Energy

A key focus of our Climate Action network is working with councils to adopt ambitious Climate Action Plans. We've written this guide to help you understand more about the section on energy in the Climate Action Plan for councils, including recommendations and what we think the government needs to do.

27 Sep 2021

Background information

Generating electricity is responsible for 23% of UK greenhouse gases, and is set to rise alongside increased popularity in electric cars and heating unless we opt for low-carbon sources.

Renewable energy is now the cheapest way to produce electricity. The UK can benefit from a rapid transition to renewable energy which will inspire new industries, tens of thousands of new jobs and cleaner air.

The government has set a target for increasing energy production from offshore wind, but hasn't yet done the same the development of onshore renewable energy. The Climate Change Committee has made recommendations for the total growth of renewable energy which would require onshore renewable energy to double by 2030, but it still allows for a large amount of electricity generated from fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth argues that the UK needs to eliminate fossil fuel use quicker and that we need 3 to 4 times more onshore renewable energy by 2030.

The goal

Councils should enable and support the growth and use of green energy, ensure energy is not wasted, and prevent the development of new fossil fuel extraction.

What councils should do

Friends of the Earth has identified the amount of renewable energy capacity in every council area and suggested a minimum target for more renewable energy developments.

Points 29 to 35 in our Climate Action Plan for councils suggest councils should:

29. Significantly grow renewable energy generation through identify areas suitable for renewable energy in the local plan and/or through issuing a new Supplementary Planning Document.

A council’s Local Plan is a land-use planning document for the area. It identifies what developments are allowed and where they can be (eg, housing development, amenity, etc.). Friends of the Earth research has shown that in too many cases suitable sites for renewable power are not being identified. If we want more renewables, more suitable areas must be available in Local Plans. If a local plan already exists the council can issue a new ‘Supplementary Planning Document’ to facilitate the growth of renewable power in the area.

In some built up areas allocating sites for renewable energy may not be possible. However, integrating renewable technologies within new and existing development is always an option that should be considered. Councils can also support the development of new renewable energy by agreeing Power Purchase Agreements with energy providers to enable them to construct new renewable energy capacity.

30. Switch street lighting to well designed and well directed LED lights.

Like many councils, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council is switching all its street lights to LED lights while simultaneously making significant savings in money and energy.

Street lights should be designed to ensure safety without posing any additional risk to insect life.

31. Reduce energy used by the council on its own estate.

Councils’ own buildings such as offices, community centres, and homes. The energy used in these spaces can be reduced through insulation, better energy management systems, and the use of electrically-powered heat pumps for space heating (which capture heat from the outside air and use it to heat hot water).

32. Require the integration of renewable energy such as solar thermal, PV or heat pumps in council developments and, as much as possible, within private and public sector developments.

Cambridge City Council is requiring renewable energy in some new housing developments. Solar thermal panels absorb heat from the sun and use it to heat water whereas solar PV panels create electricity from sunlight. The government confirmed at the beginning of 2021 that councils can require standards higher than national guidelines for new homes.

33. Support the development of renewable energy and energy storage, including by providing skills-training for local workers and encouraging applications for new installations.

With an increasing amount of our energy provided by renewables, it’s important to store some of this for times when production is lower (eg, if there aren’t strong winds or if it isn’t sunny). South Somerset District Council is investing in energy storage to enable use of renewable energy instead of gas when electricity demand is high and/ or renewable power generation is low.

34. Oppose fracking and other fossil fuel extraction, and where opposition on fracking has been overturned, support peaceful protest. (Applicable in England only).

Unfortunately, the Local Plan cannot rule out the development of fossil fuel extraction. The local planning authority (a unitary council or county council) should reject applications for fossil fuel extraction on climate change grounds. The world is already awash with fossil fuels and over 80% of current reserves need to remain in the ground. The last thing the world needs is more sources of fossil fuels to be developed.

35. Divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy projects.

Research by Friends of the Earth and others has shown that councils still invest more than £10 billion in fossil fuel energy companies through their pension funds. Making money from fossil fuels is dirty money and funds climate change. Local authorities should urgently remove these investments and instead invest in clean energy.

Government action

Councils have been warning for some time that they won’t be able to deliver action at the scale and pace commensurate to the climate and ecological emergencies without additional powers and resources. Friends of the Earth has joined local government organisations, academics and other NGOs in setting out a blueprint of what's needed from national government to support councils in key policy areas.

The government has a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production, particularly by ensuring that renewable energy developments can sell their electricity at a guaranteed price in preference to fossil fuel electricity. It carries out two yearly Contracts for Difference auctions which provide these price guarantees. However, Friends of the Earth argues these should become annual auctions and the cap on the total capacity of projects given guarantees should be much higher.

Onshore wind is now the lowest cost energy development. The government made a positive step with its announcement that it will re-open support for new onshore wind power from 2021 via its Contracts for Difference scheme. But more needs to be done to ensure enough land is available. The National Planning Policy Framework places restrictions on the development of onshore wind power in England and not enough sites are being identified in local Plans. Given the amount of new onshore wind needed local authorities need to be able to support appropriate development of renewable energy schemes even within the green belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty where they do not conflict with the purposes of these areas. Saying development of renewable energy in these areas is not appropriate.

Local authorities will be further empowered to support renewable energy and refuse fossil fuel extraction if climate change is put at the heart of planning policy – the net zero carbon target should be made a specific strategic policy priority for planning in the NPPF making it clear that all planning decisions must be in line with the objectives and provisions of Climate Change Act 2008 including the 2050 net zero carbon target and interim targets.

The government also needs to increase the Carbon Floor price – a tax on fossil-fuel generated electricity – which has been instrumental in drastically reducing coal-fired electricity in the UK.

The government has announced that it will financially support the development of carbon capture and storage for gas-fired electricity production in Teesside. Carbon capture and storage will only capture some of the carbon emissions and does nothing to reduce emissions as gas is extracted (so-called fugitive emissions). Friends of the Earth argues that the government must rule out the development of new fossil fuels and phase-out the use of gas in electricity production.

Further reading

Climate Change Committee, 2020, Electricity generation: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Sector-summary-Electricity-generation.pdf

Committee on Climate Change, 2020, Local authorities and the sixth carbon budget: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/local-authorities-and-the-sixth-carbon-budget/

Proposal to put climate at the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework: https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=81cf6c97-3678-44c9-ba54-48b5d59df331

Onshore wind: is its delivery being hampered by a lack of identified areas in Local Plans? https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/reports/onshore-wind-its-delivery-being-hampered-lack-identified-areas-local-plans

Advice on developing a climate action plan: https://www.climateemergency.uk/local-authority-checklist/

A blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/documents/blueprint-accelerating-climate-action-and-green-recovery-local-level

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