Onshore wind: part of the UK's energy mix

Onshore wind is a home-grown energy source that will protect UK consumers from energy price shocks and help meet renewable energy targets.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The UK’s electricity supply faces an unprecedented challenge, with around a fifth of existing generation closing over the next decade and over £100 billion investment needed by 2020 as we look to secure low-carbon energy supplies.

No individual technology will provide the silver bullet - our energy mix will have to become increasingly diverse. As part of that mix, onshore wind has an important role to play as one of the most cost-effective and proven renewable energy technologies.

In 2011, onshore wind:

  • generated enough power for 2.4 million homes
  • cost just £6 per household electricity bill in terms of subsidies
  • supported more than 8,600 jobs
  • saved more carbon emissions than the footprint of a city the size of Leeds

The future role of onshore wind

As part of a diverse energy mix, there are 4 main reasons why the government wants to see an increase in onshore wind:

1. Contributions to energy security and renewable energy goals

We must replace around a fifth of our existing electricity generation over the next decade - and as such we need to call on all the tools at our disposal to keep the lights on. This means having a balanced energy policy comprising a mix of nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS) and a major roll out of renewables.

But every single energy technology carries risks and this is why we consider a balanced approach is crucial. For example:

  • Sizewell B nuclear power plant was out of commission for 7 months in 2010. In that time wind was producing the electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes
  • we are now net importers of gas. There is always a risk of interruption to gas and oil import supplies and uncertainties over global prices that in 2011 were the primary reason for an increase in electricity prices

Having more home-grown energy sources such as onshore wind, combined with demand-side response and improvements to the network, will help to protect UK consumers and businesses from price shocks in the longer term.

Wind will also be a key component in meeting the UK’s 2020 target for energy from renewable sources and onshore wind could deliver around 14% of the required total energy. It has the potential to produce enough power for 7.7 million homes (32TWh).

The UK renewable energy roadmap sets out the potential contribution of onshore wind to the target of 15% renewable energy by 2020.

2. Carbon savings

Electricity generated from wind power has one of the lowest carbon footprints compared with other forms of electricity generation. Nearly all the emissions occur during the manufacturing and construction phases, arising from the production of steel for the tower, concrete for the foundations and epoxy/fibreglass for the rotor blades. These account for 98% of the total life cycle CO2 emissions.

This means onshore wind power has a relatively very small carbon footprint range of between 8 and 20g CO2eq/kWh, taking into account not only emissions from generation of electricity but those incurred during the manufacture, construction and decommissioning phases. By comparison, the average emissions from fossil-fuelled power generation in the UK was around 500gCO2/kWh.

As a result, onshore wind power can make a real contribution to carbon reduction targets. In 2011, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) estimated that approximately 6.3 million tonnes of CO2 were avoided in the UK (more than the carbon footprint of a city the size of Leeds), where onshore wind power displaces electricity generated from fossil-fuelled power generation. This was calculated using the total amount of electricity generated by onshore wind (10372Gwh), multiplied by an estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per gigawatt (Gwh) of electricity supplied for the known fossil fuel mix for electricity generation in the UK for 2011 (609t CO2/Gwh), divided by average equivalent carbon emissions per capita 2009 (7.4 tonnes).

Including offshore, this figure rises to 9.3 million tonnes. In terms of emissions from reserve (or back-up) for wind power, additional fossil fuel stations may have come onto the system. However this additional reserve displaced the output of existing generating stations to maintain the balance of supply and demand, so there was no net increase of power on the system at any one time (the exact level of reserve and associated emissions changes on a daily basis throughout the year). Therefore the only additional emissions from reserve held for windpower was through the inefficiency of running separate fossil generating stations at part load rather than less at full-load, which is relatively insignificant compared to the carbon savings made.

3. Low cost low-carbon generation

Onshore wind is by far the cheapest large-scale renewable energy source that can be deployed at significant scale.

