“A lot going on” was a very apt phrase used in the opening session of the Onshore Wind Conference 2022 in Glasgow. And it’s clear to see why: onshore wind is generating cheap and reliable energy, creating high-skilled and sustainable jobs, contributing positively to the Scottish economy and enjoying a groundswell of popular support, with the latest poll commissioned by RenewableUK showing 76% of people are in favour of renewable projects being developed in their local area.
Policy, people and projects were the key themes of the sessions at this year’s conference. It was great to hear that an Onshore Wind deal and refreshed Onshore Wind Policy Statement remain firmly on the Scottish Government’s agenda. As Màiri McAllan, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, put it, the current cost of living crisis gripping the UK simply underlines the need for a just energy transition – it is clear we cannot simply solve one crisis by accelerating another.
Policy must facilitate development and deployment. A clear land use strategy, which strikes the right balance between onshore renewables and competing demands, will be an essential step. Difficult decisions will need to be made around where priorities on land use sit. But, as highlighted by Kate Turner, Director of Policy and Regulation at ScottishPower Renewables, examples such as Whitelee demonstrate what onshore development can deliver – clean generation, co-location of different technologies, access to green space and biodiversity. What’s not to like?
Land use is, however, only one barrier. Planning will also have its part to play and NPF4, the fourth National Planning Framework, is just around the corner. With some onshore wind farms soon approaching end of life and others facing potential repowering, which involves replacing old turbines with more powerful and efficient models, planning policy needs to provide the required framework to accelerate deployment. With many smaller turbines being phased out, it should be clear to all that repowering will not simply be a case of like for like replacement. Indeed, to do so, would not optimise our land use.
An acceleration of development and deployment will inevitably add to an already challenging recruitment market. With an estimated 9,000 jobs in the north-east of Scotland alone to fill in the coming years, it is clear that education and training need to be at the heart of any policy. Thankfully, the talent required by the onshore sector, are passionate about the sector and, as it was put at the conference, the sector should provide “a meaningful, with life long career”.
It is clear that onshore wind has a significant part to play in solving the energy trilemma, balancing energy security, affordability and sustainability. All the sector needs now is for policy to provide the necessary tailwind.