Government must change policy on onshore windfarms to achieve net zero, climate committee chair says

The chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, has told ITV News that unless the prime minister reverses what amounts to a ban on new onshore windfarms, it will be very difficult to hit net zero targets. And the arguments in favour of onshore wind are not just environmental.

By ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana and ITV News Politics Producer Jack Abbey

Lord Deben, the chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, has warned that net zero may not be achievable unless the government changes its policy that effectively bans new onshore windfarms in England.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News, the government’s main adviser on net zero called for communities to be offered free energy for local schools, churches and other public buildings in return for allowing windfarms to be built.

Labour to scrap rules that allow individuals to block new wind farms in England

Labour Party leader Sir Kier Starmer meets wind turbine technician apprentices at Orsted. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer revealed that he would lift the ban on new onshore wind in England by sweeping away restrictive planning rules that can allow one individual to block a project.

It comes as:

  • sources reveal to ITV News that Rishi Sunak was a vocal supporter of onshore wind in the Treasury and even persuaded colleagues of its benefits

  • another senior figure in government admitted that while achieving net zero is “technically possible” without onshore wind - it would be extremely hard

  • an exclusive preview of new polling from the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit shows that 77% say they would support a new onshore wind farm being built in their area

However, Mr Sunak has said that he does not want to “alienate communities”.

Sources say that explains why he has quickly reinstated the de facto ban on onshore wind in England - despite Liz Truss promising to lift it to drive growth.

The moratorium exists because of highly restrictive planning rules, which allow a small group or individual to block a project .

The same rules do not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Today Starmer told ITV News that expanding onshore wind would require “persuading some communities to get on board”.

Asked if he saw the planning restrictions as a “nimby’s [not in my back yard] charter”, he said: “They are a charter for an individual or small groups of individuals to stand in the way of secure, cheap, renewable energy which brings with it a whole generation of jobs.

“What the Conservatives have done is put a special test in for onshore wind farms, which means effectively it can be blocked by one individual or a group of individuals. That's effectively stalled onshore wind farms.”

He argued that onshore wind was cheaper and would drive down bills - and that communities could be persuaded.

Meanwhile, Lord Deben told ITV News that it would be “very difficult” to achieve net zero without change.

“It's very important to do all these things. It is not either or, it is both, which is why I want more onshore and I want the local community to benefit for allowing onshore wind.”

He said he wouldn’t describe the financial incentives of free energy for local schools and churches as “bribes”.

Renewable UK Chief Executive Dan McGrail says: 'Having new wind farms will have a really meaningful impact on people's bills'

Meanwhile, Dan McGrail, the CEO of Renewable UK, argued that onshore wind could be quickly expanded and help drive down bills - particularly as it is much cheaper to produce than gas. He made the point that other forms of energy - like nuclear - take much longer to get on line.

Figures show that while gas generates power at £280 per megawatt hour, onshore wind is around £54. Renewable UK estimate that doubling onshore win could take £160 off bills.

However, some communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland say that windfarms can blight the local environment.

One group Ton Mawr, South Wales, felt it would be damaging to the local wildlife, and said that the traffic that would come with the development would be hugely disruptive. They argued they had a right to object.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK Government has increased the amount of renewable energy capacity connected to the grid by 500% since 2010 – with 40% of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewable sources.“

"A record amount of renewable energy was secured through the latest round of our flagship scheme for incentivising large-scale renewable electricity generation.

“We continue support more renewable projects to come online, as clean, more affordable energy brings down costs for consumers and boosts our long-term energy security.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...