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Onshore wind, large scale solar and the time for change
Following the ongoing response to the effects of climate change and impact of COVID-19 pandemic, future large scale solar and onshore wind energy generation with battery storage has a key role to play, as the UK plans its way through the significant economic and environmental challenges it now faces. The Committee on Climate Change, in its May 2020 letter to the Prime Minister and First Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sets out key principles to rebuild the nation whilst delivering a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy. Lord Deben the CCC Chairman said ‘The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.’ The global pandemic landed on UK shores, in quick succession to two storms in February 2020: Chiara and Dennis which caused some of the worst floods seen in the UK for 200 years with widespread damage which according to insurers will exceed £363m, a fraction of the £300 billion that the Treasury predicts will cost the exchequer this year with Britain facing the worst recession it has seen for over 300 years. Renewables have overtaken fossil fuels as the main source of electricity in the UK for the first time after a notably windy season, and a slowdown in demand due to COVID-19. Solar, wind, biomass and hydropower accounted for 44.6 per cent of electricity supply between January and March 2020 (up 10% compared to 2019), as a result of increased capacity, (according to data from energy market analysts EnAppSys), exceeding UK fossil fuels by 36 per cent. Coal powered generation in the UK has fallen by an unprecedented 35% in the last month compared with the same period in 2019. Source: UK Energy Press release. BEIS Press Release 26th March 2020 The UK is already committed to establishing a stronger low carbon based economy. In June 2019 the UK government passed legislation committing the UK to net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, the first of the G7 industrialised nations to do so. To achieve this objective, the government will need increase the contribution of low carbon renewable energy sources to the UK’s electricity supply mix, in the main through an increase in solar; wind (both onshore and offshore), biomass and hydro power-based generation. Electricity generated from renewable sources has shown to be the only source resilient to the instability of these challenging times. According to Government statistics, renewable energy capacity by the end of 2019 had increased across the UK to some 47.4 GW representing a growth of some 7% overall from the previous year.  In England this was predominantly associated with the growth in offshore wind, with onshore wind and solar remaining static by comparison. In Scotland the majority of the increase was split between new onshore and new offshore capacity. Some two thirds of the increased capacity in Wales arose for onshore wind development. Almost all of Northern Ireland’s increase in renewable energy capacity arose for onshore wind installations. At the end of 2018, England accounted form 64% of the UK renewable energy capacity; Scotland’s share was 25%, Wales was 7.5% and Northern Ireland’s stood at 4.0%. Renewable capacity and end of 2018 by technology and country Source: National Statistics In Scotland there is a commitment to meeting 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, with a commitment to onshore wind as the lowest cost new build electricity generation in the UK. To enable the move towards a stronger low carbon based economy, the UK government has provided assistance through subsidies to help the development and installation of new renewable infrastructure. In its latest form, the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme was first introduced in 2014, with renewable projects competing for contracts in the first allocation round, which ran from October 2014 to March 2015. In February 2016, however, responding to pressures from landowning sectors, the then government made the decision that ‘Pot 1’ technologies such as solar and onshore wind would no longer be able to eligible for compete in the CfD, leaving many large-scale solar and onshore wind assets on the drawing board following the removal of the Renewable Obligation scheme, which the CfD was intended to replace. With the subsidy taken away, national planning policy in England reinforced the lockdown, by requiring that prospective wind proposal sites had to be identified in an area identified suitable for wind energy development within a local or neighbourhood plan; and, that following consultation, it would have to be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities had been fully addressed, and therefore the proposal had their backing. The effect of this policy in England, which still remains in place, was to give local people the final say in granting planning permission for wind energy development involving one or more wind turbines. The effect of this saw a marked reduction in onshore wind and large scale solar in England, but a continuation of such development in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The Government had seen electricity generation from unconventional gas sources as a bridge to a carbon zero future, however, it ended support for this energy source in November 2019 following the publication of an Oil and Gas Authority report which concluded that it wasn’t possible with the current technology to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking. Separate proposals to change the planning process for fracking sites will not now be taken forwards. With these factors in mind, a reported shift in voter attitude towards onshore wind power, the UK Government’s opposition to subsidising new onshore windfarms is now to be abandoned some four years after ministers scrapped support of new projects. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced in March 2020 that ahead of the Energy White Paper it would remove the block against onshore wind projects and large scale solar by allowing schemes to compete for subsidies alongside floating offshore wind projects, in a new auction scheme. The implications for the UK solar and onshore wind industry are immense. Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK, said: “The government is pressing ahead with action to meet our net zero emissions target quickly and at lowest cost to consumers and businesses”. “Backing cheap renewables is a clear example of the practical action to tackle climate change that the public is demanding, and this will speed up the transition to a net zero economy.” With planning consent and technological lifetimes meaning that most existing onshore wind farms expected to last 25 years before needing to be decommissioned, or ‘re-powered’ with upgraded equipment, national and local planning policy in England will need to respond positively to facilitate the re-powering of existing onshore sites and granting planning permission for new facilities. The Government’s Science and Technology Committee in its latest report August 2019, Clean Growth: Technologies for Meeting the UK’s Emission Reduction emphasised that ‘Although onshore wind power and large-scale solar power are low-cost and low-carbon, the deployment of new installations of these technologies has fallen drastically since 2015. The Government must ensure that there is strong policy support for new onshore wind power and large-scale solar power projects for which there is local support and projected cost-savings for consumers over the long-term. The Government should actively encourage and support local authorities to adopt planning practices that promote local support for such renewable energy projects.’ Notwithstanding the change in tack on subsidies for onshore wind, national planning policy (NPPF 2019, paragraph 154) presents a barrier to new onshore wind proposals in England. This policy barrier needs to be removed and replaced policy which aligns with the approach adopted throughout the rest of the UK. Extant planning practice guidance it is assumed will however continue to ensure that the need for renewable energy doesn’t veto the material planning concerns of local communities and the need to safeguard the environment. With the Government’s commitment to move quickly to meet its net zero commitment by 2050 in place, it must ensure this potential is maximised throughout all of the UK. With the overwhelming majority of local authorities proclaiming a firm commitment to the campaign against climate change, a change in national policy approach will ensure local authority local development plans are in in alignment with the national consensus. Within the UK as a whole there has been progressive growth in renewable energy generation with the corresponding fall in energy generated from fossil fuel. For this momentum to be maintained in the months and years ahead, the government’s strategy for economic stability and recovery in meeting the challenges presented by Corvid 19 recovery need to ensure this does not lock in higher emissions.


Local authorities and the climate change emergency
2019 saw a significant global awakening to climate change concerns and the impacts the global society is having on the wellbeing of our planet and its ecosystems. The UK government’s response to date is embedded in the Climate Change Act, which commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050. Meanwhile, the response on the street has taken the form of large-scale public demonstrations by school children and environmental protest groups. In parallel with initiatives across the globe, local authorities and organisations such as IEMA have declared a climate change emergency. These organisations have published policies and strategies to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 or sooner, reduce our consumption of energy, reduce the amount of waste we produce and identify areas in which the general public can assist to slow down or reverse climate change. The implication of these policies on the development sector has resulted in many organisations developing company-wide policies to meet these targets and the development of more sustainable projects to implement change. Implementing change will be key to maintaining a balanced economy, society and environment. There’s no hiding from the fact that Climate Change is taking place at an unprecedented rate, in spite what vocal contrarians may say. With emissions of greenhouse gases globally continuing to rise, 75% of which is associated with energy generation, our current trajectory has led the majority of Local Authorities in the UK to commit to achieving a carbon neutral position through decision making and their activities. The effects of climate change are already being felt with notable changes to weather felt across the globe, which are resulting in greater temperature fluctuations, flooding and in the UK hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Over recent years, in the UK we have experienced severe floods which have caused major damage to property and businesses across the country. The likelihood of such events as well as hotter and dryer summers such as those recently experienced in the last decade are likely to increase having impacts on resource availability, workplace productivity, health and wellbeing. On a global scale, 196 nation states adopted the Paris Agreement of December 2015. The agreement is a binding international treaty on the climate tailored to the ambitions and capabilities of all nations. Its main goal is to limit average temperature increases by 2100 to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels of the late 1800’s, and to less than 1.5°C above those levels whenever possible. This will be achieved by the convergence of national strategies toward emission trends compatible with this global temperature target. A landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C , 2018 however warns that the window to limit average world temperature increases to under 1.5 °C and avoid the worst climate change impacts could close within the next 12 (now 11) years, with current levels of global greenhouse gas emissions needing to be reduced by almost half in that period. Putting the brakes on the average increase in global temperature cannot be achieved