Octopus Energy fights planning rules with plot to produce power for 500,000 more homes

As spiralling global gas prices send bills soaring for millions of Britons amid the deepening energy crisis, alternative sources of power could prove vital for driving down the cost for consumers. Vladimir Putin cut off more gas to Europe last month and this is expected to have a knock-on effect on the UK billpayer too.

In fact, according to some estimates, the price cap (maximum annual tariff) could reach close to £4,000 by January.

This has combined with concerns about climate change to inspire an urgency to switch to renewable energy.

And Octopus Energy looks set to play a key role in the UK rollout of these technologies.

The company plans to reconfigure or replace 1,000 turbines to provide electricity for up to half a million more homes than the firm currently supplies.

 

As part of its plan to overhaul the turbines by 2030, the company is teaming up with wind turbine maker EWT.

By making the turbines taller, the energy companies claim that the electricity could be sold to nearby households at a cheaper rate when there is powerful wind.

This also represents an expansion to an existing Octopus tariff.

The refit would likely involve the installation of larger blades, or as an extension of up to 20 metres high in many cases.

And it could be a key means of out-manoeuvring current planning restrictions, which are scuppering the chance for a huge wind expansion.

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But Octopus has said the proposals to upgrade the existing turbines will only go ahead if nearby homeowners approve.

And there are fears rural homeowners may lash out at the plans, given the controversy over wind turbines and their effect on the landscape.

Zoisa North-Bond, chief executive of Octopus Energy Generation, said: “It’s quite difficult to build new models at the moment given where planning sits on onshore wind.

“But with repowering, we have the ability to be able to go in and look at sites which have already been designated and developed for that purpose. For turbines coming to the end of their life or those that are not as efficient as they could be, we can go in and put in much more powerful models.

“In some instances these could power up to two to three times more homes.

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“It’s something that could be really imperative to our onshore wind strategy if it’s difficult to build more given current planning restrictions.”

The planning restrictions remain in place despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson once saying he wants to turn the UK into the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, setting a target for offshore wind to generate 40 gigawatts of energy by 2030.

But for onshore wind, the developments are still restricted to areas designated by local authorities and still require clear local support.

They were slapped down by David Cameron back in 2015 after the pressure was piled on by Conservative MPs.

It came at the same time as the scrapping of subsidies for building onshore wind farms, which included a fixed price guarantee for the energy they generate.

But the Government this year reintroduced those for subsidies again for the first time since getting banned.

However, despite a push for more wind generation in its energy strategy, it pledged not to introduce “wholesale changes” to existing planning rules for onshore wind. This helps to explain why Octopus Energy is coming up with an alternative tactic to work its way around the restrictions.

Figures from RenewablesUK show that in total, the country has approximately 9,000 onshore wind turbines.

By repowering the wind farms – the process of replacing the ageing wind turbines with more powerful and efficient versions – more power could be provided without the need to build new ones.

According to WindEurope, on average repowering more than doubles the generation capacity (in MW) of wind farms and triples the electricity output because the new turbines produce more power per unit of capacity.

Under their current plans, Octopus and EW hope to upgrade these wind turbines, making them more powerful and efficient, with a range of 250 kW – 1 MW.

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