The UK’s business secretary has proposed tripling the number of solar panels and doubling onshore wind power in the country by 2030, a move that offers cheap domestic energy but risks strong local protests.
Kwasi Kwarteng’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has put forward ambitious targets for the expansion of renewable energy generation in the forthcoming energy security white paper.
Yet the paper has been delayed by several weeks while the Treasury wrangles over the cost of approving the six or more nuclear power stations envisaged in the strategy.
Rishi Sunak, chancellor, is understood to be concerned about the potential cost of underwriting and co-investing in more atomic plants beyond the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C, which is under construction, and Sizewell C in Suffolk, that will have the same generation capacity and in which the government plans to take a 20 per cent stake.
“Putting together a long-term strategy is complicated,” said one aide. “Discussions are ongoing.”
Kwarteng’s 2030 targets include increasing solar from its current capacity of 14 gigawatts to 50GW, offshore wind from 11GW to 50GW, onshore wind from 15GW to 30GW, and nuclear power from 7GW to 16GW, according to people close to the process.
The plans for solar and onshore wind generation would be the first government targets for these technologies.
Meanwhile, some Tory MPs are uneasy at the extent to which the strategy will turbo-charge prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans for Britain to get all its electricity from low-carbon sources by 2035.
Johnson set out a green “10-point plan” in November 2020, along with a revamped National Infrastructure Strategy, which both referenced a 40GW target for offshore wind.
Some Tory MPs sympathise with local opposition to wind farms and solar farms, amid concerns about their impact on views and biodiversity.
Last year, for example, Tory MPs Matt Hancock and Lucy Frazer joined protesters against plans for a 1,130-hectare solar farm in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire by energy firm Sunnica.
Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, which campaigns to protect the countryside, said the switch to renewables was vital but it “made no sense for the countryside to become a patchwork quilt of solar panels”.
He called for the government to develop a strategy for their installation including prioritising rooftops. “Hundreds of thousands of homes, shops and offices becoming a modernised network of rooftop renewable energy is a vision the whole country could get behind.”
Ministers are considering plans to give financial incentives to local residents near wind farms or new nuclear power stations.
A survey of nearly 20,000 of its customers by domestic supplier Octopus Energy this week found 87 per cent of respondents supported a wind turbine in their neighbourhood if it meant half-price electricity.
RenewableUK, which has led the campaign to double onshore wind capacity from 15GW to 30GW over the past year, said it was “great news for hard-pressed energy bill payers, because onshore wind is the UK’s cheapest source of new power and we can build shovel-ready projects faster than any other source of energy”.
Johnson, who was asked about onshore wind at a press conference last week, said that his personal preference was for offshore wind.
However, his broader case is that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows the risk of Britain depending on overseas countries — some with dubious human rights records — for its energy.
Renewable energy was “invulnerable to Putin’s manipulations”, Johnson said recently, a reference to Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. “He may have his hand on the taps for oil and gas, but there is nothing he can do to stop the North Sea wind.”
Norway was the biggest single source of gas supplies to the UK for the first time last year, exceeding production from the North Sea, according to a report by OEUK, which represents the oil, gas and offshore wind sector.
The International Energy Agency has proposed a global halt to opening new oil and gas resources but OEUK warned that — unless investment in the North Sea is increased — around 80 per cent of UK gas supplies and more than 70 per cent of oil will have to be sourced abroad by 2030.