation. However, as set out in the recent energy White Paper and in our Net Zero Strategy, the Government are clear that carbon budget 6 requires a sustained increase of onshore wind over the next decade.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, acknowledged, the Government have also announced that onshore wind can compete in the next contracts for difference allocation round, which is scheduled for next month. The contracts for difference scheme is the Government’s main mechanism for incentivising large-scale renewable electricity generation. The next CfD allocation round will be the biggest yet. It includes up to 5 gigawatts of capacity from established renewable technologies such as onshore wind, with a £10 million budget. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the Government will seek to accelerate deployment of low-cost renewable generation, such as onshore wind, by undertaking a review of the frequency of the contracts for difference auctions. These announcements reflect the Government’s commitment to a sustainable, diverse and resilient energy system.
As I have mentioned before, the Government have committed to more than just financial support. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the Government also recognise the importance of planning in delivering our net-zero and carbon budget requirements, and are clear that the planning system should support the transition to a low-carbon future in changing climate. The energy White Paper and the Net Zero Strategy have committed to reviewing the planning system to ensure that it supports efforts to combat climate change and helps to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero by 2050. That remains the Government’s position.
Noble Lords will doubtless be aware that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is considering the best way forward to reform the planning system. This will include a review of planning guidance following the passage of the Planning Bill. The review will consider ways in which local planning authorities will be able to make decisions on energy infrastructure in keeping with our carbon budget requirements, while ensuring that the environmental impacts and, of course, the interests of local communities continue to be taken into account.
I turn to the Bill. It seeks to ensure that planning guidance enables local planning authorities to grant onshore wind applications for the purposes of meeting our carbon budget targets. First, the Bill requires that within six months of the Act coming into force the Secretary of State must revise national planning guidance on onshore wind. My concern is that this duplicates proposals to review the existing suite of planning guidance documents.
The review is being proposed as part of the broader reform to planning, managed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It will consider ways in which local planning authorities will be able to make decisions on energy infrastructure, including onshore wind, that are in keeping with our carbon budget requirements. The review of planning guidance is being carried out in the context of the reforms being brought forward in the Planning Bill, and in my view it would therefore not be right to impose a timeframe on that process because we all know legislative procedure to be a complex and, at times, indeterminable process.
Secondly, the Bill requires that the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure is also revised. However, it should be noted that the national policy statements are designated under the Planning Act 2008. Their purpose is to provide guidance to the Secretary of State when determining development consent for major infrastructure through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime. Onshore wind was removed from that regime in 2016 through amendments to the Planning Act 2008. This means that all planning applications for onshore wind turbines in England are now made to the local planning authority.
The Government are currently carrying out a review of the existing national policy statements to ensure that they reflect current energy policy. However, the national policy statements are statutory guidance. As onshore wind is now not included in the 2008 Act, it is no longer appropriate for the national policy statements to provide specific technical policy guidance in relation to it. However, the draft national policy statements, currently open to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, make clear that sustained increases in onshore wind will be needed alongside other low-carbon technologies to meet our net-zero targets.
Thirdly, the Bill requires that planning guidance provides for the construction of onshore wind on sites not previously used for wind energy, as well as enabling the repowering of existing sites. Current planning guidance already allows for that. Onshore wind can be constructed on sites not previously used for wind energy so long as the local planning authority has designated the area as suitable for wind energy and the proposal has local support.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, while the Government have not undertaken a complete appraisal of how many local planning authorities have designated areas as suitable for wind energy, the Government are aware that some have done so or are intending to do so, and that those authorities correlate, broadly, with the areas of best wind resource.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, inquired whether requirements to address concerns mean unanimity. Whether a proposal has the backing of the affected local community is of course a planning judgment for the local planning authority. Important local factors such as wind speed, proximity to grid connections or indeed landscape or visual impact will determine suitability. In my view, it is right that local planning authorities continue to have jurisdiction over spatial planning and that communities can have a say on developments that take place in their area. The move to net zero will require buy-in from all parts of society as the energy infrastructure landscape changes and we increase the deployment of low-carbon technologies, including onshore wind.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett, rightly highlighted the role that repowering can play in helping to reach the national carbon budget targets. The national policy framework supports the repowering of onshore wind, and the repowering of existing wind turbines is exempted from some of the requirements that typically apply to new onshore wind sites. The National Planning Policy Framework states that in instances of repowering, local planning authorities
“should … approve the application if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable.”
In conclusion, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this Bill to the House and enabling what has been a very useful debate. I am sympathetic towards her aims but, as I have underlined, the Government are already taking forward sufficient actions to enable local planning authorities to grant onshore wind applications so as to meet our carbon budget requirements. I am therefore not convinced that the Bill is necessary.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has taken part in the debate on the Bill. Normally on these occasions, we say that we are grateful to everyone, including the people who stood up with objections and argued against the Bill. There were no such objections in the debate today, and I think that is a reflection of the change in public attitudes to which many contributors have alluded.
I also thank the Minister as there was much to welcome in what he said: the issue around contracts for difference and the frequency of auctions; the acceptance that we need a sustained increase in onshore wind; the understanding that planning regulations at the moment are not, we might say, optimal; and the balance he described between environmental issues, landscape and community being—he did not say it but I will—out of kilter with the Government’s overall recognition of, and commitment to, the need to increase onshore wind.
It is a matter of whether we put our faith in the planning Bill, which has been an awfully long time coming and had several setbacks along the way, or whether we look at something that comes “prepared earlier” and fit for purpose to address the specific problem. Having listened to what he said, and to the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, we can improve this Bill, get it through and make it a valuable contribution to what has to be done. In the meantime, I will review very carefully what the Minister said, which was extremely helpful on a number of fronts.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.