Hundreds of millions of pounds are being wasted on wind farms which will have no real impact on providing Britain’s future energy supply – and are damaging public support for going green, campaigners claimed last night.The Renewable Energy Foundation claims the Government is wrongly handing over a sixth of its subsidy fund – currently worth £500 million – to companies running on-shore turbines. In 2002-05, more than £167 million went to wind farm firms.
The REF pressure group says wind farms “are not giving value for money” and wants an overhaul of the subsidy system. It claims the unreliable weather means wind power is unlikely ever to play a major part in meeting the demand for electricity
But the industry hit back, saying wind power had a “key role to play” in the future of Britain’s energy supply.
There has been massive investment in turbines – including seven sites in Cornwall. But the expert behind the REF study said the power they are offering in the county is “not terribly important” and in terms of national demand is “neither here nor there”.
Since 2002, energy firms have been set targets for – and given financial help with – sourcing an increasing proportion of their electricity from renewable sources.
In recent years about 16 per cent of the subsidy has gone to onshore turbines. The Government says that by 2010, the total amount of subsidy is expected to rise to £1 billion.
But the REF says the subsidy mechanism – the Renewables Obligation – does not distinguish between the merits of various technologies, so inves- tors favour wind farms, offering quick returns, rather than developing other methods which offer more reliable power supplies in the longer term.
The REF – which describes itself as a not-for-profit foundation that encourages the development of renewable energy – adds that while wind power, particularly off-shore, can have a role to play, it “must not be allowed to squeeze out other technologies that have more to offer”.
The warning comes after a number of high-profile criticisms of the idea that wind turbines can solve the UK’s energy problems. Despite efforts by Tory leader David Cameron and science minister Malcolm Wicks to make a domestic turbine a “must have” for the middle classes, last month it was claimed they would struggle to power more than a hair dryer.
Friends of the Earth expert Nick Rau said there were other more practical, if less fashionable, ways of saving energy: “A wind turbine on the roof is a glamorous statement – people want to be seen to be doing something. But loft or cavity wall insulation may be more effective – and will probably pay for itself a lot quicker.”
The REF study shows the amount of wind can fluctuate by 70 per cent in 30 hours – a gap which would have to be filled by other sources of power. But it argues that it would be better to simply use those other sources – nuclear power and gas as well as renewables – all the time.
According to the figures, Cornwall is the worst performing wind farm area in the country for a third of the year. And with fluctuating levels of wind, the turbines produce just a quarter of the level of the power if they were operating at full strength.
Most sites were built on expected capacity factors of 30 per cent.
John Constable, REF policy and research director, told the WMN last night: “Wind farms are not giving value for money. There’s not a lot of point in building them in the Westcountry. What wind farms in Cornwall are offering – it’s not terribly important. It’s neither here nor there.”
And with the public left unconvinced by the level of subsidy compared with the outturn from wind farms, he warned: “We think it is already damaging public support for renewables. Renewables are great things. But at the moment we have got a situation where a bad subsidy system is actually damaging the sector.”
A spokesman for the Department for Trade and Industry said ministers were examining the possibility of “banding” the Renewables Obligation depending on the type of energy generation.
“The DTI is currently consulting with stakeholders on their views. A report published by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute last November found that the UK has the best wind resource in Europe. Onshore wind is a cost-effective and proven technology which is set to make a significant contribution to the Government’s renewable energy targets.”
But Mr Constable said the Westcountry should draw on its “large agricultural resource” and invest in other technologies. These could include biomass plants, burning wood or straw grown in the region, or using crops to create green bio-fuels for vehicles such as ethanol and biodiesel.
Technology also already exists to use green matter or slurry to produce methane to fuel a gas engine to produce electricity and heat.
Last night a spokesman for Renewable Energy Systems, which owns wind farms at Carland Cross and Four Burrows in Cornwall, said: “No one has every claimed that wind turbines generate power at full capacity 100 per cent of the time, which is why the UK’s energy mix must be made up of a range of sustainable sources and why investment in other renewable energy technologies is vital.
“However, as the most advanced and economic of all the renewable technologies, onshore wind has a key role to play in meeting the UK’s targets for reducing carbon emissions.”
By Matt Chorley, London Editor
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