The government is committed to strengthening community benefits for new onshore wind energy projects

The Government today pledged to produce updated guidance this summer on the types of benefits local communities in England can expect if they agree to host new onshore wind farms. This is intended to ensure that households are “properly rewarded” for allowing turbines. built nearby.

In its formal response to its recent consultation on ‘local partnerships’ for new onshore wind projects, the government has proposed that developers should offer incentives to local people, such as discounts on energy bills, subsidized improvements to the energy efficiency of homes, or a share in the ownership and profits from new wind energy projects. developments.

Other potential benefits could include developers providing host communities with new local infrastructure, such as sports facilities and electric vehicle (EV) charging points, the government said.

Ministers also pledged to provide further details on how such schemes could work later this year, through an update to the Community Benefits Protocol for Onshore Wind.

The response follows a consultation held last year by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), which found communities and developers wanted to see clearer signals from government on how community benefits processes should work.

The Community Benefits Protocol for Onshore Wind in England was first developed in 2013 by industry body RenewableUK and sets out expectations that developers should offer packages or in-kind benefits of £5,000 per megawatt hour of installed capacity per year over the life of a project. .

The guidelines remain voluntary, but the government has endorsed the protocol while developing best practice guidelines for onshore wind developers regarding community benefits.

However, last year’s consultation sought views on how the existing system of community engagement and benefits can be further improved, in particular by formally embedding the principles of best practice into planning guidance and updating the Protocol “to take into account account for emerging or innovative models of community benefit schemes”. the government said.

“Today we are presenting our plans to modernize the existing Community Benefits Protocol and make it official government guidance later this year,” said Andrew Bowie, Minister of Nuclear and Renewable Energy. “This will clearly set out the total value of the benefits that communities will receive if they agree to host an onshore wind farm.”

The government also said it would work with the onshore wind industry and other stakeholders to update and publish the protocol as official government guidance, while developing a mechanism for developers to formally sign the protocol to “provide greater trust and transparency for communities”.

In addition, it said it would establish a public community benefits register to record details of benefits packages, allowing communities to compare offers and encourage best practice from developers.

“To increase transparency and awareness of community benefits schemes, we also plan to set up a public register to make it easier for people to find out what benefits are on offer,” Bowie explains. “These changes will make it easier for communities in England that support onshore wind energy to decide which benefits work best for their area, and ensure they are appropriately rewarded for hosting the turbines that power homes and businesses. provide clean electricity.”

The government acknowledged that onshore wind energy has “some of the strongest public support for deployment of any infrastructure,” with four in five people supporting the technology, and just 12 percent saying they oppose wind farms in their local area, according to it own government. surveys.

However, the government remains adamant that onshore wind energy projects must deliver greater benefits to local communities. It said today that it “recognises the importance of demonstrating community support for the development of onshore wind farms”.

“We support onshore wind energy where there is clear support from the local community and where those communities can directly benefit from the cheap, clean electricity that is produced,” Bowie said.

The government characterized this approach last year as a lifting of the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms, which had been in place since 2016 and led to building applications being routinely blocked if there was even a single objection. As a result, onshore wind farm development in England has virtually come to a standstill over the past six years.

Previous analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) claimed that the de facto ban on onshore wind energy had cost household bill payers a collective £5.1 billion a year, leaving Britain more exposed to the rising costs of fossil fuels.

Last year the government claimed to have lifted a de facto ban on new onshore wind projects in England after announcing a series of changes to planning rules that would make it easier for developers to gain planning approval if they could demonstrate local support. The changes were followed last month by proposals to allow projects to upgrade Britain’s oldest onshore wind farms so they could qualify for Contracts for Difference in the government’s flagship clean energy auction scheme.

However, many renewable energy industry insiders remain adamant that the reforms do not go far enough and are unlikely to result in the construction of many new projects. Developers have complained about the lack of clarity on how to measure “local community support” and the way the planning system treats wind farms differently to any other form of infrastructure development means they still face significant barriers to applying of planning approval.

An updated Community Benefits Protocol for onshore wind should help secure more local support for projects, but many developers remain frustrated as they face stricter planning requirements than other forms of energy infrastructure.

RenewableUK Executive Director of Policy Ana Musat welcomed the Government’s proposals announced today, stressing that the onshore wind industry “wants to continue to work with local communities in a flexible and transparent way, to build trust and ensure communities see tangible benefits and remain involved in decision-making”.

“Developers already offer a wide range of benefits, from financing community projects to local electricity rebate schemes,” she said. “Flexibility is key – it should be up to communities to decide what form the benefit will take, working closely with developers on a voluntary approach, and depending on the size of the wind farm.”

However, Musat stressed that planning reforms remain a top priority for the renewable energy sector, as she pointed out that communities would not be able to gain any benefit from hosting onshore wind farms if planning regulations continue to hinder project development.

“It is also important to highlight that communities in England will not benefit from these funds unless there is significant planning reform,” she said. “The government’s changes to planning policy in September do not really remove the current de facto ban on onshore wind energy.

“Communities in England cannot benefit from a wind farm proposal that was never put to them because the planning system is too difficult for developers to navigate. We need to end the unique restrictions on onshore wind energy and treat them as any other energy infrastructure.”

The news comes on the same day as new survey results from RenewableUK Cymru, which show that 65 percent of Welsh consumers support onshore wind energy projects and want the Welsh Government to accelerate the planning process to speed up development.

The survey, conducted by Censuswide, attracted responses from more than 1,000 adults in Wales.

“This is the first time we have conducted an exclusive survey in Wales, and it shows very clearly that people in Wales want to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and recognize the crucial role that wind energy plays in tackling the climate crisis and providing in our energy needs. says Jess Hooper, director of RenewableUK Cymru.

“The climate and nature emergencies are not mutually exclusive,” she added. “Tackling both requires tough decisions and real leadership. We cannot deliver the benefits associated with our industry – millions of pounds for nature restoration and community benefits – without delivering the projects at the scale and pace needed to get to net zero.”

Do you want to understand what is going on at the intersection of sustainability? View BusinessGreen Intelligence – the key information for professionals focused on Britain’s green economy.

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