Onshore wind: ‘I’ve saved £200 because of my local turbine’

For more than seven years there has been an effective ban on new onshore wind developments in England after a planning clampdown. Now, with the rules set to be relaxed, the government is considering offering people who want to host turbines in their area money off their energy bills in return.

The rolling hills around the rural town of Market Weighton, in East Yorkshire, are dotted with wind turbines.

From his garden, Ellis Jacklin, who lives on the outskirts of the town, can see several in the distance.

There are 226 turbines across the East Riding of Yorkshire – the highest number of any area in England, according to trade body RenewableUK.

But while new onshore wind developments have provoked vocal opposition from some locals in the past, Ellis supports more being built.

The 29-year-old has seen first-hand the potential benefits of this relatively cheap source of renewable energy.

He’s part of a scheme run by energy supplier Octopus which offers discounts to customers in three areas with turbines nearby, including Market Weighton.

The government is looking at whether the idea could be rolled out more widely so people who are happy to have turbines where they live can benefit directly.

Customers signed up to the Octopus scheme get 20% off their electricity bill when their local turbine is spinning and a 50% discount when it’s particularly windy.

Since January last year Ellis, who works as a project engineer, has saved around £200 through the initiative.

With the country in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, driven in part by soaring energy costs, Ellis says the savings have made a big difference.

“It’s helping the environment, we’re also in addition to that saving a bit of money,” he says. “It’s a no brainer.”

Octopus says on average customers have saved more than £100 a year through the scheme, depending on their energy usage, but some have saved as much as £400.

Ellis Jacklin

Ellis is a supporter of onshore wind

A government survey last year suggested around 78% of people are supportive of onshore wind but a smaller proportion – 43% – said they would be happy to have a wind farm in their local area.

Ellis believes offering energy bill discounts could persuade more people to back new turbines being built in their own community.

“There’s a massive push on renewable energy,” he says. “And I think when somebody can directly relate it to their bills and say, there’s a wind turbine spinning near me and when that’s moving I get money off, I think it really brings it home.”

However, Sarah McMonagle, from CPRE, the Countryside Charity, has concerns about the idea, saying developments which have community support “don’t need bribes”.

Ms McMonagle says her charity supports moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible but it thinks the focus should be on offshore wind and rooftop solar, which she says are more popular forms of renewable energy than onshore turbines.

“New onshore [wind] needs to be brought forward in collaboration with the local community and it needs to be sensitive to landscapes,” she adds.

Zoisa North-Bond, chief executive of Octopus’s energy generation division, stresses the company only supports building turbines where people want them.

She says the idea of offering money off bills for communities who live near turbines has been popular. As well as Market Weighton, the company also offers the discounts to customers in Caerphilly, south Wales, and Halifax, West Yorkshire, and the scheme is oversubscribed in all three areas.

At the moment, it’s relatively small scale, with about 2,800 households signed up. However, Octopus has plans to expand the initiative and is hoping to have at least 1,000 turbines across the UK by the end of the decade.

There are some barriers though – Ms North-Bond says it can take years to connect a turbine to the electricity grid, while the current planning rules in England make it very difficult for new onshore wind farms to be built.

In 2015 the government introduced stricter requirements, with companies only allowed to apply to build turbines on land specifically identified for development in plans drawn up by local councils. Proposals also needed the backing of local communities.

The changes saw a sharp decline in the number of planning applications being submitted.

In December the government promised to relax some of these restrictions, including the requirement for new turbines to be built on pre-designated land, although projects would still need local support.

A consultation, which is due to last until April, is currently looking at how local opinion can be determined. It’s also seeking views on how communities who want to host turbines can benefit directly.

Wind farm near Sancton

Sancton Hill Wind Farm, which was built in 2012, is a few miles from Market Weighton

The idea of offering discounts to people who are willing to live near turbines already has the support of some Conservative MPs.

In a recent report a group of Tory backbenchers argued this could provide an incentive for people to host renewable projects.

Under the report’s proposals, new onshore wind developments would be subject to a local referendum.

It suggests a 100% discount on energy bills for those living within one mile of a proposed site for the lifetime of the project, with smaller discounts of 50% for those within three miles and 25% for those within four miles.

The group argues this would encourage developers to avoid sites close to built-up areas, minimising the disruption and visual impact on residents.

Former Business Secretary Dame Andrea Leadsom, who chairs the committee which wrote the report, is planning to meet government ministers to discuss the proposals. She believes they could have broad appeal, even amongst Tory MPs who have been concerned about the impact of wind farms in their constituency.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of people become far keener on seeing much more renewable energy in their area,” she says, adding that the “rocketing” cost of energy and a desire to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels are both playing a part in shifting views.

Mike Padgett

Mike has lived in Sancton, East Yorkshire, for more than 30 years

But back in East Yorkshire, not everyone is convinced.

Mike Padgett lives down the road from Market Weighton in the village of Sancton on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, an area popular with walkers.

There are 11 turbines around a mile from his house and he’s previously been involved in local campaigns against more being built.

“There are lots of footpaths around our village and some of these turbines were almost 20 yards away from the footpath,” he says.

“They are a massive industrial blot on the landscape in the wrong areas. And in a little place like ours, we just felt that it was just not the right place.”

View of the wind farm near Sancton

Sancton Hill Wind Farm is visible from the village

Mike, 70, is worried proposals to ease planning restrictions for onshore wind will mean more turbines are approved – even if there’s opposition from some of those living closest to them.

He says getting money off his bills would “help soften the impact” of the turbines which are already there and could be a fair way of compensating local people.

But he’s wary about the idea of developers using discounts to persuade people – and it wouldn’t persuade him to support more turbines being built.

“If I could get rid of coal and oil and gas tomorrow I would,” he says. “But not at the expense of having turbines all around us.”

Video production and additional reporting by Thomas Mason

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