4. Green growth

Investment in wind can play a major part in the low-carbon economy. In 2011 onshore wind supported more than 8,600 jobs, was worth £548 million to the UK economy and is contributing to job creation across the UK.

Costs and economic benefits of onshore wind

All energy comes at a cost to the consumer and the challenge is to bring those costs down as swiftly as possible as we decarbonise our electricity supply. Wind energy is a free resource, so the costs reside only in the manufacture, construction and maintenance of the infrastructure. As such onshore wind is by far the cheapest large-scale renewable energy source that can be deployed at significant scale.

But as well as meeting our energy security and climate change goals, onshore wind also brings huge economic opportunities in terms of inward investment to local economies, with direct and indirect job creation.

Main costs and economic benefits

Main costs Economic benefits
Financial support to make onshore wind economic comes primarily through the Renewables Obligation (RO) through which subsidies are paid only for the renewable electricity actually generated In 2011 onshore wind supported more than 8,600 jobs and was worth £548 million to the UK economy. Of this around 1,100 jobs and £84 million investment occur at the local authority level in which onshore wind turbines are located
In 2010/11, domestic and industrial electricity consumers paid around £440 million for onshore wind. For households this equates to just £6 a year on their electricity bill. In 2012 we proposed a 10% reduction in RO support to minimise the impact on consumer energy bills and reflect falling costs This equates to almost £700,000 for every megawatt (MW) of onshore wind installed in the UK, with over £100k staying in the local authority area
Onshore wind sites (larger than 5MW) were estimated to generate electricity at an average cost of £90.2/MWh, compared to £76.6/MWh for Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT), with the relative gap between onshore wind and CCGT costs halved in the last 5 years If onshore wind is deployed at the central scale set out in the UK renewable energy roadmap (ie 13 GW) , the economy could benefit to the tune of £0.78 billion by 2020, supporting around 11,600 direct and supply chain jobs (rising to around 15,500 total jobs if wider quantifiable impacts are taken into account)
Smaller scale windfarms (below 5MW) are subsidised through the Feed-in Tariff (FITs) scheme. The total cost of the scheme for non-solar PV technologies (ie wind, hydro, anaerobic digestion) was estimated to be £300,000 per year in 2011 In addition, development of the onshore wind sector can bring a wide range of non-quantifiable benefits to local people including community benefit schemes that reward residents for hosting turbines, community ownership, investment in infrastructure around new developments and improvement to wildlife and habitat management

Further information

Energy trends section 7: weather

DUKES 2013: Weather statistics

Offshore Wind Component Technologies Development and Demonstration Scheme: Simple levelised cost of energy model

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Offshore Wind Component Technologies Development and Demonstration Scheme briefing event: presentation slides

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Offshore Wind Component Technologies Development and Demonstration Scheme - Third call for proposals

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Planning system for onshore wind

The planning system has a central role in helping to deliver the infrastructure the UK needs to reduce our carbon emissions, ensure security of energy supply and help our economy to grow, while safeguarding our landscape and natural heritage and allowing individual communities the opportunity to shape their environment.

Historically there have been concerns about the time taken to decide applications as well about as a lack of transparency, and apparent inconsistency across the UK in the way decisions are reached. Some communities have been concerned about the possible impacts of windfarms and associated grid infrastructure on landscapes and local amenities. The government is committed to resolving these issues so the UK has the low-carbon energy infrastructure it needs and communities have a say in decisions.

To make sure the planning system delivers onshore wind in a sustainable way, the government will:

  • ensure decisions on projects that are of national significance above 50MW are taken swiftly by democratically accountable ministers in accordance with the National Policy Statements for energy infrastructure
  • ensure projects below 50MW are dealt with locally in accordance with the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which simplifies local planning, strengthens local participation and looks to achieve sustainable development
  • introduce neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood development orders through the Localism Act 2011 to enable communities to shape their own locality


Planning applications for renewable energy projects, including onshore wind, above 50MW and proposals for electric powers lines are treated as new nationally significant infrastructure. This means decisions on large- scale wind projects will be taken by democratically accountable ministers (for wind in England and Wales this is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), who will make decisions in accordance with the National Policy Statements and any other matters that are relevant to the local area, including local plans.

