Onshore wind is being sacrificed to protect the profits of the big six

In reality, the government's decision to scrap onshore wind is all about the big six, writes Jimmy Aldridge.

In reality, the government’s decision to scrap onshore wind is all about the big six, writes Jimmy Aldridge

Today energy minister Michael Fallon announced that if the Tories win the next election they intend to do their utmost to prevent any more onshore wind farms being built.

So much for the ‘energy trilemma’ – the government’s stated requirement for policy to deliver clean, secure and affordable energy.

Clean energy is not one of several competing priorities, it’s the only way we can meet any priorities. Cost and security of supply are extremely important, but you can’t have either in the long-term without the sources being clean.

But we no longer have to concern ourselves with that relatively subtle and nuanced argument, as it seems the trilemma concept is dead. The Tories’ decision to kill off the UK onshore wind industry is a rejection of the cheapest form of domestic clean energy, which, if you factor in externalities like the thousands of UK deaths from air pollution, makes it the cheapest energy source there is, and for the UK the most plentiful.

And Putin isn’t going to be turning off the wind tap any time soon. Apparently, cost, security of supply and carbon reduction are all second tier concerns, and the real issue is losing votes to Ukip. But that’s the interesting bit.

The generally accepted wisdom is that Ukippers don’t like wind, and because the Conservatives need their votes they don’t like wind. But in fact, when asked

“Which one of the following energy projects or plants would you most prefer to have operating in your local council area? A wind farm (for onshore wind energy) or a fracking site (for shale gas)?”

Those intending to vote UKIP split 41 per cent for wind to 36 per cent for fracking.

And the Tory voters preferred wind farms to fracking rigs by a margin of 17 per cent, so if the party’s new anti-wind stance has anything to do with voters at all, then the only possible function it can perform is to irritate Labour voters, who prefer wind farms by a margin of 67 per cent.

Assuming they’re not quite that petty, if this has nothing to do with cost, nothing to do with carbon, nothing to do with security of supply, and nothing to do with pleasing potential voters, then what is it for? An ideological opposition to public subsidies?

They seem fairly relaxed about the far bigger subsidies going to fossil fuels and nuclear power, including the Hinkley package already under investigation by the EU for breaching competition rules, money for old coal being allocated through the ‘capacity market’ in December, and new subsidies for fracking firms announced today.

So we’re increasing carbon, increasing costs, and decreasing security of supply, in direct defiance of the public’s consistent support for wind, in order to please whom, exactly? The Daily Mail? Putin?

In reality it’s the big six again. Distributed power, renewables and community energy schemes are devastating the profitability of the big energy utilities across Germany and elsewhere, as people discover they can just do it themselves. In the UK, onshore wind turbines are the best option for communities wanting to break free from the big six and take control of their own power supply.

With their new commitment to drive wind offshore, the government are hoping to prevent the German experience from happening here and keep the big six in business. The onshore wind industry, and our best chance of affordable energy bills in future, are being sacrificed to protect the profits of the energy giants. I’d like to see some polling on that.

Dr Jimmy Aldridge is a campaign researcher and analyst for Greenpeace and a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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5 Responses to “Onshore wind is being sacrificed to protect the profits of the big six”

  1. itdoesntaddup

    The blackwhite in this article is utterly breathtaking. The promise to halt future onshore windfarms is frankly an empty gesture, as all the viable sites at today’s 100%+ subsidies will have been taken before it is effective. The Labour party voted en masse from Debbie Abrahams to Iain Wright including Shadow Energy Minister Caroline Flint to support Ed Davey’s Expensive Energy Bill that was designed to tip even larger subsidies into offshore windfarms, such as those he just announced to give us power that is seven times more costly than from coal. Perhaps if the public were informed of the costs, they might take a different view. Perhpas too if they were informed that every windmill and solar panel we have installed onshore and offshore will just about match the output from the half a dozen small wellpads at Wytch Farm over their lifetimes they might realise that windfarms are far more intrusive than shale gas could ever be.

  2. Daley Gleephart

    I’m getting sick of Dept of Energy & Climate Change issuing politically biased announcements. The MacKay/Stone GHG emissions report does not look at all energy sources, it refers to shale gas extraction as if there were no alternatives. The DECC website is merely a vehicle for the two ministers to proclaim that fracking is good for us.

    itdoesntaddup: Wytch Farm is an oil field not a fracking site.

  3. itdoesntaddup

    Thank you for drawing attention to the fact that Wytch Farm is a “conventional” oil and gas field – as is Balcombe though it seems that the protesters there liked to pretend otherwise.

    The technology of well stimulation employed at Wytch Farm is probably the least relevant item. Much more important is that since it was discovered in the 1970s, it has been operating in an area of considerable sensitivity while creating minimal disturbance even for the rich on Sandbanks, underneath whose properties many of its wells pass or the New Forest ponies under whom its pipelines run. Furthermore, to date some 194 wells have been drilled there (including 5 last year), many long distances out into the English Channel, including the well that held the world record for the furthest horizontal distance for many years. It also handles over 10bn litres of produced water per year while meeting environmental standards for treatment and disposal. It is precisely these factors that show that we already have the technology and systems to exploit shale gas (and oil in the Weald basin) in a way that is unobtrusive. The size of the Bowland shale gas resource in Cuadrilla’s licence area alone on even a 10% recovery factor is equivalent to ten times the oil produced from Wytch Farm.

    It’s time to get real rather than continue to believe the myths about shale.

  4. swatnan

    Its the same reason why the petrol lobby secretely stymied any progress on the electric car, vested interests in favour of the internal combustion engine which frankly is old technology.. I’m looking forward to the first wind powered electric car.

  5. Whomever

    You do know that there are about 60 employees from the big 6 working within the Dept of Energy & Climate Change?

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