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Bulk of UK renewables projects fail to get beyond planning stage

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The majority of Britain’s onshore renewable energy projects are failing to get beyond the planning stage, according to analysis that highlights the challenges the country still faces in hitting its clean energy targets.

Sixty-three per cent of the roughly 4,000 applications submitted for wind, solar and battery projects between 2018 and 2023 have been refused, abandoned, withdrawn, or had their planning permission expire, according to Cornwall Insight, an energy consultancy.

A further 18 per cent have been sent back for revision, leaving only a fifth of projects either waiting for a planning decision or ready to be built.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have promised planning reforms ahead of the general election on July 4, with the Tories pledging to cut from four years to one the typical time it takes to sign off major infrastructure projects.

“The UK has set ambitious targets to boost renewable energy capacity,” said Lucy Dolton, assets and infrastructure manager at Cornwall Insight. “These figures reveal a substantial shortfall in meeting these targets, something which is largely driven by the slow pace of progress in deploying renewable energy projects.”

The findings, shared with the Financial Times, come as the UK is under pressure to rapidly increase renewable energy capacity to meet its legally binding goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and decarbonising the electricity system well before then.

The low rate of successful projects partly reflects a surge in speculative applications, according to researchers at Cornwall Insight, as developers submit multiple plans on the expectation that not all will succeed.

Developers complain that the planning system does not have enough resources to deal with the rising number of applications, while lengthy waits to get connections to electricity grids can stall projects’ progress through the approval process.

Nathan Bennett, at trade group RenewableUK, added: “There is a UK-wide resourcing challenge, a lack of people able to process consents in a timely manner.”

The analysis, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, showed a sharp annual rise in planning applications for renewable projects in recent years, with 66 per cent more applications in 2023 than in 2022.

At a regional level, 37 per cent of battery projects that applied for planning permission in the north-west were either waiting for a decision or ready to be built, compared with 19 per cent in the south-east. For solar projects in the south-west, the figure was 68 per cent.

The Labour party, which has a lead of around 20 points in opinion polls, wants to double onshore wind capacity, triple solar power capacity and quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030 to meet its interim goal of decarbonising the electricity system by then. The Conservatives want to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035.

Labour has promised to make “major projects faster and cheaper by slashing red tape and to hire 300 planning officers. More than 3,000 left the profession between 2010 and 2020.

The Conservatives have also pledged to reform “outdated EU red tape” and “end frivolous legal challenges” to development.

National Grid and other electricity network owners have been working to try and speed up the grid connections queue. The National Grid’s electricity system operator said its latest proposals could halve the size of the queue. The government declined to comment.

This article was written by Rachel Millard from The Financial Times and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to