The Ramblers’ Association today called for an urgent reform of the subsidy which supports renewable energy developments on the UK, including a massive reduction in the funding given to large scale land based windfarms. The call comes after the RA’s Chief Executive, Christine Elliott, examined the impact of new windfarm developments in the Scottish Highlands.
Christine Elliott said: “Across large swathes of upland Britain our world famous landscapes are under assault. From the Cairngorms to the Welsh moorlands to the hills of Devon and Cornwall, giant wind turbines are on the march. This is entirely due to a government scheme, the Renewables Obligation , which pays huge financial rewards to large scale windfarm developers. This scheme is the direct responsibility of UK Energy Ministers. They must be persuaded, as a matter of urgency, to agree to its radical reform.”
“The real obligation lies with the UK Government to pay less attention to the commercial aspirations of multinational energy companies and far more to the real energy needs of local communities, local industries and local people. UK Ministers need to wake up to the reality that tourism, outdoor recreation, farming and forestry are the cornerstones of life in the uplands ““ not industrial power stations planted in the middle of peat bogs. The carbon benefit is questionable and the only clear dividend is to investors.”
Christine Elliott was speaking after visiting the Cairngorms and other hill ranges affected by developments and meeting with senior figures in voluntary and government organisations. She expressed her dismay at the landscape transformations under way:
“I do not think most Ministers in the UK Government have any idea of the impact of the Renewables Obligation on our landscapes and our communities.”
“To walk the high ground of the Cairngorms and see giant turbines sprouting on distant hills is to experience a failure of government energy policy. No country that is proud of its land and its people should permit such scars on world heritage quality landscape.”
“To stand on the battlements of Doune Castle, near Stirling, and to see the local village, nestling in the fold of hill and wood, now dominated by 100 metre (300 ft) turbines  on the nearby hills, is to witness a government policy which shows scant respect for people and place. Add to this the sight of construction roads being driven through peat bogs and it is obvious that the government has lost its way. Has nobody told them that the peat bogs of Britain are a vital, living, breathing resource that is capturing and storing carbon ““ our equivalent of the tropical rain forest, a precious resource to be protected and nurtured, not ravaged by the mighty machines of the energy industry?”
“Inhabitants and visitors in Glen Devon can see how Scottish Power is about to release bulldozers onto the Ochil hill range, as they start their Green Knowes windfarm development. The reason that a company like Scottish Power is so desperate to preserve the financial largesse that comes their way through the Renewables Obligation is because for them it is like winning the Lottery, every year.”
“Why the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, both a Scots MP and guardian of the public purse, allows this publicly funded desecration of our environmental heritage defies belief. Where is his conscience and sense of stewardship, both financial and moral? With the Renewables Obligation under severe attack by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Royal Society of Edinburgh,  we are left wondering how many more reports from expert bodies are needed before the Chancellor takes action.”
Christine Elliott did, however, emphasise the importance of public funding support for renewable energy development:
“Climate change is the most crucial issue facing the world today. The Prime Minister has to be congratulated for the efforts he has made to raise awareness of climate change problems amongst world leaders. The rhetoric has been excellent, the solutions inadequate.”
“We do support the extensive use of wind turbines in making a significant contribution to renewable energy development. But we need a New Renewables Obligation which drives the monster 300 ft turbines to offshore locations while giving much more support to small scale developments on farms, crofts and near to local communities. Every home owner should be encouraged to examine their renewable energy options, from small wind turbines and solar panels to ground-source heat and biomass.”
Christine Elliott also emphasised that a New Renewables Obligation should spread financial benefit much more widely and equitably:
“The present scheme delivers vast financial rewards to a few large commercial operations and landowners along with a minority of local people. Everyone else has to suffer the impact of large turbines, their associated huge transmission lines and installation infrastructure. We need to move rapidly to a financial support regime that is geared to local generation, thereby helping to reduce electricity demand on the national grid. Then we will be helping everyone, not just a favoured few, to benefit from the new way that we generate and use energy. Such an approach is entirely in line with the conclusions of the UK Government’s own Sustainable Development Commission. Earlier this year the Commission emphasised that reducing demand on the grid was the most cost effective way for the government to meet its climate change obligations.”
Noting that the Sustainable Development Commission also decided that it was not in favour of further nuclear power development in the UK, Christine Elliott said that the RA also had reservations about nuclear power development:
“In our response to the Government’s Energy Review we said that nuclear power should be considered as one of a range of possible energy supply options, but we had a number of concerns including waste management and storage and radioactive contamination . This remains our position today but will given further consideration at a Board of Trustees meeting in mid October when we will decide if a further response is needed to the Government’s energy policy.”
