I remember the now Labour leader Ed Miliband saying that “it is socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area”.
I remarked at a public meeting shortly afterwards that it was precisely this sort of comment that would stir even more local people into action against inappropriate onshore wind farms.
Not only does this show Mr Miliband’s lack of understanding beyond the walls of Westminster, it also could be seen as ignorance of the other options available in the production of renewable energy such as solar, tidal, hydro-electricity and biomass.
Since Mr Miliband’s insulting comments two years ago, more and more onshore wind farm applications and scoping for possible wind farms have come forward.
My part of the constituency in the Selby District has got more than its fair share, especially as the existing applications are proposed very close to populated villages.
But rather than just dismissing wind energy from an aesthetic point of view, it is important to set out the reasons why it should not be seen as the only renewable option available.
Often when it is coldest, and we need electricity most, there is no wind to generate power.
On December 7 last year, when the fourth highest United Kingdom load of 60,050 megawatts of electricity was recorded, the total UK wind fleet of approximately 5,200 MW was producing about 300 MW. In other words, it had a load factor of 5.8 per cent).
Selby is home to the single largest renewable source of electricity in the country – Drax power station – which generated seven per cent of the UK’s renewable power in 2010 through the use of a variety of biomass materials and forestry residues that would otherwise be left to rot.
This clearly shows a viable, renewable alternative to wind energy and a far more efficient one. And despite burning the products, it only releases CO2 which was originally captured by the plant as it was growing, making it carbon neutral at the point of combustion.
The average UK wind farm operated at only 20 to 25 per cent of its capacity in 2010, whereas biomass generation tends to be available for more than 90 per cent of the time and it can produce electricity as and when it is needed, at the flick of a switch.
Another emerging source of renewable energy is solar power which simply works in daylight, without the need for extremely bright sunshine.
Solar cells are totally silent and unobtrusive because they lie flat to the ground and, excluding production, transport and installation, they are CO2 neutral. They also require very little upkeep, unlike wind farms, due to the absence of moving parts
There is also a financial case against onshore wind farms which can require twice the subsidy of other renewable energy sources, such as co-firing non-energy crop biomass, to be viable.
Offshore wind is one of the most expensive renewable sources of energy available and receives up to four times the financial support of some other renewables.
So what’s in it for a community if a wind farm is built in the area?
Not much, in my opinion.
Despite promises of generous financial support for local communities, the standard deal is for a wind farm to pay community projects £1,000 per installed megawatt.
A typical 2.3 megawatt wind turbine will make its owner £500,000 (half of which is taxpayer subsidised), and therefore they would pay out £2,300 a year to community projects, about 0.5 per cent.
I agree with the Renewable Energy Foundation which says the wind farm industry is taking our money with one hand and expecting us to be grateful for the small change offered with the other.
It could be argued that if a wind farm gets the go-ahead, communities should receive more generous, direct compensation to affected neighbours, and reduced council tax to reflect lost amenity.
I am pleased that the new Government has announced a variety of changes to onshore-wind power policy.
For instance, you would have thought that wind farms would be built where the wind blows strongest, but this has not always been the case in the past. So the Government is bringing forward a full review of the funding mechanism, to ensure that subsidies will not make it attractive to put wind farms in unsuitable locations.
While appropriately sited wind farms have a contribution to make both to our energy security and to our low carbon goals as part of a mix of renewable sources, they should not be imposed on unwilling communities outside of a full and proper democratic process.
I also hope that those residents opposed to the many wind farm developments in and around the Selby District take little notice of Mr Miliband’s comments and people should feel perfectly free to object to these plans without feeling that their actions are “socially unacceptable”.
Nigel Adams is the Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty.
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