Wind farms boasting total capacity of 179MW currently being developed by ERG are set to begin generating power later this year

Engie has secured exclusive rights to offtake the electricity generated by two onshore wind farms currently being built in Scotland by renewable energy developer ERG, after the firms today announced two major new power purchase agreements (PPAs).

The 10-year PPAs are for two wind farms – Sandy Knowe and Creag Riabhach – boasting a total installed capacity of 179MW, which are expected to generate a total of around 530GWh once they move into operation from the second half of this year, according to ERG.

The independent green energy developer’s CEO, Paolo Merli, said the deal with the French energy and infrastructure giant underscored its plan to utilise both government auctions and PPAs as “tools for securitisation of revenues”.

“After the agreements signed during 2021 in France, Italy and Northern Ireland, for a total of 0.7TWh, the PPA with ENGIE in Scotland is another important step forward in our business model strategy,” he said.

The announcement comes ahead of the government’s hotly-anticipated Energy Security Strategy next week, which according to reports could see a relaxation of planning rules in England that have effectively banned the development of new onshore wind farms under regulations that have been in place since 2015.

As part of the Strategy, officials in Downing Street are reportedly looking at increasing targets for low carbon energy over the coming decade, in a bid to reduce UK exposure to fossil fuel imports, including oil and gas from Russia. Reports have suggested the targets could include a 30GW goal for onshore wind, 50GW for offshore wind, 50GW for solar, and 16GW for nuclear by 2030. A separate increased target for floating offshore wind is also expected.

However, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be keen to push ahead with plans to loosen planning rules to enable increased development of onshore wind and solar farms he may risk a rift within Cabinet by doing so, amid concerns from some Ministers over the visual impact of wind turbines on the countryside.

In a bid to combat potential local concerns, the government is reportedly considering plans that could offer lower energy bills to people living in close proximity to onshore turbines, akin to a scheme Octopus Energy has independently been running for some of its customers in Yorkshire and Wales.

Cabinet members supportive of loosening planning rules and offering local communities savings on bills to support construction of onshore wind farms include Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, as well as Michael Gove, who as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Levelling-Up is ultimately responsible for planning rules in England, according to the BBC.

A government source told the BBC that if plans to expand onshore wind are approved “as with any development, local consent is absolutely critical” adding that “we would always want to bring the public with us”.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sudden focus on reducing dependency on Russian oil and gas, concerns are being voiced about the length of time needed to build out renewables projects, such as onshore wind farms, due to planning requirements and the need to secure grid connections.

Octopus Energy has reportedly submitted proposals to government setting out how the time needed to plan and build an onshore wind farm could be reduced from the best part of a decade, right down to less than a year, according to Utility Week.

RenewableUK CEO Dan McGrail urged the government to push ahead with changes to planning rules to allow a major increase in onshore wind capacity over the remainder of the decade, estimating that more than doubling current capacity from 14GW today to 30GW by 2030 would add another £45bn and 27,000 jobs to the economy.

“We can’t hope to reduce our dependence on gas while also holding back the quickest and cheapest source of domestic power, which is onshore wind,” he said. “It’s right that across the UK, we should look again at the planning system to make it fit for purpose, so that it doesn’t stand in the way of communities embracing onshore wind or leave applications delayed for years. In England there are some simple changes which the government can make to planning guidance to allow more renewable energy projects to be built in England with the support of local communities. Under the current system, just one person can block an onshore wind project from going ahead.

He added: “As they have huge wind resources, Scotland and Northern Ireland will play a leading role in our transition from gas to low-cost wind energy in the UK and it’s vital that their planning reviews which are already underway effectively tackle the bottlenecks we’re seeing in the system.”

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