Government Committee: “Net Zero” will be impossible without policy support for onshore wind and repowering

United Kingdom

The Science and Technology Committee has issued its Report on Clean Growth, which outlines the urgent policy steps that the Government must take to deliver on Net Zero emissions by 2050. Set within the context of increased environmental awareness, and the declaration of a climate emergency, the Report is highly critical of the Government’s current policy trend of “cutbacks and slow progress” and concludes that Net Zero will be unachievable unless actions are taken.

Areas of Shortfall

The Committee identifies several areas in which Government policy has failed to support low-carbon technology, including:

  1. The difficulty in obtaining planning permission for onshore wind farms in England;
  2. The exclusion of onshore wind and large-scale solar from available financial support mechanisms;    
  3. The closure of the “feed-in tariff” scheme for low-carbon power generation and the delay in introducing the Smart Export Guarantee scheme; and
  4. The delay in publishing the Government’s White Paper on the future of the energy market.

Urgent Action Needed

The Report recommends the introduction of several policies across key sectors to ensure that the UK can reach Net Zero in 2050, including:

  1. Support for onshore wind and solar, including strong policy support for new onshore wind power in England;   
  2. Support for “repowering” existing projects to take advantage of existing planning consents and technological advancements.This support for repowering should be established in National Planning Policy, with the establishment of a clear planning permission framework in place by the end of 2020;
  3. Review of the Smart Export Guarantee by the end of 2020 and a commitment by the Government to include a minimum price floor if there is a lack in market competitivity; and    
  4. Regulation of the energy market, to include amending Ofgem’s principal objective to explicitly include ensuring that regulations align with the emissions reduction targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

Comment

The suggestions proposed by the Committee reflect growing demand within the Energy sector – and by the public – to facilitate and encourage new sources of renewable power generation throughout the UK. Policy support for and guidance on repowering is of crucial importance as the earliest projects begin to reach the end of their consented lifetimes. Whilst repowering of onshore wind projects is treated differently to new onshore wind projects from a planning perspective, there is need for a clear framework to provide certainty to the industry.

The effect of this lack of clarity and guidance was seen in the recent Appeal Decision by the Planning Inspectorate relating to a proposed variation of the time condition at Kirkby Moor Wind Farm (to extend its life). The key issue between the parties was whether the variation constituted repowering and, as such, could be validly granted. The local authority rejected the scheme on the basis that there was no clear definition of repowering. However, the Inspector determined, in the absence of any national guidance or policy defining “repowering” that the scheme must, on a common-sense approach, constitute repowering and the appeal permitting the variation was upheld. This is a welcome and sensible decision, but it is one that should not need to be made and which exemplifies the need for clear guidance.

For more guidance on repowering, please see CMS’ Guide on Varying, Optimising and Repowering Renewables Projects.