quickly, particularly given the oceans act as a heat sink and will continue to contribute to climate change for decades to come given the near 40 years delay in the release of this energy back into the atmosphere notwithstanding our own efforts in limiting carbon emissions. In the UK, the new Johnson Government affirms its commitment to deliver net zero greenhouse gases by 2050, however a growing body of opinion both at home and internationally is that this is not soon enough and that given the urgency of the problem the planet and its ecosystems face, an earlier timeframe for carbon zero emissions must be achieved. The UK is already legally committed to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (relative to their 1990 levels) and was recently recognised as only one of 18 developed economies to have driven down carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade. The Committee on Climate Change published its influential Net Zero, The UK's contribution to stopping global warming in May 2019 which provided further impetus for action at the national and local level and the new Environment Bill, will set out how the UK will undertake its environmental governance once we leave the EU. At a local level, approaching 400 of the UK’s principal local authorities have declared a climate change emergency, making it one of the fastest growing environmental movements in recent history. Reflecting the urgency of action needed, typically, authorities commit to being carbon neutral by 2025 to 2030 – significantly earlier than the government’s Climate Change Act target date.  Authorities will put in place measures to achieve a carbon neutral position/ negative, through schemes and behavioural change, including the provision and procurement of services and the decisions it makes. This will be particularly evident in the control and planning for development, sustainable transport infrastructure and enhancement of green fabric and biodiversity.  Through planning control, planning authorities may potentially require planning applications to demonstrate that proposals reflect carbon neural objectives, even if these are not explicitly set out in their adopted development plans. This may typically take the form of making meaningful commitment to utilising or generating low carbon energy as part of the development such as installing photo voltaic capability on south facing roofs or utilising energy from and connecting to a district heating system or utilising ground source heating opportunities. Examples of this are: Exeter City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 23rd July 2019. In Exeter, the City Council has highlighted the city’s reputation as a UK pioneer in Passivhaus building standards, utilising renewable energy, moving towards an electric vehicle fleet and delivering large-scale district heating networks. The city benefits from energy recovery facility which converts non-recyclable residual waste into a source of renewable energy. District heating networks facilitate greater local energy resilience, the potential to capture and use waste heat, and provide an easier transition to fossil fuel free technologies where hot water is pumped through an expanding district heating network throughout the city. New development proposals in the city are encouraged to link in with the network. District heating scheme to provide a low carbon source of heating and hot water to 2800 homes and electrical supply from a new 3.5MW capacity Energy Centre and saving an estimated 7,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Woodlands and forests are a natural asset and a natural carbon sink which play an important role to the eco-system providing benefit such as preventing flood risk, soil conservation and boosting biodiversity. To reinforce the government’s commitment to the planting 11 million trees by 2022, it launched a £50 million Woodland Carbon Guarantee Scheme to help boost tree-planting rates in the fight against climate change. The scheme is open to owner - occupier land managers tenants, landlords and licensors, who have control of land and all the activities needed to meet the guarantee scheme obligations. At the local level, planning authorities will look to ensure that development schemes make provision for new and replacement tree planting. Leeds City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 27th March 2019. Amongst a host of other commitments (which also include district heating), the City Council looks to increase the amount of tree cover in the district from 6.9% to the England average of 8.2% (an additional 32,000 trees). Adopted planning policy requires that where trees are lost to development they must be replaced by a factor of 3 to 1. Net increase of tree cover in landscaping schemes enables positive benefit through improvement of ‘well-being’ for development users. Authorities in general are also taking steps to ensure their own built estate becomes carbon neutral through the reduced use of steel and concrete in new development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Following the Greater London Authority lead, town centre congestion charges are likely to be introduced in many cities across the Country to reduce reliance on vehicles whilst maximising opportunities for sustainable transport, cycling and walking, reducing exhaust emissions and improving air quality by limiting access to town centres by non- electric vehicles or pedestrianisation. Cities throughout the UK including Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester propose to introduce congestion charging measures over the next few years. As the effects of the changing climate around the world continue to hit the headlines, the need for radical change has been recognised by many including local authorities around the world, particularly so, here in the UK. Recognising the growing momentum, Authorities through their functions and responsibilities accept the need to bring about systematic change to the way our living environment is impacted upon by our day to day activities. Increasingly, part of this is being secured through requirements on developers of new schemes at the planning stage.