A new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says on-land wind projects can threaten the ‘beauty and tranquility of much-loved landscapes.’ CPRE Chief executive Shaun Spiers, said ‘CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations. Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.’ He reiterated they were not against all wind turbines: ‘it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs’. But he stressed that businesses and policymakers, ‘must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection’.
The CPREs report ‘Generating light on landscape impacts: How to accommodate onshore wind while protecting the countryside’, calls on the government to provide more clarity on the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects will be installed, and wants the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines ‘without unacceptable damage’ to be formally taken into account in planning decisions. It also says the wind industry should be made responsible for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.
This seems very reasonable, although most planning consents include a site clean up requirement and CPRE also seem a bit confused about numbers, at one point evidently talking of 4,100 or even 12,000 turbines. The wind industry said that actually only 1,826 turbines were planned for England at present, as part of a total of 8,581 for the entire UK and, according to Business Green, suggested that CPRE might have been scaremongering by including offshore turbines.
RenewableUK’s Dr Gordon Edge, said: ‘Striking a balance between our need for renewable energy to help combat climate change, while also protecting the landscape we all cherish, is the role of our planning system’. But ‘the biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change. Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power, and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy. It’s clear that only some locations are suitable for wind- but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing.’
RenewableUK quoted a recent Ipsos MORI poll that found 68% of rural residents backed the use of wind power, compared to 66% of urban residents. 62% of people living in the countryside found the visual impact of wind turbines acceptable, compared to 57% of people in urban areas.
Nevertheless, opposition has continued, with the Treasury evidently also worried about costs. DECC responded by making cuts (of 10%) in the Renewables Obligation support level for on-land wind, but also by trying to talk down the number of new turbines that would be likely. Energy Minister Charles Hendry explained that, although the target was to move from the current installed on land wind capacity of 5 GW to around 13 GW, ‘as turbine sizes and efficiency have increased, we could see - if planners are willing to consent these larger sizes - that around half the numbers of turbines we need to meet that 2020 scenario are already in place. It means that the onshore turbines that have been built, consented or are in planning can deliver most of that picture, though we must and do recognise that not everything that is consented will be built, and not everything in the planning system deserves to be consented.’
On the cost issue, some of the media have been getting increasingly shrill: ‘Subsidies paid to windpower companies are forcing up to 50,000 households a year into fuel poverty’, claimed the Sunday Times in June, using figures from a House of Commons Library paper. Any price increase will of course push some more people into fuel poverty, defined as having to spend more than 10% of income on fuel. But it was quickly pointed out (by the Guardian and the Carbon Brief Blog) that the total amount added to an electricity bill by payments to support renewables (mostly via the RO) was £18.20 in 2010- of which about half went to wind. Between 2004 and 2010, dual fuel bills rose by £455, of which £382 was due to soaring gas prices. That’s what has led to fuel poverty, not the ~£3 RO increase since 2009, or the £9 p.a or so total for wind, including offshore.
Tony Juniper, of Action for Renewables, added ‘The vast majority of the people in this country, and especially those in rural areas, understand the need for sensibly-sited wind turbines to build the home-grown energy systems that will create jobs, attract investments, generate power and ultimately saves us money. I don’t believe that an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics should be allowed to stop the country reaping these benefits.’
Some opponents of on land wind have argued for offshore wind as a less invasive alternative. Certainly the resource is much larger, but it’s more expensive. Confronting backbenchers in his own party who wanted big cuts in on land wind, Tim Yeo, Tory chair of the all-party energy and climate change select committee, commented ‘The way to deal with this - and realise the savings the Treasury wants to achieve - is to have more onshore renewable energy, which requires lower levels of subsidy, and less offshore, which requires more. We need to change the balance. If we shut down all the onshore wind in the country, families would save just £6 a year.’
The battle over wind came to a head with the recent ROC allocation exercise, but although it did impose a cut, DECC resisted larger cuts, and, as I will be describing in my next Blog, despite its somewhat odd, parallel (and, arguably, incompatible) commitment to high-cost nuclear, and pressures from the Treasury, it seems to be trying hard to keep the renewables show on the road. However there is still a way to go. At the opening of the annual All Energy conference in Aberdeen in May, Charles Hendry commented that ‘It is shameful that with some of the strongest winds and highest tidal reaches in Europe, the UK is currently third from bottom in the whole of the EU in its use of renewables’, although, perhaps unsurprisingly, these words did not get included in the final version of his speech as rendered on the DECC website.
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