Offshore wind auction shows fall in renewable costs – but community schemes face barriers

Tough planning rules mean onshore schemes favoured by community projects are unlikely to get the go-ahead

The UK renewable energy sector received an unexpected boost this week when a government auction for subsidised offshore wind projects saw costs plummet.

An aggressive competition for schemes saw the three winners submit lower bids than experts had expected.

Germany’s Innogy will receive £74.75 per MWh for Triton Knoll off the coast of Lincolnshire, Denmark’s Dong Energy will take £57.50 for its Hornsea Two project off the Yorkshire coast, and Spain’s EDP Renováveis will receive £57.50 for the Moray offshore windfarm in Scotland.

Analysts say the result indicates falling costs for offshore wind and predict it could bring subsidies below that needed for nuclear energy.

But the winners of the round of auctions were big foreign players, and the bonanza for offshore wind has not benefited the UK’s community energy sector. Although there are offshore wind projects in Europe which have community ownership, such as Middelgrunden, off Copenhagen, Denmark, this is not the case in the UK.

The focus for community energy in the UK is on solar and onshore wind projects, which do not receive the same government support and face a hostile planning regime.

Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England (CEE), which represents UK sector, said: “There aren’t yet any offshore UK windfarms with an element of community ownership although it is an avenue we would be very open to exploring.”

She added: “The biggest barrier to onshore wind for communities isn’t the cost, it is the changes to the planning regime for wind energy development which have resulted in local people only really having a meaningful say on wind energy development applications where that say is ‘no’.

“As a result, community energy has effectively been stripped of its cheapest energy generation technology.”

Related: Regulatory and tax changes have slowed growth of community energy

The government toughened up the planning rules in 2015 to give local people a final say on windfarm applications.

To succeed, an application must be in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan.

And, following consultation, it must be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.

As a result, says CEE, England’s onshore wind industry has been decimated. When a community does want a turbine in its area , it faces a protracted two-stage process because, before it can even submit a valid planning application, it has to get a site identified in its local area as “suitable for wind energy development”.

In a recent submission to the government, CEE called for “mitigation and clarification to address what amounts in our view to a disproportionate burden placed upon community-led wind energy projects”.

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