Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:05 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench 12:05, 19 November 2021

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.