New polling finds Conservative MPs are out of step with their constituents’ support for onshore wind
While national polling shows strong and growing support for onshore wind, the Government has suggested that wind projects often fail to win public support – particularly in England, where opposition is often assumed to be highest. On this basis, since 2015, the Government has prevented onshore wind from accessing the long-term price guarantee contracts available to other technologies, and has erected unique planning barriers in England. Despite Government efforts to drive clean growth, new onshore wind capacity is consequently set to reduce dramatically next year – as the current pipeline of legacy projects dries up.
New polling commissioned by 10:10 Climate Action suggests that the Conservative MPs who first called for these blocks to be put in place are now out of step with their constituents’ opinion on the issue. This suggests it is time for MPs to get behind onshore wind as a key part of the low-carbon future, particularly as the Government indicates it could move toward a more supportive position on the technology.
What does the polling tell us?
The polling was conducted across the 79 mostly English constituencies of Conservative MPs who signed a public letter to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2012, which called for cuts in government support for onshore wind.
While one might expect opposition to wind to be highest in these constituencies, the polling shows that three quarters of these MPs’ constituents actually back the technology. Perhaps surprisingly, 73% of respondents would also be happy to live within five miles of turbines.
These figures are consistent with the Government’s own statistics – which show that 76% of the British public now support the use of onshore wind. They are further backed up by polling commissioned by 10:10 Climate Action at the end of 2017, which indicates that 70% of people living in the south of England, excluding London, would be happy to host local wind projects – slightly higher than levels of support for local turbines in Scotland.
Nine out of ten constituents of the MPs who signed the letter opposing wind are unaware of the fact that the Government is blocking onshore wind – and only one in five would support a block on turbines.
These findings are significant in light of the fact that onshore wind is currently under a double lock in England – first because projects cannot access long-term price guarantee contracts, and second because planning barriers introduced in 2015 have led to an almost total cessation in applications for new wind projects. Analysis of the Government’s renewable energy planning database shows a 94% drop in new applications for wind since 2015 – covering everything from single turbines to larger projects.
As the basis for these planning blocks is an assumption that communities in England do not want local projects, this new evidence raises further questions as to why the blocks are still in place – particularly when onshore wind has been shown to be popular in the very places Conservative MPs fear it is not.
What does this mean for MPs?
The 2012 letter to David Cameron was signed by MPs over six years ago. Since then, the context has shifted dramatically. Most significantly, turbine costs have tumbled – with the result that onshore wind is now our cheapest source of new-build electricity. Widely accepted modelling by Baringa shows that some new onshore wind contracts would be agreed at a price lower than the wholesale cost of electricity – meaning projects could be classed as ‘subsidy-free’ and pay back millions to the government over their lifetimes.
Controlling the cost of energy bills for consumers is a priority issue for MPs, as is driving forward clean growth and tackling climate change – with dozens of Conservative MPs recently signing a letter calling for the Prime Minister to back the introduction of a new net zero emission target for 2050. As the cheapest source of clean energy, onshore wind should be at the heart of furthering this agenda – and MPs should be seizing such opportunities as the first steps in moving towards zero emissions over the coming 30 years.
Conservative MPs are also aware of the fact that they will need to perform better among younger voters to regain their majority at the next election. Bright Blue polling has found that climate change is the top issue 18-28 year olds want to hear politicians discussing more, and the second top issue for under 40s. Overall, Conservative voters have been shown by Bright Blue to favour onshore wind over gas, nuclear and coal, and 59% of them support onshore wind provided it receives no subsidy – a statistic that is increasingly significant in light of rapidly falling costs.
This new polling, together with onshore wind’s well-evidenced popularity among the British public on both the right and the left, tells MPs that it is time for them to get behind wind power. Blocking it risks being left on the wrong side of their own constituents – particularly the younger voters they will seek to win over in the next election.
Onshore wind is a hugely popular source of energy – even in the places where some MPs fear local communities do not want it. In light of this, blocking our cheapest source of clean power alongside government efforts to rapidly decarbonise our energy system looks increasingly untenable. Surely Conservative MPs now owe it to their electors to assure Ministers they are ready to see a change in the way the wind is blowing.
Ellie Roberts is the Campaign Manager at 10:10 Climate Action, a UK based charity that brings people together to take positive, practical action on climate change.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.