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Legal Action Looms Over Exclusion of Onshore Wind in New Energy Policy

The United Kingdom government’s recently unveiled renewable energy policy statement faces legal scrutiny over its controversial exclusion of onshore wind projects. On January 24, 2024, the Good Law Project, a public interest litigation non-profit, sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, setting the stage for a potential judicial review.

The crux of the legal challenge lies in the government’s decision to remove large-scale onshore wind projects from the list of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) in 2016. This effectively relegated smaller projects to local planning authorities, a process often marred by lengthy delays and community opposition, significantly hindering onshore wind development.

The Good Law Project contends that the government’s justification for this exclusion – concerns over visual impact and noise pollution – lacks sufficient evidence and constitutes an unreasonable departure from its climate change objectives. Furthermore, they argue that the policy statement fails to provide adequate reasoning for this exclusion, as section five of the Planning Act 2008 requires.

“The government is stubbornly refusing to back one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy,” stated Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director of the Good Law Project. “We believe this exclusion is unlawful and counterproductive to achieving the UK’s net zero targets.”

The government, however, maintains its position, arguing that the current policy framework balances the need for renewable energy generation with local concerns. They assert that onshore wind deployment has not stagnated entirely, pointing to smaller community-led projects gaining traction.

The potential consequences of a successful legal challenge are significant. A judicial review could compel the government to revise its policy statement, potentially paving the way for a resurgence of onshore wind development in the UK. This could contribute to a faster and more cost-effective transition to a low-carbon energy system.

While the legal battle awaits its next chapter, the debate surrounding onshore wind remains heated. Proponents highlight its affordability, efficiency, and compatibility with existing infrastructure. Opponents, however, raise concerns about aesthetic impact, potential health risks, and the rights of local communities.

Ultimately, the future of onshore wind in the UK hinges on the government’s willingness to reconcile legitimate concerns with the urgent need to decarbonize its energy sector. The outcome of the potential legal challenge could set a crucial precedent in this ongoing debate, with implications for the UK’s renewable energy roadmap and climate commitments.

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