Scottish Tories Look to Quash Hopes of Onshore Wind Revival

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Hopes that a Conservative government could open the door for new onshore wind projects outside of England were dealt a blow late last week, after the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto underlined the party’s opposition to new wind farms in Scotland.

Last week the Conservative Party’s main manifesto performed a surprise partial U-turn and scrapped the Party’s previous promise to “halt” the expansion of onshore wind farms in the UK. It stated that while the Party does “not believe large-scale onshore wind power is right for England” it will support the development of wind projects on remote Scottish islands.

In addition, it made no mention of the prospects for onshore wind farms in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and confirmed plans for an independent review of the cost of energy, tasked with keeping energy costs “as low as possible, while ensuring a reliable supply and allowing us to meet our 2050 carbon reduction objective”.

The proposals fuelled hopes across the renewables industry that a review drawing on evidence of the increasingly cost competitive nature of onshore wind and solar developments could open the door for a new wave of projects.

However, the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto, while closely mirroring much of the wider party’s agenda, underlines its opposition to onshore wind farms on the Scottish mainland.

“We want to see a diverse range of sources for Britain’s energy production, because a diverse energy economy is the best way to stimulate innovation, and also to ensure that we are getting the right generation in the right place,” the document states. “For instance, while we do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for Scotland, we will maintain our position as a global leader in offshore wind and support the development of wind projects in the remote islands of Scotland, where they will directly benefit local communities.”

The proposals represent a further boost for the UK’s offshore wind sector and plans to build a number of onshore wind farms on the Scottish islands. But it also demonstrates that a significant political battle awaits if the Westminster government seeks to revive plans for onshore wind farms in the rest of Scotland.

The SNP has said it wants to see more onshore wind farms built where they can command community support, and some government sources are privately supportive of the argument that falling wind turbine costs mean projects in Scotland could deliver clean power at negligible costs for bill-payers. However, the Scottish Conservatives remain largely opposed to the idea of reviving the sector.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto echoes the stance of the wider party in underlining its commitment to climate action and promising new investment in low carbon transport infrastructure and clean tech R&D.

“We will continue to lead international action against climate change, and the degradation of habitat and loss of species,” the manifesto states.

However, it also promises a fresh battle with the SNP and environmental campaigners after reiterating its support for shale gas development in Scotland and arguing the technology can push down energy costs and curb carbon emissions.

“We will… support the shale industry in Scotland, including by using powers devolved in the 2016 Scotland Act,” the manifesto read. “We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities supporting it.”