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Tory dissent threatens to blow Johnson’s onshore-wind plans off course

With Grant Shapps seeming to contradict Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservatives are again airing their clean-energy divisions in public.

By Ailbhe Rea

Good morning. The government is preparing to unveil its long-awaited energy strategy this Thursday, as the energy crisis, sanctions on Russia and the looming threat of climate catastrophe make the urgent case for a plan to reduce the UK’s exposure to volatile gas markets and reliance on fossil fuels.

Boris Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, are expected to announce an expansion of offshore wind and solar power, as well as an increase in nuclear capacity, although the number of new large-scale reactors is still a matter for cabinet debate.

But the big split within the Conservative Party – on the backbenches and at cabinet level – is over onshore wind. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, publicly contradicted colleagues including Kwarteng on the Sunday politics shows yesterday, saying that he sees land-based wind turbines as “an eyesore for communities”, adding: “I don’t think you want a huge expansion of onshore wind.”

Shapps’s comments echoed the sentiments of many of his Conservative colleagues – the same sentiments that led, in 2015, to David Cameron’s government effectively banning onshore wind by excluding land-based wind projects from consideration from government subsidies. But since Johnson became Prime Minister, with a growing need to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, the government’s openness to onshore has been shifting. 

Is that at risk now, with a cabinet split on this spilling out into public view? The Prime Minister is reportedly committed to having onshore wind as a major part of the final energy strategy, despite the opposition among colleagues. Offshore is the cheapest energy source available, and an area where the Labour Party is also pushing for expansion. The scale of the final plan on onshore will be testament to Boris Johnson’s authority, or otherwise, after months of uncertainty around his leadership.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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