Rural areas should be paid to host wind farms, think tank urges

Green energy companies should be forced to pay rural communities to host wind and solar farms, a new report has argued.

Research by the Onward think tank found that around £3.7bn could be spent on areas near green infrastructure projects by 2035.

It argued that this could be raised by making “community benefits”, the process by which areas can get added value from projects near them, obligatory for new green energy infrastructure.

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Polling by Public First found that rural voters overwhelmingly back renewable energy projects in their area, with 43 per cent supporting green power unconditionally, compared to 9 per cent who opposed.

Renewable energy schemes in North Yorkshire are being delayed by up to 12 yearsRenewable energy schemes in North Yorkshire are being delayed by up to 12 years
Renewable energy schemes in North Yorkshire are being delayed by up to 12 years

However, 37 per cent would oppose a local project unless it came with community benefits attached, which could include a reduction in energy bills or investment in local infrastructure.

Some 77 per cent of rural voters planning to vote Conservative at the next election would support local renewable energy if it came with the added benefits of investment.

Jack Richardson, head of energy and climate at Onward, said: “We need to stop blocking development and instead tie it to local investment. Our new research shows that this approach has the backing of rural voters: over three quarters think new projects should have community benefits attached, and nearly half want boards of local elected representatives and community leaders to decide how community benefits are spent.”

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Sir Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, said: “Onward’s proposed Green Energy Covenant is an important contribution to the growing campaign to lift the ban on onshore wind. We need to streamline the planning process and bring down barriers to growth. This report provides a way to build an enduring political consensus to do so.”

The report adds fresh pressure on the Government to lift its ban on onshore wind, following calls for Tory MPs to push through amendments in Parliament in a bid to bind ministers to the policy.

It also recommends the Government should provide a default package of £2 per megawatt hour rate for community benefit funds.

This would see a medium-sized wind farm raise just under £6m over a 20-year lifetime, which could be invested in home upgrades, energy bill rebates, or local public services and green spaces.

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Local boards of elected representatives and other community leaders, such as head teachers or business owners, would decide what the money is invested in.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary, said: “People across the UK, from all parties, support the need for more clean energy infrastructure, because they understand that getting on with the sprint to clean power is the only way to cut bills for good, create good jobs, give us energy security, and tackle the climate crisis.

“To unlock this potential, we need to be builders not blockers. Everyone will benefit from the clean energy infrastructure we need, and a Labour Government will ensure that the communities that host it will also benefit directly.”