ScottishPower has begun plans for a major expansion of onshore windfarm projects across Scotland in anticipation of a government U-turn on support for wind power projects.
The renewable energy arm of the big six power supplier has already considered almost 100 sites for a new generation of windfarm, using a smaller number of more powerful wind turbines to generate clean electricity. Most of the sites are in Scotland, but the company is also considering plots in Ireland.
Scottish Power expects the Conservative party’s block on onshore generation to be cast aside in the next parliament due to the growing need for cheap, clean energy to power the UK towards its climate goals.
Lindsay McQuade, the chief executive of ScottishPower Renewables, said she expects to see the next government match the ambition of the UK’s legislated climate targets with support for renewable energy development.
The government’s official climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has said the UK will need to build at least 1,000MW of onshore wind every year for the next three decades if it hopes to meet its target to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. This steady rollout is necessary, in addition to building offshore windfarms at four times the present rate.
McQuade said this meant renewable energy developers must start planning now to have a hope of meeting the target. She said Scottish Power had “a pipeline of energy developments across the UK, particularly in Scotland, where there’s excellent natural resource”.
“Scottish Power is developing an ambitious pipeline of onshore renewables that could deliver investment, create jobs and power our lives in the most economic way possible – if the commitment of net zero is to be a reality, I expect to see support from government to match it,” she said.
The Tory party is under pressure to reverse its block on government support for new onshore windfarms, which was put in place by former prime minister David Cameron in 2015.
The clampdown blocks onshore wind developers from competing for support contracts, and caused the rollout of new onshore wind capacity to fall by nearly 80% last year, to the lowest level since 2011.
The CCC has warned that the UK is unlikely to be able to develop enough renewable energy projects without government-backed contracts. Even “subsidy-free” projects would need a government deal to help negate the investment risk and reduce costs, the committee said.
McQuade said there was “broad political consensus to decarbonise our economy as rapidly as possible so that we live and work in a clean, green and sustainable manner. We expect cross-party commitment to deliver a viable route to market for onshore wind, the cheapest form of new electricity generation.”
The Labour party, Liberal Democrats, Green party and SNP have all voiced support for reinstating support for onshore wind, and evidence has emerged that Tory supporters overwhelmingly back it too.
A survey over the summer for the Conservative Environment Network showed that 74% of people who voted Conservative in the last election support onshore windfarms. The survey revealed that only a third of Tory voters support fracking, and within months the government called for an immediate halt to fracking across England.
Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park, said at the time: “Our constituents want to see us do more to tackle climate change. The next election will be fought on several key issues where we clearly diverge from other parties. But we shouldn’t be ceding ground on those that are straightforward, like bringing back onshore windfarms.”