Net zero needs onshore wind

The UK has just adopted one of the world’s most ambitious targets to tackle climate change – legislating for net zero by 2050.

The issue has dominated the media agenda in recent times and still looks set to be a feature of politics in the weeks and months ahead.

I spoke at the Scottish Renewables onshore wind conference yesterday and despite the groundswell of positivity for decarbonisation, at first glance the industry’s position isn’t much changed since last year.

The onshore wind construction industry is at a near standstill.

Onshore-related jobs in Scotland dropped by nearly a third between 2016 and 2017, with projects which were completed under previous support arrangements now completed – this will have dropped further since.

There has also been no movement Westminster’s appetite for more onshore wind to play a part in decarbonising the UK’s electricity generation mix.

For a sector that retains more than 60 per cent of its economic lifetime benefit in the UK – SSE will add around £3.4bn to the UK economy, of which £2.3bn will be in Scotland – the sense of urgency around the industry is palpable.

We are thrilled the UK and Scottish Governments are both seeking to adopt the CCC advice in its targets – SSE Renewables has been advocating for this for some time.

Not just because it is the only way of averting climate catastrophe – but because we believe it is more achievable than ever.

This is thanks to the many working in the sector who have helped to make wind power a success.

We have gone from a niche technology to a mature industry. And as we move to a low-carbon world are at the forefront of arguably the lowest cost generation available.

Despite a vocal minority, government polling proves that year-on-year onshore wind is popular amongst the public.

The reasons behind the onshore development hiatus are well-trodden ground but, as an industry we must collectively focus on what can be done now – and with urgency.

Developers, the Scottish Government, statutory bodies and local authorities need to turn their sails in the same direction.

Government must deliver consistency across departments and arms-length organisations. The Planning Bill cannot be at odds with the ambitions set out in the Energy Strategy and Onshore Wind Policy Statement.

Statutory bodies, such as SEPA and Scottish Natural Heritage must also be aligned on climate change ambition – which is by no means inconsistent with their duty to protect the local environment.

The National Planning Framework needs to be understood and applied equally across local authorities. Only then can climate change be tackled in a co-ordinated approach across Scotland.

The Scottish Government must provide the leadership to make this consistency a reality.

Developers need to use the most up-to-date technology, target the windiest sites and find innovative ways to continue to bring costs down. We need to maximise Scotland’s wind resource by using advanced turbine technology. Bigger turbines can be transformational for project economics.

Repowering too can breathe new life into projects. As we move into the 2020s, the earliest sites will begin to reach the end of their asset life. And it is then that the planning system needs to support repowering.

Take SSE’s Tangy project as an example. Rather than lose that capacity when the wind farm comes to the end of its life, we’re looking to replace the existing 22 turbines with 16 modern and efficient turbines, increasing the installed capacity fourfold.

Setting a long-term commitment to these projects is one of the biggest steps the Scottish Government can take to provide the supply chain with a clear pipeline of projects over at least the next 15 years.

Costs must be controlled for developers too. The industry has already driven onshore costs down over the last decade. And we want to go further. Fees associated with the planning process add additional pressure on project economics. As do business rates. These fees have a role to play but they must be fair and proportionate to the benefits that onshore wind can deliver.

SSE has supported the Scottish supply chain through companies such as CS Wind and RJ McLeod. We’ve created accessible contract opportunities. And we have led the way with community investment.

To achieve these things, we need the Scottish Government to stand by its commitments and reflect its net zero ambition through practical support for onshore wind. Only then can the onshore industry play its part in delivering Scotland’s 2045 targets.

About the author

Paul Cooley Director of Generation Development, SSE

Paul Cooley is Director of Generation Development for SSE plc and is responsible for the development and construction of all of SSE’s renewable energy projects across Great Britain and Ireland. He was formerly General Manager for Ireland of SSE Renewables. Paul joined SSE and the energy industry from the chemicals and manufacturing sector where he held various senior management positions including operational, regulatory and engineering management roles at DuPont and the Quinn Group. He has an Honours degree in Electrical Engineering from Queens University, Belfast.

Read more articles by Paul Cooley