The Tories vs green business

David Cameron's plans for wind farms show he is not committed to his climate targets - and it's turning green business against him


If the Conservatives win another term in May, they will end subsidies for onshore wind farms. According to David Cameron, the British public are ‘frankly fed up’ with the onshore wind industry, and he has pledged that under another Conservative government onshore wind turbines would provide no more than 10 per cent of the UK’s energy.

In this pledge, the prime minister has not only shown that his green promises were empty – remember ”vote blue, go green”? – but is ignoring both expert and public opinion.

This week Guy Hands, the founder of investment firm Terra Firma, launched a scathing attack in the Financial Times(£) on Cameron’s renewables policy. He said the Tories had failed to recognise the falling costs of the industry, and accused them of harbouring an ’emotional hatred’ for wind farms. He is the latest business leader to express concern that the Tories could scare off investment at the very moment when costs are falling.

Meanwhile Dale Vince, the founder of green energy supplier Ecotricity, has given an interview explaining his decision to support the Labour party. He says that this election poses an ‘existential threat’ to his industry and to the country:

“Since the last election, (Cameron) has gone from hugging huskies to describing it all as ‘green crap’.”

According to Mr Vince, Ecotricity believe Cameron would extend his cap on onshore wind to solar power if he stays in government – he plans to close the current subsidy scheme for large solar farms. Indeed, it is Mr Vince’s belief that all forms of renewable energy are under threat from the Tories.

But why, when renewable energy is only just getting to where it wants to be?

RenewableUK, the UK’s leading non-profit renewable energy trade association, says that by 2020, onshore wind will be the cheapest form of new electricity generation. In a report released last week they found that:

“Impressive levels of generation capacity are matched by equally impressive financial benefits to the UK economy, with £1.6 billion of investment – £729 million of which was spent in the UK – delivered from projects that were commissioned in 2013/14 alone.”

RenewableUK also found that onshore wind farms will deliver £2.55 million of annual community benefits to local people, as well as the almost £6 million they have already contributed to local councils through business rate payments – equivalent to a lifetime value of £149 million. Furthermore, their taskforce said that if their recommendations were followed, up to £21 per megawatt hour could be cut from today’s wind costs.

They said:

“The next government could choose to work with our industry so that in the next five years, the cost of decarbonisation falls more quickly and UK consumers benefit.”

But David Cameron won’t work with them. He insists that the public have had enough of wind farms, despite the government’s own polling showing that 67 per cent of the public support them.

In their report, RenewableUK acknowleges that there has been ‘a clear and consistent drop in planning approval rates over time’. Analysis by the Fabian Society showed that in 2014, 57 per cent of wind farm applications were rejected, up from from 37 per cent in 2013 and 21 per cent in 2008.

Part of the problem here is with the way these projects are implemented, and too often people feel they are having developments foisted upon them without their say. Communities secretary Eric Pickles has intervened in 50 planning applications since June 2013, rather than allowing local authorities and planning inspectors to make the decisions based on, and adapted to, the needs of the community.

Dale Vince describes how one of the great advantages of renewable energy is that it is decentralised, working on a small scale. Not only does this limit the scale of possible errors, it should ideally allow for more democratic design.

Success stories for wind farms have involved the local community at every level; for example, at the 9.2 MW project at Delabole in Cornwall, local residents were shown several options for the size and number of turbines, and the provider Good Energy adapted its plans according to their preference. Good Energy now offers local residents discount energy bills to make sure they feel the benefits of hosting the farm.

Campaigners have urged Mr Pickles to cease his interventions and allow local authorities to retain control of the planning process –  especially as he is clearly hostile to wind power and refuses the majority of applications. (As of September 2014, he had refused 17 out of 19 processed applications; five of the 17 had previously been approved by the Planning Inspectorate.)

The renewable industry has always been clear about the fact that the ultimate aim is to operate without government subsidies, but these need to be withdrawn in a way that is steady and predictable. Prematurely cutting off the wind industry, as David Cameron wants to do, would mean that, in order to reach the renewables targets that he has himself committed to, there would be a long and expensive battle to get support for an alternative energy source off the ground.

