UK Conservatives plan to limit onshore wind power

wind turbine cumbria
CC BY 2.0 John Davey

World wind power may be poised to bounce back, but things don't look quite so rosy in the UK for wind developers—at least of the onshore variety.

In a move to placate conservative-leaning, rural constituencies, Prime Minister David Cameron is promising to limit onshore wind development, either through an absolute cap on electricity output from onshore wind generators, and/or lower subsidies or tighter planning restrictions.

It's not all bad news for environmentalists, however. The government is also committing to a large expansion of solar, restating its ambition for 20GW of installed solar capacity by 2020, and winning praise from many in the solar industry for doing so. The government's newly announced solar strategy comes with a shift away from utility-scale solar farms on open land, and instead pushing for more distributed generation on buildings and other already industrialized, 'brownfield' sites. The Government is also promising to put more emphasis on offshore wind development too.

While opponents of onshore wind farms will celebrate, The Guardian reports that The Royal Academy of Engineering is warning of a rise in energy prices if such plans do go ahead:

A Conservative party plan to limit the number of onshore windfarms would drive up household energy bills, according to the UK's most eminent engineers. Replacing a single banned onshore turbine with offshore wind power, which is more expensive, would cost £300,000 a year more in subsidies, with the extra cost being added to bills, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) said. The engineers also said a cap on turbines would make it harder to meet the UK's legally binding targets for renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions.

Perhaps predictably, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince is also raising a stink about the Conservatives' agenda, suggesting that concern for the countryside and local communities is a fig leaf for supporting different energy concerns:

“The Conservatives advocate localism, insisting that local voices are heard on planning decisions regarding wind power, yet local voices are being completely bypassed when it comes to shale gas fracking. This is a clear double standard."

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this debate, it's clear that this will be a controversial topic in the decades to come. With a recent LSE study suggesting wind turbines can impact nearby house prices by as much as 12%, communities have legitimate concerns that deserve to be heard. If onshore wind is going to continue to expand, it will need to find ways to build community support and ensure that those living near turbines can share in their abundance.

UK Conservatives plan to limit onshore wind power
NIMBY groups may celebrate. The Royal Academy of Engineering, however, thinks it's going to mean higher energy bills.

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