Planning applications for UK clean energy projects hit new high
The number of new renewable energy projects applying for planning permission reached a four-year high in the UK last year as energy companies raced to meet the rising demand for clean electricity.
There were 269 planning applications for new wind, solar and bioenergy projects in 2019, up from 204 the year before, according to an analysis of government data by energy consultancy PX Group.
The jump in applications last year was the biggest annual increase in recent years and 75% higher than the number of annual planning submissions made three years ago. There were just 154 submissions in 2016, rising to 185 in 2017.
The consultancy said there was a growing appetite among energy companies for new renewable projects to help cut carbon emissions and reach the UK’s climate goals.
Clean energy developers are also able to roll out more projects due to falling technology costs and greater support from financiers, who view renewable energy as a lucrative investment.
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Geoff Holmes, the chief executive of PX Group, said: “It goes without saying that as more of these projects get off the ground, the faster the UK can get to a point where clean, green sources provide an even greater share of the UK’s energy.
“Of course, there is a lag time between submitting plans to councils and projects becoming fully operational, so more projects being in the pipeline is not a quick fix.”
Planning submissions for clean energy projects are expected to rise in the years ahead due to the government’s decision earlier this month to lift a block against subsidising onshore wind projects that was put in place almost five years ago.
From next year, onshore wind developers will be allowed to compete for subsidies at auction alongside solar power developments and floating offshore wind projects, the government said last month.
There has been a sharp decline in the number of new onshore windfarms since the block was put in place by David Cameron in 2016. The rollout of new onshore wind capacity fell to its lowest level since 2015 last year, prompting warnings that the UK risked missing its climate targets.
Under the new plans, windfarm developers will need to comply with tough new proposals on community consent to qualify for the auction process, and projects planned for England will also need the consent of the local community through existing planning codes.
Some renewable energy developers, including Scottish Power, began plans for a big expansion of onshore windfarm projects in anticipation of a government U-turn on support for wind power projects.
The chief executive of Scottish Power, Keith Anderson, said the decision to back onshore wind was “one of the first clear signs that the government really means business” on reaching its climate targets.
Earlier this week, the global energy watchdog warned that governments will need to use climate policies and economic stimulus packages to support the ongoing rollout of clean energy despite the global economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus outbreak and a crash in oil market prices.
Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said governments “should not allow today’s crisis to compromise the clean energy transition”.
“These challenging market conditions will be a clear test for government commitments. But the good news is that, compared to economic stimulus packages of the past, we have much cheaper renewable technologies, have made major progress in electric vehicles and there is a supportive financial community for the clean energy transition,” he said.
“If the right policies are put in place there are opportunities to make the best of this situation,” he added.
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