Onshore wind farms are working. They are providing clean, sustainable energy which is getting steadily cheaper. Withdrawing support from them at this stage would undermine all this success, and plans to do so show David Cameron’s contempt for both the environment and the public purse.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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20 Responses to “The Tories vs green business”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    Working? The work they do is supply renewable obligations, their role is not really at all to generate energy in most cases. The scale of building is primarily because of legal issues rather than green generation, and little attention is being paid to things like capacity factor.

    The targets should be purely emissions-based (with a carbon tax), and nuclear energy should be a large bit of it. Or we’ll end up in the near future building dirty coal plants like Germany, while energy costs will keep soaring ever-higher, driving away business and making the poor’s plight worse.

    “Decentralised” is another word for “inefficient” in energy generation, of course. “Discounts” to pay off a community for getting it’s RO generators built quickly and without objection, to avoid higher fees for not having sufficient RO’s make a mockery of the entire system.

  2. Scottish Scientist

    The Left can offer nationalisation of the electricity generation industry as a way forward policy whereas the Right’s preferred market solution is beginning to falter and so Conservatives are giving up.

    It’s going to take a lot more investment before Britain can hope to achieve 100 per cent renewables-only electricity generation.

    The cost to the UK of 100% renewables-only generated electricity would be about £480 billion. That’s for wind turbines on land and doesn’t include new grid infrastructure. Offshore wind turbines are extra.

    My estimate for the UK grid’s requirements is –

    • Wind Turbine maximum power 290GW
    • Pumped-storage hydro energy capacity 1400GWh

    That’s a LOT more of both needed than we have installed already.

    Today in the UK we have about 12GW of wind power installed.

    So I estimate we’d need a factor of 290/12 = 24 times more wind turbine power than we have today.

    Today in the UK we have about 27GWh of pumped-storage hydro installed.

    So I estimate we’d need a factor of 1400/27 = 52 times more pumped-storage hydro than we have today.

    I initially worked out figures for the energy requirements of Scotland only, or a peak demand of 6GW or 11.4% of the UK peak power demand of 52.5GW.

    Scotland Electricity Generation – my plan for 2020

    I’ve created a spreadsheet model to determine how much wind power and pumped-storage hydro energy capacity would be required for Scottish needs.

    So remember to multiply the figures in my diagrams by 52.5/6 or 8.75 to get the appropriate numbers for the UK.

    Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power

    My cost estimate for Scotland was £50 billion for wind turbines and pumped-storage not counting grid infrastructure upgrades.

    So say maybe £480 billion for the UK.

    The annual government budget for the UK is something over £700 billion so a project of the size of £480 billion or the cost of 40 channel tunnels would clearly take a number of years to afford and to build.

    So renewables-only electricity generation is indeed possible but it is not cheap and it is not easy, if my figures are anything like correct.

    But my ideas are at least sound applied science which is more than we’ll hear most times on the BBC from Pallab Ghosh.

    The UK should be part of an international research effort to design and manufacture the biggest, more powerful and most economic wind turbines in the world.

    Instead the BBC broadcasts Prof Brian Cox telling us that CERN finding the Higg’s Boson was a “breakthrough” (HYPE!) and we “should research nuclear fusion” (IMPOSSIBLE ENGINEERING!)

    Not only that we have a UK Energy Secretary who has funded the flawed carbon capture and storage idea which is vulnerable to black-market dumping of carbon dioxide and ends up doing nothing to lower atmospheric CO2.

    It is time to get real and get our national research in science and engineering focused on what is needed and what works.

  3. ghost whistler

    Wait a minute, isn’t Guy involved in# the Sweets Way residents’ homes?

    With friends like that!

  4. Tommo

    “Green Business”

    Contradiction in terms !!!!

  5. Dave Stewart

    Decentralized energy generation is actually highly efficient.

    Transporting energy over medium to long distances through the national grid is hugely wasteful. I’m sure you have heard that faint buzzing sound coming from electricity pylons. That is literally the sound of energy being wasted as it is converted into sound rather than electricity and that is just the easily observable waste. Transformers are also hugely inefficient and waste a great deal of energy and are required to up and down voltage the energy supply as it goes on and off the grid. This all adds up to vast amounts of energy wastage.

    Local energy generation removes most of these factors thus saving a lot of energy.

  6. Cole

    What a silly and ignorant post.

