SSE, the UK’s largest developer of wind farms, rules out onshore turbines

SSE boss says too few protests and not enough space are the reasons for its decision

The UK’s biggest wind farm developer ruled out the construction of new onshore windfarms in England and Wales, a blow for the Government’s plans to achieve net zero.

Alistair Phillips Davies, SSE’s chief executive, stated that his company is “unlikely” to build even one wind farm in England or Wales, despite recent planning regulations being relaxed by the government.

Mr Phillips Davies said that there was not enough space, too much protest and too little wind. He said that England and Wales are “particularly awkward places for trying to do business.”

He warned that the future of onshore projects in Scotland is likely to be limited.

The Government’s plans to increase onshore wind development are damaged by the statements. Last week, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove & Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho relaxed the planning rules in order to make onshore wind farms easier to build.

Ms Coutinho stated that onshore wind farms have “a crucial role to play” when it comes to “help[ing] provide a cleaner and cheaper energy system in the UK.”

Mr Phillips Davies said that the future of England’s wind industry lies offshore where developers can build at a much greater scale and with far less protests.

He still believes in offshore wind despite the disasterous renewables allocation on Friday, where the government set the price of offshore wind so low no new developers proposed projects. The UK will likely miss its goal of 50 gigawatts of offshore wind in 2030.

In today’s currency, the Government set the price per megawatt-hour at 60 PS. Mr Phillips Davies compared this to the £74 offered by the Irish government for its recent allocation of offshore wind and urged the UK government consider offering a similar amount.

He said, “Net zero will cost money, but it is better than buying oil or gas from sources that are decreasing in the Middle East and Far East.” Wind is free once the capital costs are paid.

Onshore wind farms are plagued by controversy, conflict and strict planning regulations. Offshore wind developments do not suffer from these issues.

Up until last week, one objection could effectively block onshore development. The system was highly politicised. Conservative backbenchers and Labour MPs successfully campaigned for its removal.

M. Phillips-Davies, despite the rule change last week to make things easier for developers said that industry itself is losing interest in offshore developments due to their small scale. He said, “I believe onshore wind can play a part in the UK. However, it will never be able to compete with offshore wind.” The UK has a small area with a large population. There are issues in Scotland about wild land protection, and many wind farms are already there.

He said that the local community’s reaction to his building in Wales was particularly harsh. “It’s not worth fighting people. That’s what it felt like in Wales. In Wales, the campaigns I was involved in were largely based on persuasion.

“Offshore has the scale, while onshore is more for small things.” Scotland has 25GW of offshore capacity, whereas SSE is unlikely to be able build another 4GW onshore. We might be able to do 1GW from where we are now.”

Latest data shows that offshore wind turbines produce more energy than those onshore. Onshore wind turbines in the UK can generate 15GW, which is equivalent to 15 gas-fired power stations.

Just 2,652 offshore wind turbines generate roughly the same amount. Offshore wind turbines are larger and more powerful, which is why they generate more electricity.

The offshore turbines do not generate the same complaints about visual intrusions, low-frequency noises or flickering caused by the sun shining on rotating blades as some onshore developments.

Mr Phillips Davies said: “We own hundreds of wind turbines onshore and tens wind farms in the UK and Ireland.” There’s only one wind turbine in England, and not many more will be built in England or Wales …. “Many companies have given up.”

SSE has already built more offshore than anyone else in the world. This includes the massive 3.6GW Dogger Bank project. This will be the biggest offshore wind farm on the planet, covering an area approximately equivalent to Greater London and capable of powering 6m homes.

Berwick Bank will be its next project, which could produce 4.1GW. Seagreen is Scotland’s biggest and deepest tethered off-shore wind farm, capable of powering 1.6 million homes.

Mr Phillips Davies said: “You could do things in a huge scale off-shore, and there is a lot more sea out there.”