Projects below 50MW are dealt with at local authority level in England in accordance with the polices set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This commits to safeguarding the natural and historic environment, protecting areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and areas of national heritage importance. The NPPF requires local authorities to have:

  • a positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources
  • consider identifying suitable areas for renewable and low-carbon energy sources
  • supporting infrastructure where this would help secure the development of such sources

The NPPF also makes it clear that local planning authorities should design their policies to make sure any adverse impacts from renewable and low-carbon energy developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impacts, are addressed satisfactorily.

We are also introducing neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood development orders through the Localism Act. This will let communities draw up neighbourhood plans to shape development in their own locality and permit development without the need for planning applications. In the past the planning system hasn’t given local communities enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. New rights in the Localism Act will mean local people can lead the creation of neighbourhood plans, supported by the local planning authority. It is intended that once written the plan will be independently examined and put to a referendum of local people for approval.

Alongside the planning framework, we are keen that communities can benefit from the development of windfarms, for example through the retention of business rates and the Community Benefit Protocol.

Devolved administrations

Information about wind energy and planning policy in the devolved administrations can be found on the websites of the respective parliaments:

Wind turbines, aviation and radar

Wind turbines can potentially impact upon the radar the aviation industry needs to operate safely and effectively. Impacts could include physical obstructions; the generation of unwanted returns on Primary Surveillance Radar (PSR); and effects on the overall performance of communication, navigation and surveillance equipment and turbulence.

Technological solutions are available, but each area of aviation demands its own solutions. Government and the aviation and wind industries are working collaboratively to resolve these issues to avoid the deployment of wind turbines having an impact on the safeguarding requirements for airspace users, whilst taking all necessary steps to protect aviation safety.

Planning impacts and safeguarding

Planning objections and conditions can be raised by the military (Ministry of Defence) or civilian bodies (NATS, UK Civil Aviation Authority and airport operators) and the issue is a significant barrier to the deployment of both onshore and offshore wind power. A RenewableUK member’s survey reported that approximately 3GW of wind farm applications that were submitted for planning approval in 2013 were subject to objections or conditions from the aviation sector. The industry estimates that radar issues account for approximately 12GW of objections in the planning system as a whole.

Many civil licensed aerodromes are safeguarded; either through statute or through arrangements with the local planning authority (LPA). Safeguarding is a process of consultation between an LPA and consultees to ensure that the operation and development of the aerodrome are not inhibited by buildings, structures, erections or works which infringe protected surfaces, obscure runway approach lights or have the potential to impair the performance of aerodrome communication, navigation and surveillance systems. The distance from the aerodrome that consultation may be required for a proposed wind turbine development will depend on the facilities and type of operation at the aerodrome concerned.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) CAP 670 ‘Air Traffic Services Safety Requirements’ provides further information. Guidance on Ministry of Defence safeguarding is also available.

Current mitigation solutions

A number of mitigation techniques are available to help counter the effects of wind turbines on radars. These can vary from interim work-rounds (eg moving the locations of the wind turbines) to the use of in-fill radars. Further information is available in the CAA’s CAP 764 ‘Policy and Guidelines on Wind Turbines’ document.

The Aviation Plan

The Aviation Plan aims to identify, develop and enable the implementation of mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of wind turbines on radar and aviation to acceptable levels, whilst taking all necessary steps to protect the safety of civilian and military air operations. It encourages a constructive dialogue between the wind and aviation industries so that the development of strategic approaches are explored and progressed. The Aviation Plan was first published in 2008. The ‘Aviation Plan: 2015 Update’ is a refreshed and updated version of the original document that recognises recent achievements and seeks to identify and address the challenges still to be overcome.

