From my office window of our Glasgow-based headquarters, I can see the turbines of our Whitelee Windfarm turning. Opened 13 years ago, it remains the largest onshore windfarm in the UK and produces enough clean, green electricity to power a city the size of Glasgow itself – some 350,000 homes.
We’ve been a pioneer of a green revolution in the UK, closing coal power stations and ditching gas. We will never go back to fossil fuels and I’m proud that we now operate 40 windfarms, on and offshore, stretching from Cornwall to Caithness.
Today, every decision we make is through the prism of delivering Net Zero and green energy security. And for us, the building blocks for the UK’s transition to green energy are straightforward. Build more windfarms, and other green technologies like solar, to move away from our reliance on fossil fuel. Develop our electricity networks so that they can bring on more renewables and can deliver the electrification of transport and heat. Encourage the use of green hydrogen to decarbonise sectors of the economy that are hard to electrify, like heavy industrial processes.
There is no shortage of ambition for low carbon energy in the UK, by Government or industry – and indeed today’s Energy Strategy builds further on it. But the reality is, there is a lot of bureaucracy which holds everything up and puts the country at a real risk of missing our own net zero target.
It's time to go further and faster. Not just by setting higher targets, but by following through with reform of the regulatory and planning system in order to support the pace of change needed and to match the ambitions and vision of companies like ours.
Last week the Government gave its consent for us to build two new offshore windfarms off the coast of East Anglia. To put the planning timeline in context, that process started back more than a decade ago, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and the Labour Party was last in power. We’ve had a change in government and three more Prime Ministers since then.
What’s needed is a radical reform of the planning processes to allow us to deliver more and faster. We’re ready to invest billions into the UK’s secure green future, but we need a system that is supported to operate quicker. We don’t want to remove regulation or consultation, just speed up decisions.
We can build a wind or solar farm in just 12 months, but it takes five times as long to get through planning for onshore and even longer for offshore – that fundamentally needs to change otherwise ambition never becomes a reality.
Wind is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation. It’s now more important than ever before to maximise its use, as we see soaring and volatile global gas prices and the impact that importing our energy has on both bills and the cost of living.
Let’s get more resources and more people to our planning systems to deliver the clean energy that matches the Government’s ambition. Let’s shift our planning system to default approvals for green projects in the interest of national security, and then let interested parties decide if there’s a rational reason and evidence as to why they shouldn’t be taken forward.
If we want to get serious about affordable green energy security, if we want to get serious about accelerating towards net zero whilst keeping costs down, then we need to call time on unnecessary red tape. Bold and ambitious plans, like the Strategy published today, are vital to raising the bar of ambition and focusing minds. To deliver at pace and scale, they need to be accompanied by early action to remove the barriers that prevent us from delivering decarbonisation and green energy security.