Conservatives plan big expansion of wind farms ‘to protect national security’ | Renewable energy

A massive expansion of wind farms across the UK is now necessary for national security reasons, the business secretary has said, as, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the government plans to drastically change planning laws to improve Britain’s energy independence.

Boris Johnson plans to unveil a sweeping new ‘energy strategy’ within a fortnight to ensure the UK can meet its domestic needs from a mix of renewable and nuclear energy. The war in Ukraine has led to further huge increases in global fossil fuel prices and exposed the countries’ dependence on foreign supplies.

Remarkably, the need for more onshore and offshore wind farms – traditionally a hotly debated topic within the Conservative Party – is now being raised within government as a security issue, rather than a way to tackle climate change.

Renewables such as wind and solar are set to be part of the government’s new strategy to free Britain from dependence on imported oil and gas and spare households and businesses the effects of wild swings in global energy markets.

Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary for business, energy and industrial strategy, said last week on Twitter“It’s no longer about tackling climate change or achieving zero emissions goals. Securing the UK’s clean energy independence is a matter of national security. Putin can fix the price of gas, but he cannot directly control the price of renewables and nuclear that we produce in the UK.

Official figures show that achieving net zero targets would cut gas consumption by 65% ​​by 2035 in the UK, and nearly 100% by 2050.

Wind turbines on Eaglesham Moor, south west of Glasgow. Their construction was highly controversial within the Conservative Party. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

While some Tory MPs also want the moratorium on fracking for shale gas to be lifted to reduce import dependency, cabinet sources have said there is no realistic prospect of it. do so in the short term, until the process has been proven to be demonstrably safe. Instead, a majority of cabinet ministers back a big push for more renewables and an expansion of nuclear.

Johnson said last week that all oil imports from Russia would be phased out by the end of this year. In the UK, 4% of gas and 8% of oil currently come from Russia. The EU gets about 40% of its gas from Russia and 27% of its oil.

Sources said changes to planning rules that would make it easier to build wind farms would likely be announced as part of the new energy strategy. Construction has slowed since David Cameron tightened regulations when he was Prime Minister: for now, local residents can easily block such plans. It is also understood that the government could pave the way for more offshore wind farms, despite opposition from the fishing industry.

Other countries are also using the security concerns raised by the Ukraine crisis to urgently push for more green and clean energy. The German government last week announced an additional 30 billion euros for its clean energy transition in response to the invasion. Christian Lindner, the Minister of Finance, described renewables as “freedom energies” that could allow Germany greater energy independence and transform “the economy, society and the state”.

Kwasi Kwarteng says promoting renewable energy is no longer just a matter of tackling climate change.
Kwasi Kwarteng says promoting renewable energy is no longer just a matter of tackling climate change. Photo: Michael Mayhew/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Labor called for an urgent “national sprint” to build a clean, green and secure energy future, including more renewables. Ed Miliband, shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, said last week: “Energy security is national security. Clean, local energy is the cheapest and safest route to energy security and sovereignty.

In 2020, renewables generated 43% of UK electricity, while gas, oil and coal contributed around 40%. The remaining capacity was filled by nuclear.

In October last year, Johnson announced that all UK electricity would come from clean energy sources by 2035. The plan is now to bring that date forward.

While many Tory MPs and party members have opposed wind farms, there are signs of growing support. Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: “The English planning system has blocked almost all new onshore wind development for the past five years, despite being the cheapest source of new electricity production. Reforming these rules, while ensuring communities still have a say, will spur investment in local clean energy and accelerate our transition to expensive fossil fuels.

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, an independent forum for conservatives who support decarbonisation, said: “Streamlining planning approvals and regulations would trigger more wind and solar projects to provide cheap, clean energy. and local. Now is the time to accelerate the march to net zero and move away from volatile fossil fuels. »

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