The BBC is reporting that the government looks set to stop new wind farms after Energy Minister John Hayes was quoted by two newspapers stating that the UK “had enough of them“
It is reported that John Hayes, the new Energy Minister, has stated his desire to place a halt to further expansion of onshore wind-farms. The remarks, carried broadly in the UK press, have to be seen in the context of domestic political positioning as Mr Hayes looks to define his brief, in the context of the coalition and as a wider conversation the Government is looking to have about low carbon generation.
The results of surveys into public attitudes towards wind farms have been remarkably consistent. They typically suggest that 70-80% of the UK public support wind farm development. Onshore wind raises potential local environmental issues, particularly through its visual impact. People value natural landscapes and are willing to pay to preserve them, even if the impact of wind farms on wildlife are sometimes exaggerated. Reducing the amenity value of nature, constitutes a real economic cost that needs to be taken into account. Those who live near operational wind farms tend to be even more positive with support levels of up to 94% being recorded. Those who oppose wind energy typically make up only 8-16% of the population and following construction, the level of opposition generally decreases whilst the level of support rises.
Onshore wind is one of the most technologically mature renewables and, as such, currently plays a leading role in the generation of renewable electricity in the UK. In 2010, the UK had more than 4,000 megawatts (MW) of onshore wind capacity, and reached almost 4,800 MW in early 2012.
The most recent generation data shows that onshore wind supplied 7.1 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2010, equivalent to about 28 per cent of the renewable electricity output during the year.
When debating the merits and shortcomings of onshore wind power, it is important to remember the policy context within which these investments are considered. The UK has statutory commitments that require the rapid de-carbonisation of electricity generation. Once this is recognised, the question of onshore wind becomes a choice between this and other low carbon solutions. It is not a choice between onshore wind and fossil fuels. By the 2020’s, even efficient unabated gas can play no more than a niche role in power generation.
Under the Climate Change Act (2008), the UK is committed to reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2025, compared with 1990 levels. The Act has strong political support: it was passed near unanimously by Parliament, as were the first four carbon budgets legislated under it. The Act and its provisions make environmental and economic sense. They put the UK on a sensible path towards a low-carbon economy.
There is wide agreement that the long-term objectives of the Act cannot be met without the rapid de-carbonisation of electricity generation. This in turn requires a significant increase in the uptake of low-carbon energy sources such as onshore wind and other renewables. The comments by My Hayes must therefore be put in this framework.
The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both carry interviews in which he says “enough is enough” and that the country is “peppered” by the farms. They say he has now ordered a new analysis of the case for wind farms and their effect on local communities.
The government said it was committed to renewables as one part of its strategy. Mr Hayes said he did not like onshore wind turbines before he was appointed to the role last month, describing turbines as a “terrible intrusion“. He is now reported as saying there are sufficient wind turbines already in the planning system to meet the governments aims and declares he cannot “build a new Jerusalem” but can “protect our green and pleasant land“.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change DECC is already running a consultation on wind farms, but Mr Hayes suggested there will be reviews commissioned into the noise that turbines create and their relationship with the landscape. He said:
“We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I cant single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land. We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in. We need to understand communities genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.
If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target.”
Some 4,000 turbines are due to be built across the country in future. Mr Hayes, Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings, gave a speech to the Renewables UK event on renewable energy on Tuesday night, which a DECC spokeswoman said was “well received by the renewables industry“. She said that the views quoted by the Mail and Telegraph were not expressed in that speech. She added: “Government policy for renewables, as stated in the Renewables Roadmap, sets out scenarios for renewable deployment, but does not set targets or caps for the deployment of individual technologies, including on onshore wind.”