Two events – at the opposite ends of the scale – catch our eye this week and must raise questions as to the future of onshore wind.
The first appeared to have nothing to do with onshore wind, but the news it carried, and the context introduced by the second announcement, possibly introduced new doubts that onshore wind was falling out of favour with the UK Government, and Treasury in particular. The news was the (otherwise excellent) announcement of the eight renewable energy projects that had been awarded contracts for difference under the Final Investment Decision-enabling regime. The eight projects are in offshore wind and biomass. They are all large-scale projects that – when completed – will deliver significant chunks of our low-carbon targets. The political capital from such projects must look attractive when compared to onshore wind, which many critics consider to be over-abundant, and which consistently attract adverse publicity at a local (voting) level.
That may be an unduly cynical assessment of Treasury’s support for these projects, were it not for the second event. That is an announcement today by Michael Fallon, the Energy Minister, with a two-fold commitment that if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election, Government will (a) give local residents power to block new onshore wind farm proposals and (b) stop subsidies for new installations. This comes on the back of indications from the Prime Minister earlier this week that subsidies for onshore wind must be expected to come to an end.
This is a troubling time for onshore wind developers who had been expecting a longer-term future for the industry. In view of the two announcements this week and the possible shift away from onshore wind to bigger projects (predominantly offshore), we would anticipate that a number of developers may want to accelerate current onshore wind projects that are in planning or in the early stages of construction, with a view to commissioning under the Renewables Obligation well before the cut-off in March 2017.