Onshore wind turbines are a significant and fast-growing source of electricity in the UK and are also the cheapest source available for the low-carbon energy needed to meet the country’s legally binding carbon targets.
David Cameron’s reported desire to cap their numbers would mean building more offshore wind turbines or nuclear power stations, both of which are more expensive.
In 2013, the 4,338 wind turbines dotted across the country generated almost 5% of Britain’s electricity, an increase of a third on the previous year. Together, those turbines have a capacity of over 7GW, enough to power 3.8m homes.
Windfarms have often encountered huge local opposition. Some analysts attribute this to the fact that about 90% are owned by large energy companies, rather than being owned by local communities – as in Germany.
The government was rattled by a letter opposing onshore windfarms sent to the prime minister in 2012 by 100 Conservative MPs and has been careful not to set a specific target for future turbine numbers.
Ministers have also cut the subsidies for onshore windfarms and changed planning rules to make it harder to get permission for new turbines.
However, the most recent government “scenario” envisages significant growth in onshore windfarms to 11-13 GW. There are currently just over 3,000 new turbines in construction or with planning approval. If all were built, that reach a total of 13GW of generation capacity. An additional 3,350 turbines (8GW) are in the planning system, although many are likely to be refused permission.
Restricting onshore windfarms would be a costly policy decision