Sturgeon’s squadron of new SNP MPs prevents Cameron from axing UK onshore wind farm subsidies (for now)

WIND-FAN:  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on a recent visit to a Scottish wind farm.
WIND-FAN: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on a recent visit to a Scottish wind farm.

The UK Government has published its planned legislation to end taxpayer subsidies for new onshore farms and to end the need for the Cabinet Minister consent (in England only) for large onshore wind farms – those over 50MW.

These are two of the key clauses in the draft Energy Bill formally announced as part of the Queen’s speech opening the new parliament following the elections earlier this month.

The majority of onshore wind farm projects – 1,642 out of 2,836 turbines – currently awaiting planning permission are in Scotland, compared with 483 in England, according to figures from wind industry body Renewable UK.

Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of Renewable UK criticised the plan to move big wind farms from national to local planning authorities (in England). She said: “Singling out one of the most popular and lowest cost forms of energy technology for different treatment in the planning system sends a worrying message to investors across the energy sector.”

However, as a result of the UK elections (which saw a tsunami of Scottish Nationalist MPs win 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland) the key Conservative party manifesto pledge to cut subsidies for onshore wind farms has been halted – at least temporarily.

This not because the SNP bloc can make any impact on the parliamentary arithmetic in votes in Westminster, but because of the clear expression of different (energy) policy north of the border.

This could be an early political win for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who just seven days ago called for a new approach to the UK’s relationship with Scotland on all key energy sectors – including coal, gas, oil and renewables – ‘with new decisions on energy policy made following a process of consultation and agreement with the Scottish Government.’

Among a range of energy policy issues on which Sturgeon said last week that the Scottish Government was looking for action from the newly elected Westminster Government were to:

  • Provide reassurance that Westminster will not change subsidy arrangements for onshore wind without agreement from Scottish Ministers.
  • Provide confidence to the offshore wind industry, ensuring there is sufficient budget to deliver the large-scale deployment and cost reduction seen in onshore wind, and
  • Ensure an appropriate predictable and stable fiscal and regulatory environment for the oil and gas sector.

Consequently, it appears as if Sturgeon has secured a major concession in the UK draft Energy Bill – which expressly states:The Government will consult with the Devolved Administrations on changes to subsidy regimes for onshore wind farms.”

“The commitment to end new subsidy for onshore wind farms will be delivered separately, and DECC will be announcing measures to deliver this soon.”

This may simply be a ruse by No. 10 Downing Street to ‘play for more time’ but Sturgeon said: “The Scotland Bill must deliver the Smith proposals in full, but that must not be portrayed by the UK Government as some kind of concession – delivering Smith would only be fulfilling the pledge they have already signed up to and the promise they have made to the people of Scotland.

“In addition, we believe the massively changed political circumstances in Scotland provides a mandate for substantial further powers – beyond those recommended by the Smith process – and we will continue to make a strong case to the UK Government for those powers to be delivered.”

Sturgeon will also draw political satisfaction from measures in the draft Energy Bill to deliver ‘more secure and diverse energy supplies in the UK, through the establishment of the new Oil and Gas Authority.” (which are reported in full elsewhere in this bulletin)

First Minister launches new Scottish energy manifesto for UK Govt on oil, gas, renewables, coal and GridScottish Energy News (21 May 2015)

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