If the Tories hadn’t torn up the planning policies on land based wind farms in 2015 we would have had a seven year start to make ourselves less dependent on fossil fuels. There can be no quick fixes from nuclear power as the Hinkley saga demonstrates. Tories aren’t good at strategic planning. – Owl
Ione Wells www.bbc.co.uk
Boris Johnson’s cabinet is split over proposals to ease planning rules in England to enable more onshore wind farms, sources have told the BBC.
Ministers are next week due to set out plans to produce more energy in the UK to tackle spiralling household bills.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is in favour of loosening planning regulations to make it easier to approve plans for more onshore wind.
But the BBC has been told other cabinet ministers strongly oppose the plans.
In 2015, planning laws were changed to give local councils tougher powers over whether onshore wind turbines were built in their areas. Labour have described this as an effective “moratorium” on onshore wind – and have called on the government to end it.
The government wants the UK to become more “energy independent”, as the West tries to wean itself off Russian gas and oil.
Its “energy supply strategy” will focus on:
- Nuclear energy
- Renewable energy
- Making homes more energy efficient
- Increasing North Sea oil and gas production
This week, Kwasi Kwarteng told the i newspaper “the prime minister has been very clear that onshore wind has got to be part of the mix and we’ve got to look at planning”.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s cabinet meeting – the last before the energy strategy is due to be unveiled – he said: “We are not saying we are going to scrap all planning rules and all of these things have got to be in line with community support.”
He described 2015 arguments against more onshore wind as “historic”, as the government had not then committed to achieving “net zero” emissions by 2050.
“The circumstances today with Putin, Russia, Saudi Arabia, all of those things, mean that we’ve got to have more energy independence and I think onshore renewables are absolutely part of that,” he added.
Downing Street sources told the BBC the government has “got to be open” to more onshore wind where it works, but that the “big wins are offshore”.
Boris Johnson is thought to be particularly keen on offshore wind and nuclear power, telling nuclear industry leaders on Monday that he was “insanely frustrated” that the UK has “so little” nuclear capacity and was “moving so slowly” on building new reactors.
But multiple cabinet sources have told the BBC they are against relaxing planning laws for onshore wind, with one saying there was “very, very little” support for the idea.
Another cabinet source said ministers were generally united on the need for more offshore wind and nuclear power, but onshore wind would cause a “bigger problem” and needed more discussion.
Among the cabinet ministers opposed to more onshore wind turbines is Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, but the BBC understands he backs offshore developments.
The majority of the UK’s large scale wind farms are in Scotland, and onshore wind is Scotland’s main source of renewable energy, with about 70% of electricity generated in Scotland coming from onshore wind in 2020.
Onshore wind farms have been controversial among Tory MPs in the past, with David Cameron saying in 2014 that people were “fed up” with onshore wind farms being built, and Conservative activists criticising the visual impact of them on the landscape.
But in recent years government surveys have shown public support for onshore wind, albeit not always in the areas where turbines are built.
Some cabinet ministers we spoke to were “sceptical”, rather than strongly against, more onshore wind.
Separately, the BBC has been told that Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg would back whatever would bring “cheap and reliable” energy to the UK, but has long been frustrated by what he views as its unreliability as an energy source.