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GETTING TO ZERO

Power to the People: How to unlock energy infrastructure by securing community support

Why the UK Government should make community benefits mandatory
Jack Richardson, Alex Luke, Phoebe Bunt, Ned Hammond
July 18, 2023
Power to the People: How to unlock energy infrastructure by securing community support

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 Government must take urgent action to unblock green energy projects by mandating investment in local communities. £3.7 billion could be invested by 2035 by making community benefits obligatory for green infrastructure projects.

The Government’s target for a net zero power system by 2035 requires doubling onshore wind, quintupling solar power, and carrying out large grid infrastructure upgrades. Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the move away from fossil fuels has become even more urgent as Ministers seek to increase energy security and reduce the UK’s exposure to volatile gas prices.

But local opposition often stands in the way of development. Campaigns against development can put pressure on councillors and MPs to intervene against projects or push the Government to enact restrictive policy. There has been a de facto ban in place on new onshore wind since 2016 following a campaign by Conservative MPs. 

This is despite the fact that renewable energy is popular. Rural voters are in favour of renewable energy even if projects are nearby. 57% would support an onshore wind farm three miles from their home, and just 17% oppose it. But many people would prefer developments to take place elsewhere. 

To convert passive support for renewables into active backing, so that it counteracts the small minorities that often dominate debates on local development, tangible benefits must be delivered to communities. In fact, our polling found that community benefits are necessary for support to outweigh opposition to local renewable energy projects. 

Although the UK and Scottish governments provide some guidance, there is currently a patchwork of community benefits programmes across the UK that have been established voluntarily by developers and communities. This approach will not be sufficient to deliver the scale of infrastructure required to enhance energy security, reduce energy prices, and reach the UK’s net zero targets. 

The Government should overturn the ban on onshore wind, mandate community benefits for all renewable energy projects and grid infrastructure, and introduce a new “Green Energy Covenant” to provide support and guidance to communities.

European Climate Foundation

Principles for “Green Energy Covenant”

The Government should establish a new “Green Energy Covenant” to ensure nationally beneficial developments are tied directly to local investment, and give power to communities to decide what community benefits are invested in.

The Green Energy Covenant is based on three principles:

  • Community benefits should be simple. Communities should know that they will receive an acceptable amount of investment in return for hosting energy infrastructure. And developers should be able to deal with easy, understandable regulation.
  • Community benefits should be fair. Communities need a fair deal for hosting energy infrastructure and putting up with the disruption that construction brings. But everyone else’s energy bills should not be raised unnecessarily high.
  • Community benefits should be direct. The benefits should go straight to the community that is affected. They should decide how the money is spent, not the Treasury or the Local Authority that represents the area.

Recommendations

To establish this Green Energy Covenant, the Government should take three steps.

  1. Amend the National Planning Policy Framework so that community benefits are automatically obligatory for onshore renewables and transmission infrastructure.
  2. Publish a new “Green Energy Covenant” document with a default community benefits payment rate and engagement guidance.

Onshore renewables payment rates

2.1 The Government should set the default rate at £2 per megawatt hour.

2.2 The payments should be annual and based on the average load factor of the technology to ensure revenue predictability and stability.

Transmission infrastructure payment rates

2.3 The Government should set the default rate for overhead power lines at £74,000 per mile – £165,000 per mile, depending on size.

2.4 The Government should set the default rate for underground power lines at 3% of the capital cost for underground lines.

2.5 The Government should set the default rate for substations at £46,000 – £103,000 per asset, depending on size.

Engagement guidance

2.6 Developers should engage with communities within three miles of the asset.

2.7 Developers should convene local boards of elected representatives and community leaders to decide how to invest the community benefits package.

2.8 The Government should introduce flexibility into the planning system to allow communities to influence route designs.

2.9 The local board would establish a ‘community action plan’ to set out how the money is to be invested, which can deviate from the default package if the local board decides.

  1. Establish a Green Energy Covenant Executive and revive the Community Benefit Registers.

Principles for “Green Energy Covenant”

The Government should establish a new “Green Energy Covenant” to ensure nationally beneficial developments are tied directly to local investment, and give power to communities to decide what community benefits are invested in.

The Green Energy Covenant is based on three principles:

  • Community benefits should be simple. Communities should know that they will receive an acceptable amount of investment in return for hosting energy infrastructure. And developers should be able to deal with easy, understandable regulation.
  • Community benefits should be fair. Communities need a fair deal for hosting energy infrastructure and putting up with the disruption that construction brings. But everyone else’s energy bills should not be raised unnecessarily high.
  • Community benefits should be direct. The benefits should go straight to the community that is affected. They should decide how the money is spent, not the Treasury or the Local Authority that represents the area.

Recommendations

To establish this Green Energy Covenant, the Government should take three steps.

  1. Amend the National Planning Policy Framework so that community benefits are automatically obligatory for onshore renewables and transmission infrastructure.
  2. Publish a new “Green Energy Covenant” document with a default community benefits payment rate and engagement guidance.

Onshore renewables payment rates

2.1 The Government should set the default rate at £2 per megawatt hour.

2.2 The payments should be annual and based on the average load factor of the technology to ensure revenue predictability and stability.

Transmission infrastructure payment rates

2.3 The Government should set the default rate for overhead power lines at £74,000 per mile – £165,000 per mile, depending on size.

2.4 The Government should set the default rate for underground power lines at 3% of the capital cost for underground lines.

2.5 The Government should set the default rate for substations at £46,000 – £103,000 per asset, depending on size.

Engagement guidance

2.6 Developers should engage with communities within three miles of the asset.

2.7 Developers should convene local boards of elected representatives and community leaders to decide how to invest the community benefits package.

2.8 The Government should introduce flexibility into the planning system to allow communities to influence route designs.

2.9 The local board would establish a ‘community action plan’ to set out how the money is to be invested, which can deviate from the default package if the local board decides.

  1. Establish a Green Energy Covenant Executive and revive the Community Benefit Registers.

This report is produced as part of our Getting to Zero research programme.

Getting to Zero

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Established a year before COP26, Onward’s Getting to Zero programme is dedicated to developing practical and politically possible ways for the UK to meet its net zero ambitions and lead the world in decarbonisation.

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