For more than seven years there has been an effective ban on new onshore wind developments in England after a crackdown on planning. Now, with the rules set to be relaxed, the government is considering offering people who want to house turbines in their area a discount on their energy bills in return.
The rolling hills around the rural East Yorkshire town of Market Weighton are dotted with wind turbines.
From his garden, Ellis Jacklin, who lives on the outskirts of the city, can see several in the distance.
There are 226 turbines in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the most of any area in England, according to trade body RenewableUK.
But while new onshore wind developments in the past have resulted in vocal opposition from some venues, Ellis says more are being built.
The 29-year-old has seen firsthand the potential benefits of this relatively cheap renewable energy source.
It’s part of a program run by energy supplier Octopus that offers discounts to customers at three areas with nearby turbines, including Market Weighton.
The government is considering whether the idea could be spread more widely so that people who are happy to have turbines where they live can benefit directly.
Octopus subscribers get a 20% discount on their electricity bill when their local turbine is running and a 50% discount when it’s particularly windy.
Since January last year Ellis, who works as a project engineer, has saved around £200 through the initiative.
With the country in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, driven in part by rising energy costs, Ellis says the savings have made a big difference.
“It’s helping the environment, and we’re also saving some money on top of that,” he says. “It’s child’s play.”
Octopus say that on average customers have saved more than £100 a year through the scheme, depending on their energy use, but some have saved up to £400.
A government survey last year suggested that around 78% of people are in favor of onshore wind, but a smaller proportion – 43% – said they would be happy to have a wind farm in their area.
Ellis believes that offering discounts on energy bills could convince more people to support the construction of new turbines in their community.
“There is a massive push towards renewable energy,” he says. “And I think when someone can plug that directly into their bills and say, there’s a wind turbine spinning near me and when it moves I get money, I think it really brings it home.”
However, Sarah McMonagle, of CPRE, Countryside Charity, is concerned about the idea, saying developments that have community support ‘don’t need kickbacks’.
Ms McMonagle says her charity supports moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but believes attention should be paid to offshore wind and rooftop solar, which she says are more renewable forms of energy. popular compared to onshore turbines.
“New to land [wind] it has to be carried out in partnership with the local community and it has to be sensitive to the landscapes,” he adds.
Zoisa North-Bond, managing director of Octopus’ power generation division, points out that the company only supports building turbines where people want them.
He says the idea of offering utility bill discounts for communities that live near the turbines has been a popular one. As well as Market Weighton, the business also offers discounts to customers in Caerphilly, South Wales, and Halifax, West Yorkshire, and the scheme is overbooked in all three areas.
At present, it is on a relatively small scale, with around 2,800 households registered. However, Octopus has plans to expand the initiative and hopes to have at least 1,000 turbines across the UK by the end of the decade.
However, there are some hurdles: North-Bond says it can take years to connect a turbine to the electricity grid, while current planning rules in England make building new onshore wind farms very difficult.
In 2015 the government introduced stricter requirements, with companies only being allowed to apply for turbines to be built on land specifically identified for development in plans drawn up by local councils. The proposals also needed the support of local communities.
The changes saw a sharp decline in the number of planning applications submitted.
The government promised in December to ease some of these restrictions, including the requirement for new turbines to be built on pre-designated land, although the projects would still need local support.
A consultation, due to run until April, is currently looking into how to determine local opinion. It is also seeking feedback on how communities that want to host turbines can directly benefit.
The idea of offering discounts to those willing to live near the turbines already has the backing of some Conservative MPs.
In a recent report a group of conservative backbenchers argued that this could provide an incentive for people to host renewable projects.
Under the report’s proposals, new onshore wind developments would be subject to a local referendum.
It suggests a 100% discount on energy bills for those who live within one mile of a proposed site for the life of the project, with smaller discounts of 50% for those within three miles and 25% for those within four miles.
The group says this would encourage developers to avoid sites close to built-up areas, minimizing disruption and visual impact on residents.
Former business secretary Dame Andrea Leadsom, who chairs the committee that wrote the report, plans to meet with government ministers to discuss the proposals. She believes they could have broad appeal, even among Conservative MPs who have been concerned about the impact of wind farms in their constituency.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of people become much more eager to see a lot more renewable energy in their area,” she says, adding that the “skyrocketing” cost of energy and a desire to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels are both play a role in changing viewpoints.
But in East Yorkshire, not everyone is convinced.
Mike Padgett lives down the road from Market Weighton in the village of Sancton on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, an area popular with walkers.
There are 11 turbines within a mile of his home and he has previously been involved in local campaigns against building more.
“There are many trails around our village and some of these turbines were almost 20 meters away from the trail,” he says.
“They’re a huge industrial blot on the landscape in the wrong areas. And in a small place like ours, we just felt like it wasn’t the right place.”
Mike, 70, is concerned that proposals to ease planning restrictions for onshore wind will mean more turbines are approved, although there is opposition from some of those who live closest to them.
He says getting money out of his bills would “help soften the impact” of the turbines that are already there and could be a fair way to compensate local people.
But he’s wary of the idea that developers use discounts to get people, and wouldn’t convince him to support building more turbines.
“If I could get rid of coal, oil and gas tomorrow I would,” he says. “But not at the expense of having whirlwinds around us.”
Video production and additional reporting by Thomas Mason