  7. Cole

    Comment below was meant for Tommo…

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah, so low-efficiency generation is efficient, right.

    There’s a reason renewable obligation generators need the massive subsidies they do. Your argument applies mostly to off-grid local generation, because otherwise you need additional costs in connection and load balancing, which more than offset transmission losses. Not to mention the need for gas backup.

    PS, you still need an inverter for home installs, and the cheap ones used on say most UK solar installs (since their efficiency does NOT matter, generally*) are less efficient than transformers.

    *Have I mentioned how insane paying people for merely having them is, and on paying people for energy which they not only may not be generating, but ignoring the fact they ALSO get an offset in their bill for their actual generation and thus lower inbound usage?

  9. Guest

    480 billion, no power for most at most times, generators for the rich.

    Wind suffers badly from diseconomies of scale (in short, the best sites for wind generation get taken first). Pumped hydro is only remotely economical in limited sets of circumstances (geography dictates that) as well, of course, and you don’t properly account for peak usage.

    Taxing the poor so the rich end up using diesel generators is not the answer.
    As you call fusion, which exists just fine of course… (we can’t generate sustainable levels of energy over and above that for containing the reaction, but it’s not “impossible” as you claim, and it’s used for things like muon generation…)

    Moreover, you’re ignoring the grid costs, etc, which seem from other countries to rise near-exponentially at a point not long after 30% of renewable energy.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    You appear to be green with bile.

  11. Bob Roberts

    If wind is that brilliant it won’t need subsidising by the government, in which case Cameron is absolutely right. However, I do think that his arbitrary 10% cap is a pointless piece of government intervention – if the cap is needed to constrain future growth, it shows that wind is actually a decent method of electricity generation.

  12. Scottish Scientist

    My plan offers electrical power on demand, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

    It manages to guarantee power when needed from intermittent wind power by using surplus wind power to pump water uphill into hydro-electric reservoirs. Then later, when the wind isn’t blowing enough, the hydro-turbines generate whatever power is needed by electricity customers.

    We scientists explain how our plans will work by means of graphs and I have a couple of graphs which explain my plan on my webpage.

    “Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power”

    Well there are still plenty of sites for wind turbines but more use can be made of the same site by installing a bigger, more efficient wind turbine instead of a smaller, less efficient wind turbine.

    There’s a lot of research and development to be done before the last word on the economy of wind turbines will be written. It may well be that a new “generation” (ha, ha) of wind turbines can lead to a reduction in the size of the investment required.

    Pumped-storage hydro has been the technology of choice for grid energy storage for years. Maybe other alternative storage technology can prove themselves better one day, but not as yet.

    As for diesel generators – the National Grid has a whole lot of them providing grid back-up power for wind turbines at the moment, so I’ve read anyway. So rich and poor are getting our electricity from diesel now.

    The only nuclear fusion which works for our energy needs is the nuclear fusion which powers the sun – and is the source of solar power on earth – and that works better nearer the equator but even solar power at the poles is a better bet than man-made nuclear fusion for power generation.

    Something as out-there as orbital mirrors to reflect sunlight on the polar regions during winter is so much more realistic engineering than man-made nuclear fusion for power generation.

    For nuclear, consider the options for man-made nuclear fission power – for portable power especially – which have not been fully exploited as yet. I’m no expert but some people are enthusiastic about the Thorium alternative.

    Imagine the opportunities of a nuclear fission reactor which one could fly into any point on the globe for instant plentiful power to develop any part of the world.

    If nuclear is your thing, go fission, and forget the dead-end of fusion!

    My plan is for 100% renewable energy. Yes there are costs but the grid costs are only a small part of the total whereas the £480 billion would be most of the cost – and grid costs are not quoted because it is difficult to estimate when you don’t know where power stations are going to be and how long the grid connections between them will have to be.

    It’s like if you phone up and ask for a quote to have electricity connected to the new house you are having built – the first thing the electricity company will ask is – “where is it”?

  13. Guest

    Ah, so you’re ignorant of basic science in this area. My my. 30% is the practical limit.

    How will you find few hundred times GDP needed, too?

    And no, I mean the private generators the rich will use in your scheme.
    You’re making excuses for your slip on fusion, check, etc.

