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During our new Prime Minister’s first outing in Parliament, he recommitted himself to meeting the UK’s ambitious net zero target, stating that his Government would “place the climate change agenda at the absolute core of what we are doing.” Getting to net zero will be no easy task, but it is vital that we reach it, and this Prime Minister knows that. One of the first and easiest things he can do to get there is to bring back onshore wind.

Onshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity generation – it could cost as little as £45/MWh. Building the onshore wind the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommends we need for the lowest-cost route to net zero could even support 31,000 jobs by 2035, and save every household £50 a year on their energy bills. However, at present, onshore wind is kept from competing in Contract for Difference (CfD) auctions, which offer renewable projects a guaranteed price for their electricity. 

This de-risking process is important, as it provides greater investor certainty that lowers capital costs, in turn enabling onshore wind sites to produce energy at subsidy-free prices. Furthermore, because CfD auctions embed market competition for this Government subsidy, we only award them to the cheapest competitors in the race. If we want to boost our renewable capacity, then we should be doing so in the cheapest way we know how.

In 2015, the Conservative manifesto pledged to “end any new public subsidy” for onshore wind, after calls from Conservative MPs whose constituents were concerned about bankrolling the spread of onshore wind into their backyards. These towering structures are not exactly discreet, but I, like a growing number of people, don’t mind them. I see them as a symbol of our innovative economy, contributing to our world-leading record on decarbonisation whilst providing affordable energy.

In fact, most people agree. The Conservative Environment Network’s polling showed that 74% of Conservatives support onshore wind. This is now a popular technology, and we are in a different world than the one in 2015. A new net zero world, with a new Prime Minister. If we listened to the public’s concerns about onshore wind back then, then surely we should listen to them now they want it back.

Only recently, 150 MPs wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the barriers to onshore wind farms to be lifted, including six Conservatives who had previously written to David Cameron asking for the same barriers to be implemented. Only 6% of people oppose onshore wind developments, and it’s important that these projects are never forced on communities. Opening up the CfD process does not mean undermining local consent; it empowers communities with greater choice over what projects they want to see in their area, by ensuring that onshore wind can compete. That choice has been denied by the policies in place at present.

Lastly, it’s hard to talk up wind energy and ignore the recent blackout, with the news that it was likely caused by a lightning strike and associated technical faults at an offshore wind farm and a small gas-fired station. At the time of the fault, wind power was providing over 30% of demand, an impressive amount now, but likely to be far higher in the next decade. However, National Grid have been clear that the blackout was not due to renewables, their variability or their generation that day. 

We should investigate what caused this fault, and rectify it, but it should not halt our progress, or scare a nation of innovators away from pursuing the future energy system that is good for our planet and for consumer bills too. That future system is decentralised, smart, responsive, and full of wind (hopefully onshore and offshore), batteries, solar and other forms of renewable tech too. The UK continues to have one of the most reliable and fastest decarbonising grids in the world, and I’m sure that National Grid will take up any lessons to be learnt from this in order to keep building on that record to reach net zero.

There are many things the Prime Minister can do to tackle climate change – he has already acknowledged many of them, not least investing in innovative battery technology. But there is an easy win in bringing back onshore wind. It’s cheap, it’s popular, and it can contribute towards meeting our ambitious climate targets. That’s why the Prime Minister should bring back onshore wind.

Megan Trethewey is Senior Programmes Manager at the Conservative Environment Network. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. Image licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.