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An onshore wind cap makes no sense

April 19, 2014 11:54 AM
By Ed Davey in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Rarely a week goes by without an onshore wind story appearing in the media - normally negative, with some Conservative source trying to undermine this important source of renewable energy. The past few weeks have been no different.

First, let's set the record straight. Liberal Democrats in Government will not accept a cap on onshore wind. Of course what other parties choose to put in their manifestos is a matter for them. But this Coalition Government is not changing tack on onshore wind or renewables and we will not lose focus or rewrite policy.

Second, let's remind ourselves of how successful we've been with onshore wind and renewable energy more generally. There is now enough onshore wind to power 4 million homes and since 2010 my Department has seen developers announce £4.6 billion worth of new investment, which could support over 7,700 jobs. Many of these 'green jobs' are highly skilled, well paid, and are spread across the UK.

Wind energy in one day earlier this year provided nearly 17% of the UK's electricity, with renewable electricity as a whole more than doubling its contribution since the last election: with the current investment pipeline we will beat our 2020 targets for renewable electricity.

Third, onshore wind is also one of the cheapest large-scale renewables so we are now able to cut our support rates - a sign of policy success. Last year they were cut by 10%, and as the costs continue to fall we will move to auctions to ensure that market forces set prices and only the cheapest projects will be agreed, at least cost to consumers.

eD dAVEYFourth, we've made huge strides to ensure that communities have a greater say in the planning process and it is now compulsory for them to be involved in pre-planning application consultation. Community benefits have also been massively increased - from £1,000 per Megawatt (MW) to £5,000 per MW per year, for the whole life of the project. What could that mean for a community? One that agreed a 20MW wind farm could receive benefits worth £100,000 per year. It is of course up to communities and developers to work out how best to use the money, but for example, at the Meikle Carewe windfarm near Aberdeen, people are getting £122 off their annual electricity bills.

So, that's where we are, but why shouldn't we cap it in the future? For three reasons:

1) Cost to consumers: as onshore wind is one of the cheapest large-scale renewables, a cap would mean we would have to plug the gap with a more expensive replacement. This would increase consumer bills. This point was made strongly in a recent report by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) who estimated that plugging an onshore wind 'gap' with offshore wind could cost an additional £300,000 per turbine per year.

2) Energy Security: at a time when Russia is issuing threats about supplying gas to Europe, energy security is front of mind for all. We are making huge progress by increasing our 'home-grown' energy sources, so it makes no sense to put a stop to the cheapest "home-grown" renewable technology - unless you want to reduce pressure on Putin.

3) Flexibility: our whole approach to moving towards home-grown low carbon energy is that we should remain 'technology neutral'. The recent report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change was clear on leaving all low carbon options for policymakers - given the gravity of the climate change threat, it would be environmentally irresponsible to take a key option like onshore wind off the table.

So, let's remember that while there will always be a healthy debate about which form of energy works best, whether it's good value for money and where it should be located, the best way to boost energy security, tackle climate change and do it an affordable way is to continue with a balanced mix, with onshore wind playing a key role.

* Edward Davey is Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and MP for Kingston and Surbiton