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How Much More Onshore Wind Power will be Consented and Built in the United Kingdom?

Following remarks made by the Minister of State for Energy, John Hayes, MP, there is some confusion about the future for onshore wind power in the United Kingdom. Speaking on Channel 4 news Mr Hayes remarked:

"With respect of what is built, with what is consented and with a small proportion of what is in the planning system, we will have reached our ambition in respect of the renewables’ target – end of story.

The prime minister in the House of Commons said that when we’ve reached our targets then he invited all parties to think about where we went next. I endorse his view entirely.

In respect of the targets that we have for renewables when we take into account, what’s built, what’s consented, what’s in planning system now – it will certainly have [been] achieved, it will be job done."

Quoted in Christopher Hope, ‘Job done on windfarms, says Hayes’, Daily Telegraph (13.11.12).

It is straightforward to put these remarks into concrete terms. We know that the government’s own central scenario for onshore wind has been for “up to around” 13 GWs of capacity (DECC, Renewable Energy Roadmap 2011). However, in recent months DECC has started to say “up to 13 GWs” a reflection of a growing concern that larger capacities of onshore wind not possible due to growing public resistance to the turbines themselves and also to the substantial grid infrastructure needed to support them. Thus, we infer that when Mr Hayes refers to “our targets” he is thinking of 13 GWs.

Now, according the government's own REStats database, the contents of which we download and analyse on a regular basis, there is 5.1 GWs of onshore wind operational (with a further 2.4 GWs offshore).

However, there is an additional 6.7 GWs of onshore wind with planning consent and under or awaiting construction.

In other words, there is a total of more 11.8 GWs of onshore either built or with planning permission, leaving only 1.2 GWs required to meet the government’s target.

Nevertheless, there is also a further 6.7 GWs of onshore wind currently in the UK planning system in more than 650 separation planning applications, and awaiting determination either by local authorities or by planning inspectors.

In the light of Mr Hayes’ remarks we can see that most of these applications should now be refused, since the government only needs 1.2 GW be consented to meet the targets.

How many will be refused depends on the size of the wind farm applications approved in the next few months.  If the largest 7 wind farms were all approved, 99% of all other applications in the planning system would be refused.  The remaining capacity to meet the target is covered three times over by 48 applications or 7% of all on shore wind applications in the Government’s planning database.

The planning information is summarized in the table below, which also adds data relating to refusals.

Table 1: Renewable Generation Capacity, Constructed, Under and Pre-construction, In Planning and Refused (MW). Source: DECC, REStats Planning Database Project. 2012.

Status Megawatts of Capacity (GW)
  Wind Offshore Wind Onshore
Operational 2.4 5.1
Under and Pre-Construction 4.2 6.7
In planning 4.8 6.7
Refused 0.5 6.1

It is clear that very rapid progress has been made towards the target levels due to an extremely high rate of approval, which stands at about 60% overall, and in some areas even higher, for example in Scotland where the rate is about 80% (See response of the Scottish Government to a question from John Lamont MSP, 12 November 2012). In this context a reduction in growth rate is unsurprising.

What is most noteworthy in Mr Hayes’ remarks is his reference to the Prime Minister’s observation in response to Ed Miliband given during Prime Minister’s Questions on 31 October 2012. The Prime Minister remarked as follows:

"We have a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects that are coming through. We are committed to those, but all parties will have to have a debate in the House and outside about what happens once those targets are met. The right hon. Gentleman ought to understand that, if he could be bothered to look at the substance."

From the point of view of UK climate change policy the call for a strategic rethink about post 2020 targets is very much more significant than the reflections relating to onshore wind. It is also a reason for optimism. We may, at last, be on the point of reforming a poorly designed climate change policy that is actually counterproductive since it fails to present an economically compelling to the developing world.

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