On 2 March 2020 the government published a consultation seeking views on proposed changes to the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme. The consultation states that in order to deliver the level of ambition required to meet net zero, government intends to run the next CfD allocation round in 2021 for both established and less-established technologies. Further, the consultation document reveals that government is considering allowing onshore wind schemes to again compete for subsidies in 'Pot 1' alongside other established technologies potentially including CHP, hydro, landfill gas and sewage gas.

The proposal to allow onshore wind to again compete has been generally welcomed and has been described as a 'u-turn' and the 'abandonment' of the government's opposition to onshore wind.

The government's exclusion of onshore wind and solar from the latest allocation round is being challenged via an ongoing judicial review process on the basis that not allowing onshore wind to participate in that process, even on a zero-subsidy basis, creates distortion in the energy market.

Reader's may recall that since 2015 onshore wind development declined following the then communities secretary Greg Clarke's issue of a written ministerial statement (WMS) (HCWS42 18 June 2015), setting out new considerations (with effect from the date of the WMS), for deciding whether to grant planning permission for onshore windfarms in England. The intention was to fulfil the commitment made in the Conservative election manifesto, to give local people the final say on windfarm applications. Simultaneously, DECC published its intention to close the Renewables Obligation (RO) to new onshore windfarms in Great Britain from 1 April 2016, which was then a whole year earlier than had been planned.

The combined impact of the 2015 policy changes was that from then on the onshore wind industry in England would have had to change focus with promoters needing to adopt a strategic, long-term approach to selection, promotion and delivery of sites. As a result, planning applications for sites in England fell by 94% between 2015 and 2018.

Summarising the WMS, the planning consideration it set out were that when determining planning applications involving one or more wind turbines, the decision maker should only grant planning permission if the development site was in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan; and following consultation, where it could be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities had been fully addressed and therefore the proposal had community backing.

Reflecting the wording of the 2015 WMS, in 2019 a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF2) was published and included the following statement in footnote 49:

"Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing."

The planning changes which effectively gave local communities the final say on onshore wind farms in England since 2015, will still represent a high hurdle for projects today given that a planning consent is prerequisite to obtaining a CfD allocation. No other type of development is subject to similar restrictions.

Nevertheless, the ability to bid for CfD's will be a bonus for windfarms to be located in Scotland and Wales where planning is devolved. It was reported at the beginning of this year that plans for an onshore wind farm comprising up to 22 turbines were announced by EDF Renewables for what would be a Development of National Significance in Wales. The proposal includes a plan to create an annual community benefit fund based on a percentage of the farm’s output

The government's CfD consultation notes that delivering net zero will require change across the whole of society, stating that it is more important than ever to engage with and support local communities in this transition. Government wants to see the "transition work for the whole of the UK and will therefore work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to share best practice and understanding of how best to ensure local communities are involved in nearby renewable energy developments". The consultation document also calls for views on updating the existing community benefits and engagement guidance for onshore wind (2014), jointly with developers and local communities.

The government's climate adviser, the Committee for Climate Change, published a report in May 2019 (Net Zero Technical Report) which recommended almost a threefold increase over the next 15 years, which would in effect require the UK to grow its onshore wind capacity from circa 13GW now, to 35GW by 2035, or an average of more than 1.4GW per annum. Government was asked to comment on these figures in a recent written question (C11537, 03.02.2020). The government's response given on 11 February 2020 indicated that it would publish an Energy White Paper in Q12020 and that this would address the transformation and how the government intends to deliver on its net zero commitment.

It may be anticipated that the Energy White Paper will be published to coincide with the Budget on 11 March 2020 which it has said will "prioritise the environment". A Planning White Paper is also expected at the same time.

So far there are no further indications that the government is considering relaxing the planning rules for onshore wind projects. Any mention of wind development during the election campaign and in the background paper setting out more detail on its policy and legislative programme has been to increased offshore capacity.

The consultation closes on 22 May 2020.