It sometimes feels like we live in two distinctly separate universes.
There are those who claim that 100% renewable energy is not only feasible, but in reach. And there are those, like Donald Trump, who believe wind power is an unfeasible monstrosity that is out to destroy all that is good.Of course, I over simplify. There is plenty of legitimate debate to be had, and significant challenges to be overcome, if we are going to decarbonize our energy supply. But I had thought most people were now on board with the idea that wind energy is a legitimate part of our tool box.
Not so, it seems. In fact the Guardian has been reporting that the wind industry has been shaken by a letter written by UK Conservative energy minister John Hayes and sent to planning authorities considering planning permission for a new wind power installation. The letter doesn't just raise concerns about the installation itself, but rather pours cold water on the very idea of wind as a viable part of our energy mix:
In a letter to the chief executive of South Holland district council, seen by the Guardian, the energy minister said: "Wind turbines … create barely a trickle of nonstorable electricity and none at all when wind speed is unsuitable. They will always have to be backed up by conventional power stations because of their unreliability. Because the wind by nature is intermittent and cannot generate a steady output of energy to supply constant demand, even thousands of wind turbines won't replace gas or nuclear power generation."
The letter is dated 14 July 2012, barely two months before the reshuffle that put Hayes into the energy minister's job.
Needless to say, sources within the renewable energy industry refuted Hayes' claims—noting that modern turbines generate electricity as much as 85% of the time, and that wind looks set to grow to 30% of the UK's electricity mix by the end of the decade.
The letter provides an interesting backstory to an ongoing row between coalition partners over energy policy, a row which seems to have concluded in an Energy Deal that provides ongoing support for renewables but also waters down carbon targets and leaves the door open for a natural gas expansion.