After some policy zig zags, the government is moving towards a commitment to wind farms on land, not just sea 

Prospects for onshore wind power projects have been very changeable over the past year. The government’s commitment to onshore wind was scaled back in the Energy Security Strategy in April, in effect banning development of new projects in England. This was followed by a move in September’s mini-Budget to accelerate planning reforms making it easier for priority projects to get approval – announced ahead of further developments on onshore wind in the autumn Budget weeks later. Since then, a consultation has been launched on proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework for onshore wind developments, which has the potential to open the door to new projects, though there are still unanswered questions around how the reforms would work in practice.


It is vital to capitalise on the advantages of onshore wind in providing a homegrown and affordable source of renewable energy if the UK’s net zero carbon emissions pledges are to be met, especially against the backdrop of the energy crisis dominating headlines. The NPPF consultation proposes reforming the rules around consent for onshore wind turbines so that local authorities can respond to the views of their local communities. This could play a key role in securing the UK’s energy independence, and there will be a further consultation on how communities supporting new onshore wind projects in their area could in exchange receive community benefits such as discounted energy bills.

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In the run-up to the new energy strategy, the sector was optimistic about the future of onshore wind, resulting in a boost in demand for new sites in England that could be developed as single- or multi-technology solutions combining wind with solar or storage. In the months following, with policy-makers vacillating, these sites were largely left stranded or in need of considerable remodelling to make them viable. Now that we have more assurance over the general direction of travel, and a proposed plan to bring onshore wind planning policy more in line with other infrastructure, the sector is becoming more optimistic that it will become easier to deploy. The key questions that remain include a) how the planning impacts of new projects as identified by local communities can be satisfactorily addressed, and b) what will be required to demonstrate local community support for new schemes.

Driving demand for sites

The main focus in England so far has been on developing solar power generation projects, and more recently on solar sites plus energy storage infrastructure, and it is unlikely this consultation will bring about a complete change of focus onto onshore wind. Instead, making it easier for local authorities to grant planning permission where they have the support of the local population could unlock sites which are only suitable for onshore wind, maximising site usage through multi-technology solutions and delivering economies of scale.

The introduction of onshore wind back into the energy mix could potentially put some sites that are unsuitable for solar onto the market

Competition for sites in England is already at an all-time high, with developers looking at innovative solutions and multi-technology modelling to make those that would not have been considered two or three years ago viable. The introduction of onshore wind back into the energy mix could potentially put some sites that are unsuitable for solar onto the market. Clearly, any easing of planning restrictions would be bound to fuel demand

Unlike solar, rental mechanisms for wind are likely to be linked to power generation rather than acreage, given the nature of the land take. Depending on factors such as site location and grid capacity, this could lead to two trends: firstly, increased project MW capacity to deliver economies of scale; and, secondly, a rise in the number of multi-technology projects where the parameters of the site require a mix of wind, solar and storage to make the project viable and deliver returns. We are already seeing this solution applied in Scotland to make best use of land – England could follow suit. However, grid capacity constraints and the need for further infrastructure development are key challenges.

The impact on investment

Funders will be watching these developments closely. Renewable generation projects have traditionally been seen as an attractive investment proposition and, like solar, onshore wind is a tried and tested technology that is viable without traditional subsidies. Investors with existing portfolios of operational onshore wind will see this as an opportunity to add trusted projects. And funds that have previously invested in solar but are new to onshore wind will be looking to partner with experienced developers with a proven track record. The market will react quickly and, for those developers that speculated on project pipelines ahead of the energy strategy, this could be an opportunity to capitalise on a sellers’ market.

The outlook for onshore wind projects in England seems positive. While the industry makes its views heard in the months ahead, many in the market will be positioning themselves to take advantage of what they hope will be a good outcome from the consultations. However, some scepticism may remain – especially given England’s history with onshore wind – as to whether the changes needed will materialise. Pragmatic policy-making will be very welcome, ensuring that less stringent planning rules allow the UK to harness more wind power and deliver wide benefits to society, while giving people a say on developments in their area. While the consultation on onshore wind is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go in terms of planning policies and legislative changes before wind turbines become a widespread reality in England.

Katherine Evans is head of planning at TLT