Of most significance is the new climate change law, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It obliges the UK to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. A carbon budgeting system, which caps emissions over five year periods, will help the country meet its target. A new independent climate change committee will set the caps to achieve a trajectory to 2050. Aside from energy saving and more efficient use of energy, wind power is the most likely tool to contribute substantially to hitting the target.
Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) hails the climate change act as "a world-class piece of legislation" that should make the UK an international leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. FoE's Andy Atkins says: "This new law is a tremendous success for Friends of the Earth, which led the Big Ask campaign for a climate change law, and for the many thousands of people and organisations across the UK that joined the campaign. This shows that people really can make a political difference."
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband says that setting the 80% target was the easy part. "Now the work really begins. Government, communities, businesses and individuals need to work together to bring about change."
Of more direct interest to the wind industry is the new energy act which paves the way for extra financial support to more expensive renewables such as offshore wind. Under the Renewables Obligation (RO), all technologies currently receive one renewables obligation certificate (ROC) per megawatt hour. New provisions to "band" the RO will allow some renewables to receive multiple ROCs. Also contained in the energy act are provisions for new fixed price payments for small-scale renewable energy generators and a new support mechanism for heat produced from renewable energy, similar to the RO.
A major aim of the planning act is to speed up decisions on large wind farms in England and Wales. It allows the government to establish an infrastructure planning commission to take decisions over large infrastructure projects such as energy, aviation and transport. This will include wind farms with rated capacities of more than 50 MW.
Secretary of State for local communities, Hazel Blears, steered the planning bill through parliament. She says that enough renewable energy is caught up in the planning system to power over 1.5 million homes. "The current planning system cannot cope," she says. "In the future, now that the planning bill has been given royal assent, we can begin to create the faster, fairer planning system we need to reduce our fossil fuel addiction and build up a new generation of renewable energy infrastructure sources like wind power. Many low carbon power sources will now get faster approval."
As a result, Blears claims Britain could save £300 million a year. In practice, however, the new planning act mainly benefits offshore wind projects, since most of the available onshore sites in England and Wales large enough to accommodate 50 MW have already been snapped up by developers. Projects up to 50 MW will still be decided by local authorities.