    Your plan is for a completely unfeasable system, yes, as you aim for *maybe* 5% uptime with that tiny amount in terms of your goals… And the costs of connecting wind farms to the grid and to balance it can at many times be as expensive as the farm itself…

  14. Scottish Scientist

    Well you’d better pop down to your local wind farm with your red flag and start waving it to warn them of their dangerous impracticality of generating 100% of their power from wind.
    Only £480 billion is needed for the wind turbines and pumped-storage to generated 100% of the UK’s electricity needs, 24/7.
    The annual GDP of the UK is about £1,600 billion.
    480/1600 = 0.3 so it would cost a total of 30% of GDP in one year.
    Not that there is any need to built it all in one year. Take ten years and it is only 3% of GDP per year.
    Electricity would be available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. There would be conventional power stations available on stand-by for emergency power. There should be no power cuts, no more than there are today anyway. No-one would need a private generator.
    Excuses? Slip? Moi?
    It’s perfectly feasible. 100% uptime. The balancing is done by the pumped-storage hydro which is included in the cost of the £480 billion. Grid costs are low in comparison to the £480 billion.

  15. Guest

    So you try and conflate a single wind farm with a country’s power…er…that’s lame.

    As you ignore the basics here, assuming 100% capacity factor, not taking into account diseconomies of scale, ignoring supply constraints, etc.

    SOME energy would be available all the time, but as you note without any kind of ability to level the grid, much of it would be blacked out most of the time, you’d need expensive surge protection for electronics, etc.

    You are in complete denial of the engineering for this, claiming faeries and talking about utterly impractical things, as ever, and making claims that trillions are less than the fake figures you’re using.

  16. Scottish Scientist

    You are lame one who is conflating what has not been done yet with what cannot be done ever.

    I specifically DON’T assume 100% capacity factor. The UK’s peak demand is 52.5 GW. My plan is to install 290 GW of nameplate maximum wind power generation capacity which is able to supply 52.5 GW at only 52.5/290 = 18.1% of maximum capacity.

    So if you like I’ve “assumed 18.1% capacity” but actually it is more complicated because I have done a real computer simulation to prove my plan works- which if you were a scientist you’d know all about, but don’t know anything about proving what, exactly?

    “level the grid”? WHAT ON EARTH are you mumbling about you fool? With my plan there is hydro-electric power available on demand from the pumped-storage reservoir during times of low or no wind.

    My figures are correct.

  17. Gerschwin

    Yippee, a bunch of thieving charlatans peddling renewable energy are about to have their life line’s cut off. ‘Bout bloody time too. May they starve.

  18. Scottish Scientist

    World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?

    Blog post –

    Map –

    The map shows how and where the biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme could be built – Strathdearn in the Scottish Highlands.

    The scheme requires a massive dam about 300 metres high and 2,000 metres long to impound billions of metres-cubed of water in the upper glen of the River Findhorn. The surface elevation of the reservoir so impounded would be as much as 650 metres when full and the surface area would be as much as 40 square-kilometres.

    There would need to be two pumping stations at different locations – one by the sea at Inverness which pumps sea-water uphill via a pressurised pipe to 350 metres of elevation to a water well head which feeds an unpressurised canal in which water flows to and from the other pumping station at the base of the dam which pumps water up into the reservoir impounded by the dam.

    The potential energy which could be stored by such a scheme is colossal – thousands of Gigawatt-hours – a minimum of 100 GigaWatt-days, perhaps 200 GW-days or more.

    This represents enough energy-storage capacity to serve all of Britain’s electrical grid storage needs for backing-up and balancing intermittent renewable-energy electricity generators, such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic arrays for the foreseeable future.

    The geography of Scotland – the land of the mountain and the flood – is ideal for siting pumped-storage hydro schemes to serve a European energy network infrastructure, with benefits for Scots, Britons and Europeans alike.

  19. Patrick Nelson

    At some point in the future the oil (in any large useable amount) will be gone. This is not in doubt, the only disagreement is how soon this even is liable to occur. Any country that hasn’t moved over to renewable energy by then will in deep trouble. Renewable energy is still in it’s infancy. If Britain fails to stay fully engaged with this crucial developing area of technology we (as a country) are liable to regret it one day.

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