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?