Finally, Christine Elliott said:
“I will be writing to the Minister for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling, to ask him to start work on the New Renewables Obligation immediately. Waiting until 2010, as suggested in the Government’s conclusions to its Energy Review , is hopeless ““ the damage will all have been done by then. I will invite him to spare some time from his Ministerial desk, or his Edinburgh constituency office, and join with me on a visit to see how current energy policy is damaging our world famous landscape. With politicians now busy apologising for past mistakes, it would be unfortunate if the Renewables Obligation became the Labour Government’s Poll Tax.”
Notes for Editors
 What is the Renewables Obligation?
The Renewables Obligation is a financial support policy introduced by the Government to stimulate demand for renewable energy.
This Government Regulation obliges electricity suppliers to demonstrate that they have supplied a set percentage of electricity from renewable sources. The eligible renewable technologies are defined by the DTI. The set percentage of the Obligation rises annually, reaching approximately 15% by 2015.
How does it work?
Electricity supply companies buy electricity from generating companies who produce it from a renewable source. They then also have to buy Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) from the generators for each megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity purchased. These ROCs prove that they have used electricity from renewable energy sources, and are put toward meeting their obligation targets. The electricity goes straight into the National Grid from the generator.
If the supply company fail to meet their Renewables Obligation percentage commitment, they can pay a forfeit on the shortfall, currently valued at around £30 per MWh. This is known as the Buy-Out Price and is collected by Ofgem and put in a ring-fenced fund. Alternatively, they can opt out of purchasing electricity from renewable sources altogether and pay the full Buy-out Price for their Obligation percentage.
This fund is then redistributed back to the electricity supply companies in proportion to the number of ROCs they produce. The extra costs incurred in meeting the obligation are transferred to consumers through their bills.
What’s the problem?
The Renewables Obligation has set a payment level for electricity from renewable sources and doesn’t recognise the different stages of development that renewable technologies are at, nor the inherent differences in the way they generate electricity.
In the drive to keep construction and operation costs low, developers are going for a market-ready technology that pays back quickly to cover the capital costs, which happens to be on-shore wind turbines.
The consequence of the Obligation is driving the market toward more on-shore windfarms. Investment in less well-developed technologies is lagging behind ““ commercial interest in other renewable technologies is not greatly encouraged by a policy driver which doesn’t differentiate the costs of electricity production from different technologies.
A recent National Audit Office report stated that “the Renewables Obligation represents an expensive means by which to reduce CO2 emissions.” when compared to energy efficiency or other emissions reductions schemes.
The report also highlighted that level of financial support provided by the Renewables Obligation to some onshore wind projects is in excess of what is necessary. If left unchanged, around a third of the total public support provided could be more than that needed to meet the cost of generating electricity from on-shore wind sites.
 Wind turbines currently operating on land are around 50 ““ 100m to the vertical blade tip, while more recent consented proposals are around 100 m, but with other proposals currently within the planning system involving turbines up to 135m to the vertical blade tip. See www.bwea.com/ukwed/index.asp for a full list of wind turbine projects.
 Reports from National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee , Royal Society of Edinburgh and Welsh Affairs Committee, among others, point out that the Renewables Obligation is not working the way it should, is the most expensive means available to Government of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and is in need of reform:
National Audit Office 2005: Department of Trade and Industry ““ Renewable Energy
Public Accounts Committee 2005: Department of Trade and Industry ““ Renewable Energy; Report of Session 2005-06
Royal Society of Edinburgh 2006: Inquiry into Energy Issues for Scotland
Welsh Affairs Committee 2006: Energy in Wales
 Sustainable Development Commission May 2005: “Wind Power ““ your questions answered” (page 6): “Reducing the nation’s demand on the national grid ““ through energy saving, and changing our everyday behaviour ““ is not an optional extra in the drive to tackle climate change effectively. It’s essential, and it represents perhaps the most cost-effective way of meeting our obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Sustainable Development Commission have also conducted an investigation into nuclear energy: “The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy” (2005) and concluded that “there is no justification for bringing forward plans for a new nuclear power programme, at this time, and that any such proposal would be incompatible with the Government’s own Sustainable Development Strategy.”
[5} RA response to UK Government Energy Review
 DTI Report on Our Energy Challenge (July 2006) page 101 http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/review/page31995.html. The Report indicates that the Government intends to introduce a “banded” structure to the Renewables Obligation by 2010. This would be useful if the effect of banding was to give more support to small scale wind turbine development and less to large scale land based developments. Such banding needs to be introduced immediately, not by 2010.
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