Is Cameron's policy to put an end to onshore wind power a politically-inspired illusion? Double rainbow with wind turbines. Photo: Gordon Robertson via Flickr.com.
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Cameron's wind policy - designed by Machiavelli?
Alan Whitehead MP
12th May 2014
David Cameron has promised to suspend incentives for onshore wind farms if he is re-elected in 2015, writes Alan Whitehead. But how exactly will he replace the 8GW of planned wind capacity that will not be built?
The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
From 2015 onwards, if the Conservatives run the country, there will be no more onshore wind turbines.
Or there might be, if developers of onshore farms, or even single turbines, can raise the funds with no underwriting whatsoever.
And that's an almost unique position now to be in if you've read my recent posts on gas, nuclear and everything else that is now being underwritten.
Even then, they will still need to get past a local planning hearing, get a connection slot etc.
So it's pretty inconceivable that, given these hurdles, any projects will get off the ground.
Our most price-competitive renewable energy source scrapped
Dave's minder in DECC, Michael Fallon, says rather disingenuously that there are enough onshore wind projects "in the pipeline" to reach targets for deployment up to 2020. What he doesn't mention is that these are largely sketched-in plans which are still a long way from reality.
Many of them have no guarantee of funding and even those that do will undoubtedly have the plug pulled on them in a climate of uncertain underwriting, vanishing onward prospects and collapsing supply chain.
So it's therefore likely that onshore wind generally would rapidly roll up, just as it starts to compete with other forms of energy supply on an effective basis and cements its place as the most cost effective form of large scale renewable energy production.
The shirty minority defeats the reasonable majority
"Irrational and illogical", says Good Energy's CEO Juliet Davenport. Good stuff in the blog Juliet, but not quite right; you obviously haven't been reading your Machiavelli. Dave has, I think. Here's the old cynic giving advice to his prince on new-fangled notions:
"It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."
And as if by magic, an infographic turns up sourced from DECC surveys, which shows that the vast majority of the British public sort of quite like onshore wind, whilst a little, very shirty group (the little angry red people in the corner of the chart) splenetically don't.
And since they are the people who write to local papers, form committees and, incidentally in some cases, run the hollowed-out local Conservative associations, Dave has clearly opted to listen to Niccolo, and not to everyone else.
So what can take the place of onshore wind?
But of course, there is the small matter of him being allegedly onside in the great low carbon energy / climate change debate, as he was keen to tell the Liaison Committee in the House when questioned by them recently:
"The point I would make is that I support the carbon budgeting process and the Climate Change Act, which I think is a good framework"
was his response to gentle questioning from Select Committee chairs. Which leads the excellent James Murray, in a great blog piece to make the point that if you a) stand by climate change and, in principle, to low carbon energy targets but b) pull the rug from under the most successful and economic component of those targets, you ought to c) set out what you are going to put in its place.
He's quite right, of course, since it would take rather a lot of "something else" in place of onshore wind to get low carbon energy deployment back on track.
I can't help feel though, that there isn't a great deal of appreciation around about just what 'quite a lot' comes to and how extensive ‘something else' would then have to be, so I've tried to do a few, immediate sums.
Not to be built - 8,000 MW of planned wind capacity
Out to 2020, DECC's UK Renewable Energy Roadmap tells us that, taking account of attrition in development, there will be about 9.1 GW of new onshore added to the 6.6GW already operational. National Grid's Gone Green scenarios for development out to 2030 adds another 2GW to that total post 2020.
So let's assume, for the reasons I've set out, that much of this of this presently assumed development doesn't take place with a new onshore regime and that the additional 2GW of capacity after 2020 certainly doesn't get built.
On a reasonable estimate, that's about 8GW of otherwise accounted for capacity that'll be lost. And yes, I know that relative capacity margins mean you can't make a strict comparison, but even after that, that's something like four nuclear power reactors or five gas-fired power stations worth.
But of course, if you really do believe in the need for low carbon power as part of your carbon budgeting process, then the replacement capacity would have to be found. Not from gas and ... er ... not nuclear, because you can't magic up two new plants in six years, but maybe from ... what?
Can we expect a nifty U-turn? Probably ...
Biomass, tidal impoundment? Hmm, all these technologies have underwritings far higher per kWh than onshore does, so presumably you'd need to adjust that Levy Control Framework ceiling considerably. So it's looking improbable that Dave will do what James outlines in his piece, and try to make it all fit together logically.
But then James probably hasn't read his Machiavelli either. Niccolo has some good advice on this dilemma as well. He tells his prince:
"It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.
"And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite."
... which is probably what Dave will now do.
Alan Whitehead is Labour MP for Southampton Test. He has worked on energy and climate change policy for many years, and started his blog to analyse energy policy in the UK and share his opinions.
This article was originally published on Alan's Energy Blog.
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