Onshore wind remains pivotal to a net zero future – we cannot afford to
forget about it, writes Kevin Cannon, managing associate at law firm
Glasgow was selected in September to host the 26th Conference of Parties
(COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Scotland has long been the UK’s strongest proof that renewable energy can
transform a nation’s reliance on carbon-heavy electricity and oil and gas
production in a relatively short space of time, providing the right
framework and tools are in place to support it.
Even in the oil and gas heartland of Aberdeen, great strides are being made
to decommission and invest in new technologies to reduce negative
environmental impacts, and to ensure the country remains competitive on the
international stage, but Scotland’s greatest success story is undoubtedly
the widespread adoption of both offshore and onshore wind power.
Scotland generated almost twice the entire country’s domestic power
requirements in the first half of this year from wind, powering homes from
the Outer Hebrides right through to the south of England, something that
has been achieved in just over a decade.
Total installed capacity of renewable electricity in Scotland has grown
from 3,353 megawatts in 2008 to 11,036 MW last year, with onshore wind
currently accounting for 71 per cent of total capacity.
An alarming drop
Public backing for onshore wind has reached an all-time high – 79 per cent
according to new figures from the Department for Business, Energy &
Industrial Strategy – and industry is slowly starting to take note. Last
year, Scottish Power became the first major UK energy firm to drop fossil
fuels completely in favour of wind power, after selling its remaining gas
and hydro stations to Drax in a deal worth £702 million.
Scotland’s current capacity, paired with growing public demand, has the
power to shape the future of electricity generation but there remain
challenges to the sector’s continued expansion. The fact that the other Big
Six companies haven’t yet followed suit may indicate a few of these
challenges, with a dip in the number of planning applications to create
further wind power sites stunting the sector’s growth, and the cost to
produce and receive renewable electricity, impacting both industry and
The withdrawal of UK government support for onshore wind introduced in 2015
has led to an alarming 94 per cent drop in onshore wind farm planning
applications, with developers rightly hesitant to pass increased costs
through the supply chain, ending with consumers. The number of jobs in
renewable energy dropping by a third in the last year.
Thankfully, there are a number of schemes in place to ensure Scotland
doesn’t fall behind in the production of renewable energy, including the
Scottish Government launching a £3 billion Green Investment Portfolio to
bring to market low-carbon projects over the next three years and the UK
government’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, which protects
consumers from volatile wholesale prices, thus incentivising developers.
The recent CfD Allocation Round 3 results saw contracts awarded to six
Scottish wind farms, four of which are onshore.
Untapped potential remains
The first subsidy-free onshore wind farm also broke ground earlier this
month in Dumfries and Galloway, which will ensure zero-carbon electricity
at a reduced cost for consumers, further signalling that developers can
overcome the hurdle of funding subsidy-free schemes, in this case,
offsetting costs by a community share offer. The reality of subsidy-free
wind marks a significant step toward realising net zero carbon emissions
That said, to encourage development at the scale that is required, there
must be improved access to CfDs for onshore wind farms which remain largely
excluded from auction frameworks as an “established technology”. A more
expansive auction system supporting the wider deployment of onshore wind,
together with measures to support the replacement of older turbines on
existing sites, is key to reaching our decarbonisation targets. Onshore
wind farms have proved their worth in the last decade and could become the
single largest contribution to meeting the UK’s net zero climate change
targets, if the correct frameworks are in place to support development.
As the UK’s biggest wind farm, Whitelee Wind Farm, celebrates its tenth
anniversary this year, it is a time to not only reflect on how far
renewable energy production, in particular onshore wind technology, has
come, but also recognise the untapped potential that remains.