Keeping the power on

Written by Joss Blamire on 18 July 2014 in Feature

Why pulling the plug too soon on onshore renewables will have a damaging effect on industry confidence

UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon was playing to a very specific gallery when he mooted an end to onshore wind farm development if the Conservatives win an outright victory at the 2015 General Election. No doubt he will find supporters among his intended target audience but his anti-wind rhetoric flies in the face of the facts.

The Royal Academy of Engineers has warned that Mr Fallon’s proposed crackdown would push up energy bills, while his coalition boss, Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has said that “putting the brakes on onshore wind would be disastrous for business and jobs in our growing green economy.”

Mr Fallon is also ignoring his government’s own figures, which show that people want to see the UK developing its abundant renewable energy resources – including onshore and offshore wind – contrary to certain perceptions. A poll for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed that 70 per cent supported onshore wind, while four out of five respondents backed the use of renewable energy in general and 59 per cent said they would be happy to host a large-scale renewable energy development in their area.

The costs of onshore wind are attractive too. The Renewables Obligation cost £2bn in 2012-13, just 58p a week to the average household bill payer, and considerably less than the £3bn a year price of decommissioning our ageing nuclear power stations.

Mr Fallon’s suggestion that we should pull the plug so soon on the cheapest form of renewable energy technology deployed at scale totally ignores the important role onshore wind technology is playing to both localise and decarbonise our energy mix – and the benefits it is bringing to Scotland and the UK.

Ending government support for onshore wind has been the goal of the renewables industry for some time, but doing so in 2015 would be premature and would have a damaging effect on confidence levels in other parts of the green energy industry, too. Investment in the industry is strong and delivering significant economic benefits; onshore wind technology brought more than £1bn of investment north of the border in 2013 – part of almost £3.5bn of total investment in the last three years – and the sector employs almost 3,500 people, from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway.

In 2013, onshore wind produced more than a quarter of total electricity generated in Scotland and DECC figures released in March 2014 showed renewables generated enough electricity to power more than 3.6 million homes in 2013, with wind turbines generating almost two-thirds of the total renewable energy figure for Scotland.

Onshore wind technology is also responsible for the majority of the carbon displaced by renewable energy generation in the UK, with more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 displaced in Scotland alone in 2012.

Wind reduces our reliance on imported fossil fuels and insulates the country against future price shocks. Improving energy security is particularly important at the moment as a result of the ongoing instability in Russia, one of the world’s largest natural gas producers, which has a potentially damaging knock-on effect in terms of energy supply.

Onshore wind is ticking all the boxes by playing a key role in meeting the challenges of energy security, as well as helping to hit environmental targets and contributing significantly to employment and economic growth.

The benefits, and the future challenges, of onshore wind will be discussed at the Scottish Renewables’ Onshore Wind Conference and Exhibition 2014. The event aims to build on a position of strength – Scotland currently has 2,319 onshore turbines, with a generating potential of 4.3GW. A further 1,577 are under construction or have planning consent – another 3.6GW, and enough to power an extra two million homes.

Further deployment of onshore wind is vital to underwrite the grid connections needed by the emerging offshore wind, wave and tidal industries, as many onshore wind companies are investing in developing these new technologies to prepare them for commercial development.

Any sudden policy changes for onshore wind will undoubtedly slow progress on grid connections as well as reduce investor confidence. Many of the same boards and committees currently investing in this technology are also looking to the UK as a place to invest in other forms of renewable energy generation.

It is very important that we also remember that without onshore wind, the UK will either miss its 2020 climate-change targets or have to find renewable power from somewhere else, and this can only mean higher costs.

These are all compelling arguments, and ones worth very careful consideration before swinging the axe on support for onshore wind.

Joss Blamire is senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables

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