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Squally political conditions hamper wind farm growth

Wind turbines continue to get a pummelling in the press, with onshore wind farms invariably bearing the brunt. But indecision and quarrelling among factions of the UK government is increasingly fuelling the arguments of the naysayers.

Backbench revolt

Some of these bad feelings towards onshore wind emerged last month when 101 Conservative back bench MPs wrote an open letter to prime minister David Cameron calling on him to abandon subsidies for the technology. Cameron wrote back to the MPs defending government plans and the political rhetoric continues to rumble on.

But the dispute is concerning people within the industry who feel they have to frequently remake the case for onshore wind. The fears are exacerbated by the knock-on effect on investment stalling.

“I’m hearing some old arguments like wind turbines affect telephone lines,” says one senior renewable energy consultant. “This has already been proven not to be the case.”

Despite the negative press and stalling investment onshore wind remains a key part of government policy. The UK has legally binding targets to produce 15% of its energy via renewable sources by 2020. Latest Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) figures show it hopes 15% of this value will come from onshore wind.

Furthermore, government planning policy - through its national policy statements - supports development of onshore wind.

Tensions in government

But the dispute laid out in the press appears to reflect tensions in government. While the Liberal Democrats and Decc are in favour of progressing the renewable energy agenda, many Conservatives, as evidenced by the back benchers, are less enthusiastic.

The Treasury is also concerned that the huge deployment of onshore (as well as offshore) wind by 2020 will drastically increase subsidies paid out and therefore increase pressure on household budgets - the ultimate funder of the technology.

This dispute raised its head last year when Decc was reviewing renewable obligation certificates (Roc) banding. The banding outlines subsidies for wind technology

Developers feared the amount of subsidy received by onshore wind was due to be slashed from the existing 1 Roc. However, in the end it was reduced by just 10% to 0.9.

“Most developers breathed a sigh of relief [when the rebanding was announced],” says WSP Future Energy managing director David Nickols.

Another major concern is that onshore wind fails to deliver any real economic benefi t for the UK - particularly because UK manufacturer and contribution to the components of these winds farms frequently accounts for only 20% at the most.

But again this point is disputed by supporters of the technology.

Green lobby group RenewableUK says that over 67,000 jobs will be created by the UK’s wind and marine energy sector by 2021 under a “medium growth scenario” where installation capacity would equate to 41.5GW.

But the lack of UK involvement is primarily down to the fact that the majority of turbine manufacturing facilities are based abroad.

The government appeared to recognise this issue in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review by pledging £200M for the development of low carbon technologies, including off shore wind technology and manufacturing, infrastructure at port sites. Specifically, east coast ports were set to receive £60M to enable them to handle big turbines.

However, this money remains unspent and current wind farm development is placing great demands on UK ports.

Lack of port development

Construction of London Array in the outer Thames Estuary, for example, is having to be carried out using several ports because logistics are outside the capability of one location, geotechnical contractor Aarsleff director Chris Primmett told NCE sister magazine GE last month.

In addition, current uncertainties over subsides continues to hold back investment.

“Over the next five to 10 years there ought to be major investment in new ports but there is no commitment from government on this,” says Primmett.

“Lack of funding is holding up private investment. The ports have the land but not the money.”
Rehashing old arguments will do nothing to help the renewable energy debate.

But until the Treasury and Decc can better agree on levels on renewable energy subsidies investors will continue to be nervous about the true intentions of the government. And debate will continue in the press.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I have asked these questions before but have yet to receive an answer which is not based on smoke & mirrors.
    1) What is the carbon footprint per GW of installation both on and off shore for a windmill
    2) Is it true that the actual production is about 20% of the installed capacity
    3) What is the carbon footprint of the conventional power station on standbye required to act as backup when the turbines are not producing or are producing when the the power is not required.
    4) What is the true carbon footprint of a produced GW from wind when compared with gas and nuclear generation

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  • I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Marco's comments. The wind lobby, be it onshore or offshore, continues to trot out the tired old "Green" arguments whilst skilfully avoiding the key questions posed by Mr. Marco and others that seek to focus on the REAL costs, both environmentally and financially.

    The editorial comment "...the dispute is concerning people within the industry who feel they have to frequently remake the case for onshore wind..." is telling. It is right and propoer that these people should be obliged to remake their case as often as is necessary to expose the subterfuge that lies behind their claimed concern for the environment.

    As for the subsidising of this "industry" at the consumer's and taxpayer's expense, I for one object to spending my hard-earned and already rapidly eroding cash on anything that has not been fully explained and justified in a holistic, honest and transparent manner. To date the subsidies for wind energy have not been so addressed by any of the main parties involved, from the self-interested commercial promoters of this myth all the way up to the misguided bureaucrats in Brussels who perpetuate it.

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