The Aviation Plan: 2015 Update Document

The Aviation Management Board

The Aviation Management Board (AMB) has overall responsibility for overseeing the effective delivery of the Aviation Plan and its agreed programmes of work. It endorses the programme of work set out in the Plan and tasks those responsible with managing the work programmes that aim to deliver mitigation solutions. The AMB’s Chair and Secretariat are provided by DECC who ensure that its progress is reported to Ministers.

Further information and relevant publications

The following websites provide useful information and resources:

Support and resources for local projects

We recognise the important role local authorities and communities play in helping to deliver our climate change and renewable energy goals. Alongside the planning system for onshore wind, we are working to create a new relationship between renewable energy projects and the communities that host them. This is because we believe communities should be rewarded for the contribution they are making to wider society and local authorities supported in making decisions on local energy projects.

Community benefits

To encourage investment and growth in local renewable energy projects, we have committed to ensuring business rates for renewable projects are retained in full by local authorities so they can be used to directly benefit the local area, rather than collected and redistributed nationally. See Communities and local government: business rates retention scheme - renewable energy projects - a statement of intent for full details.

We also welcome the Community Engagement Protocol announced by renewableUK. The protocol specifies a £1,000 minimum payment per year per megawatt of installed wind power during the lifetime of the wind farm. At present most benefits are cash payments but communities can also benefit through job creation, training and energy efficiency measures. The decision on how the funds will be allocated will rest with the community living in the vicinity of the wind farm.

Support for local planning

To help local authorities and community groups develop local low-carbon energy projects, including onshore wind, the following resources are available:

  • Community Energy Online (CEO) - DECC’s Community Energy Portal aimed at local authorities and community groups, which provides how-to guides and explains regulation and access to financing for all forms of energy efficiency and community energy projects
  • Climate Local - a local government initiative to drive inspire and support council action on climate change, providing councils a chance to demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change, as well as support in meeting these commitments, including through sharing learning between groups
  • Good practice wind - shares best practice and guidance on developing windfarms and involving communities
  • Climate UK - offers both local and national support and expertise to projects that look to tackle climate change
  • Renewable & low-carbon capacity assessment methodology
  • a DECC publication to ensure a robust evidence base supports the deployment of renewable energy The methodology was adopted by the English regions and the approach evaluated by the National Non Food Crop Centre.

Deployment and data


In 2011 onshore wind generated 10,372 GWh of electricity, enough to power 2.4 million homes. This represented about 44% of UK renewable electricity production and just under 4% of all electricity produced.

DECC publishes precise figures of wind electricity outputs that show monthly generation from major power producers and total annual generation from all wind farms in the Digest of UK energy statistics (DUKES).

Full version of the data tables can be found on the Energy statistics: Renewables statistics web page.


The Renewable Statistics (RESTATS) website holds statistical information on both operational and planned renewable energy projects, as well as interactive maps showing their locations across the UK.

Windspeed database

This wind speed database estimates the annual mean wind speed throughout the UK, using an air flow model to estimate the effect of topography on wind speed

Access the interactive database online

If you want to refer to instructions while you use the database, or know more about the kind of reports that the database can provide, you’ll find help and examples on the information sheet.

Database information sheet

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This has been taken from the windspeed database information sheet:

  • This database is being maintained for reference and archive purposes only and is no longer being updated. Users should note that this database uses historic information and not live, up-to-date data.
  • The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) originally developed the database at some point before 2001, and as far as is known the data that was used to build up the database was drawn from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.
  • No support can be provided for queries in connection with this data or its use. Guidance on the usage of this data is provided on the windspeed database information sheet. Users are encouraged to follow operating instructions carefully.
  • Any results derived from this database should be treated as an approximate and high-level guide only and should be always followed by on-site measurements to ensure a proper assessment.
  • The windspeed data is not specifically designed to be suitable for a particular purpose or use. The user assumes full responsibility for using the data.

Updates to this page

Published 22 January 2013

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