Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:54 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 12:54, 19 November 2021

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.