Lower bills in the offing after MPs give green light for onshore wind farms

Rishi Sunak has announced plans to allow the building of new onshore wind turbines, which could result in energy bill discounts for those living nearby.

Better late than never.

But Conservative green policies are inconsistent, if not bonkers. They are considering reopening a coal mine in Cumbria as a quid pro quo. This mine produces coking coal for steel making as steelmakers across Europe are moving to “green steel”, which uses renewable energy and modern techniques to avoid the need for it! – Owl

Steven Swinford, Oliver Wright www.thetimes.co.uk

Construction of turbines in England has been in effect banned since 2015 under planning restrictions introduced by David Cameron, who said people were “fed up” with them.

However, more than 50 Tory MPs, including the former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, have been pushing for an end to the ban as part of efforts to boost growth and make Britain more energy-independent.

The government will now consult on allowing turbines to be built if they have local support and as long as concerns about their impact have been “satisfactorily addressed”.

Whitehall sources said they also expected the government to approve a coalmine in Cumbria that has been opposed by environmental groups and by Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, although a final decision has not been taken.

Environmentalists have warned that approving the mine would damage the UK’s reputation as a climate leader and make it harder to persuade countries such as China to cut their own reliance on coal.

One source said the new coalmine was a “quid pro quo” for relaxing restrictions on onshore wind, but this was denied by those close to Michael Gove, the levelling-up secretary.

Under the wind plan, towns or villages that back new turbines could be given benefits such as lower energy bills. Ministers will also consider plans to make it easier to upgrade existing sites, many of which are more than 20 years old. Modern turbines are bigger and more efficient.

The consultation, which will begin this month and run until April, appeared to address the concerns of Tory MPs, whether for or against turbines. The government said it would continue to protect “important landscapes” such as areas of natural beauty and national parks.

Simon Clarke, the Tory MP and former levelling-up secretary who led the push for more turbines, said: “I am delighted that the government has come forward with what is a really sensible package designed to return decisions about new onshore wind to local communities. Onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy bar none, and it has an important role to play as part of our future energy mix, alongside oil and gas, offshore wind, solar and nuclear.

“Unlocking its potential will strengthen our domestic energy security and help us to deliver our climate commitments in the fight against climate change.”

John Hayes, a former minister who opposes the lifting of the ban, said it would still allow local authorities to veto wind farms when there was community opposition. “This is not a significant change from where we were,” he said. “It will still stop wind farms being imposed on communities against their will.” Energy experts believe the change is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in the number of wind farms in England — particularly the south — because low average wind speeds mean they are less inefficient.

The proposal is the second U-turn by the government in the space of two days on planning policy, following the decision to drop mandatory housebuilding targets for local councils.