Our top 5 takeaways from the Onshore Wind 2023 conference are:
- Onshore wind hailed as key to meeting decarbonisation targets, but key challenges remain on grid, planning, community buy-in and market uncertainty
- Power-to-x is gaining traction to getting onshore wind projects across the line, but how these energy systems are considered by grid must change
- Onshore Wind Sector Deal aims to double onshore wind capacity by 2030, with communities at the centre
- Community involvement remains key but more meaningful impact is necessary
- Shorter time frames and biodiversity inclusion in planning will be key to onshore wind developments going forward
Onshore wind key to meeting decarbonisation targets but key challenges remain
It is clear that both industry and the Scottish Government see the continued deployment of onshore wind as the best opportunity to meet our 2030 net zero targets, due to the maturity of the market and technology, and the speed of build that can be achieved. However, the key challenges continue to be grid, securing planning consents and community buy-in, along with mitigating mid to long-term price uncertainty to enable investment. Uncertainty on the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA), which is due to be consulted on later this year, and locational pricing, persists as a key challenge for developing wind.
Power-to-x is gaining traction to getting wind projects across the line
Power-to-x was a real hot topic this year, including a whole mix of technologies, for example, battery storage and green hydrogen. The key push from industry in using power-to-x is to enable onshore wind projects and in particular grid connections for these projects. In practice this is not there yet, with changes needed in regulation and grid to fully enable power-to-x systems. For example, battery storage is considered a ‘generation asset’ for grid purposes today, which has been a sticking point in securing grid, but this is currently under discussion. At Locogen, we have been actively looking into the technical and financial feasibility of these complex energy systems to facilitate onshore wind projects.
Onshore Wind Sector Deal aims to double onshore wind capacity by 2030
The Onshore Wind Sector Deal was signed at the conference and sets out a raft of measures intended to support the Scottish Government’s target of 20GW of onshore wind by 2030 – more than double the 9.3GW of operational capacity currently installed. The deal is focused on “delivering onshore wind farms quickly, sustainably and to the benefit of both local communities and Scotland’s net-zero target”. Measures include halving the time it takes for onshore wind farms to go through the planning process (from 24 to 12 months) and engaging with local communities earlier to agree the optimal package of community benefits. There is also a commitment to create a circular economy solution, with facilities to recycle, refurbish and repurpose decommissioned turbine components.
Community involvement remains key but more meaningful impact is necessary
The onshore wind industry has a good track record of working together with local communities to ensure a ‘just transition’ at the local level. Locogen has firsthand experience helping developers to define and establish community benefit funds with more meaningful impacts,for example, moving away from funding local sports clubs to supporting a roll out of local domestic insulation upgrades. But the community session panel confirmed that more needs to be done to involve communities in the ownership mix of projects in development and sharing community benefits more widely to support the fight against fuel poverty. Reimagining the concept of ownership of renewables and allowing communities to be part of the ownership mix, incentivises them to be proactively involved in new projects, as demonstrated by the Ripple Energy business model.
Concern was raised over the geographical constraints of community ownership and benefits, meaning that disenfranchised communities are not benefitting equally. Re-evaluating and modernising the current structure of community benefits is needed to address these challenges, which will require active participation from the government. Other key discussions on the day focussed on best practices, how to empower communities effectively, improving communication, defining specific community needs, aligning approaches nationally and designing effective community benefit packages that allows for local management.
Shorter time frames and biodiversity inclusion in planningwill be key to onshore wind developments going forward
On the planning side we are delighted to see realistic consenting targets being set in the sector deal. Our recent success consenting a 60MW solar project in North Ayrshire showed that good projects, including S36 projects, with upfront commitments on biodiversity (in this case peatland restoration) and pragmatic consultee responses are capable of going through the process within these target timings. Sadly on other projects the ongoing lack of resource at local authority level is a major concern and impediment to hitting these targets.
Whilst the renewable industry probably more than most has shown it has the potential to deliver the biodiversity enhancements now being sought under NPF4, the announcement that Nature Scot are moving behind the scenes to publish a more formal metric for biodiversity net gain (similar to England) raises the prospect of reduced flexibility in this area and the potential for further unnecessary hold ups. Hopefully as this progresses there will be an opportunity, as with NPF4, for us all to ensure that this emerging policy is appropriately worded and sensibly implemented.