Environmentalists and the renewable industry chiefs have tentatively welcomed the Liz Truss government’s plan to end a de facto ban on onshore windfarms in England.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget “growth plan” said the government would make sure rules for onshore wind turbines were in line with other energy developments.
Rules that were put in place in 2015 have effectively stopped the construction of any onshore wind farms in the UK in the past seven years.
The government promised reforms to the rules will bring “onshore wind planning policy in line with other infrastructure to allow it to be deployed more easily in England”.
Dan McGrail, the chief executive of trade body Renewable UK, said removing the block on onshore wind in England would mean “significantly more cheap electricity for hard-pressed bill payers in areas where projects have local support”.
Jess Ralston, senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said around eight in 10 people support onshore wind. “So the ban has been a major anomaly in British energy policy given it’s both cheap and popular with the public.”
The analyst added: “A decision to lift the ban suggests the new government has listened to the experts and understands building more British renewables reduces our reliance on costly gas and so brings down bills.”
Energy insiders also warned that more detail will be needed, and rules will have to be changed in some detail before they know how significant the move will be.
The changes will also be more significant for smaller developers, rather than the major players, who need large pieces of land that are difficult to find in England.
“At the moment it can take up to 10 years to get a project over all the hurdles,” said Mr McGrail. “We can’t afford these glacial timescales any longer.”
Despite the welcome news on onshore wind, green experts attacked Mr Kwarteng’s plans to make it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas – which could throw the country off course in attempting to meet its net zero by 2050 target.
Luke Murphy at the IPPR think tank welcomed the “small steps on energy efficiency and depending on the detail, onshore wind” – but decried the push for fossil fuel drilling.
“The chancellor’s statement offered neither the policies, investment, or strategy to realise the huge opportunities to create prosperity that delivering net zero and restoring nature offer,” he said.
He added: “It is removing the moratorium on fracking, expediting licenses to drill for more climate-destroying and expensive oil and gas, and proposing to rip up environmental protections.”
Mr Kwarteng confirmed plans for a network of new, low-tax investment zones in dozens of areas across England, where planning rules and environmental protections will be hacked back to encourage development.
Tom Fyans of the countryside charity CPRE warned: “This government’s obsession with driving growth at all costs is alarming and will not end well for the countryside or our rural communities.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said plans to weaken environmental safeguards were “deeply worrying”.
It comes as video emerged of business secretary Jacob-Rees-Mogg telling government staff that Britain “must get every cubic inch of gas out of the North Sea”.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) staff that the government would be “handing out lots of money” to get the country producing more gas “because actually it’s better for our economy and it’s greener”.
Ms Truss’s government was met with a fierce political backlash from campaigners, opposition parties and MPs after lifting the ban on fracking for shale gas.
BEIS also announced plans for a new oil and gas licensing round, to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority in October, expected to lead to more than 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.