Out-Law News | 27 Oct 2022 | 3:47 pm | 3 min. read
On his return from presenting at the Offshore Wind Australia conference in Sydney, renewable energy expert Gareth Phillips of Pinsent Masons reflected on the timing of the National Grid announcement that 19.936GW of wind power had been generated for the electricity grid at midday on Wednesday 26 October, which beat the previous record set in May.
The new record, which the National Grid said could be beaten again later this week, was set around the same time that new UK prime minister Rishi Sunak fielded a question in the House of Commons on his government’s support for onshore wind development in England.
Planning reform in 2015 has effectively prevented developers from pursuing new onshore wind projects in England in subsequent years, despite there being support from the devolved administrations for onshore wind projects across other parts of the UK.
Last month, then UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced plans to change this position. He committed the then government to updating onshore wind planning policy so that it aligns with planning policy for other infrastructure. However, Kwarteng was subsequently replaced as chancellor by Jeremy Hunt, and the prime minister who appointed Kwarteng, Liz Truss, has also been replaced in office by Rishi Sunak.
Prior to his recent appointment as prime minister, Sunak finished second to Truss in a Conservative party leadership contest that took place following the resignation of Boris Johnson in July. During that contest, Sunak pledged to prohibit the development of onshore wind in England.
At prime minister’s question time on Wednesday, Labour’s Alan Whitehead said onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy available in the UK and he asked Sunak whether he stuck to his summer pledge. In response, Sunak said his government’s policy was that which is outlined in the manifesto the Conservative party developed ahead of the 2019 general election – the manifesto makes no explicit mention of onshore wind, though it includes a general commitment to increase support for renewables and a specific target, which has subsequently been revised upwards to 50GW, for offshore wind generation by 2030. Sunak added that his government was focused on long-term energy security and would deliver more renewables, offshore wind and nuclear.
The ‘profound economic crisis’ calls for the brakes to be taken off the deployment of renewable energy projects
Phillips said: “For all the criticism that followed Kwasi Kwarteng’s growth plan, his announcement of plans to support onshore wind development in England again was a real boost to the UK’s energy security and the decarbonisation agenda. A number of bodies, from the Committee for Climate Change to the National Infrastructure Commission and National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA), have called for the reinstatement of onshore wind to the mix of low carbon generation in England, and onshore wind was also backed as a key building block of the UK’s future energy mix in the government’s own energy white paper in 2020.”
“By linking his government’s position on onshore wind to the 2019 manifesto, prepared before the Covid pandemic, Ukraine war, and the rapid escalation of energy prices, Sunak appears to have ignored those material considerations and cast doubt on whether the planning reforms Kwarteng announced will be taken forward. This will create uncertainty for developers and investors,” he said.
While the government’s UK’s energy security strategy, updated earlier this year, ruled out “wholesale changes to current planning regulations” in England to support onshore wind development, it set out the government’s plans to “consult this year on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, including lower energy bills”.
Speaking immediately after meeting with King Charles, Sunak admitted that the UK is in a "profound economic crisis". That acknowledgement followed the High Court’s ruling that the UK government’s net zero strategy is unlawful as it is in breach of the Climate Change Act. The court ruled that the strategy does not outline how climate policies will meet legally binding carbon budgets, as is required under the 2008 Act.
Following the ruling Jacob Rees-Mogg, the then energy secretary, announced he would drop plans to appeal against the High Court’s decision, accepting that the strategy was unlawful. This means the government must now draw up a new net zero strategy by March 2023, to reach its legally binding target for 2050.
“If the position in the energy security strategy conveys the very limited approach the government will take under Sunak’s leadership, it would be extremely disappointing. It is also difficult to justify that position given that the new net zero plan will need to provide details of how the 2050 target could be achieved. All forms of renewable energy generation should be given specific targets, which contribute to the overall strategy. The ‘profound economic crisis’ calls for the brakes to be taken off the deployment of renewable energy projects, to help achieve sustained investment and growth in addition to decarbonisation and energy security. To continue to exclude onshore wind from the energy mix simply isn’t supported by evidence and arguably would not constitute rational decision making,” Phillips said.
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