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Public back wind farm subsidies, survey suggests

More Britons than not regard subsidies for wind power development as a good deal, an opinion poll suggests.

Commissioned by trade body RenewableUK, the Ipsos-Mori poll found that 43% see the UK subsidy as good value for money against 18% who do not.

Another survey has also found a big majority in favour of renewable energy.

The poll comes ahead of the Clean Energy Ministerial which will bring ministers from more than 20 nations to London to discuss low-carbon energy.

Among various initiatives there, the UK and US are announcing a joint push to develop floating wind turbines.

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron will make what is being trailed as his first “green” speech since taking office on a pledge to lead the “greenest government ever”.

A recent opinion poll found that only 2% of the public believed the government was living up to that billing.

Recent months have seen an escalation in the battle of words in and outside Westminster over wind power.

In February, M100 MPs wrote to Mr Cameron asking that wind subsidies be slashed.

Newspapers including the Daily Mail have run many articles criticising the technology, US property magnate Donald Trump is campaigning against it in Scotland, and last week saw the launch of a new anti-wind campaign group, National Opposition to Windfarms.

But the public appears to be supportive of wind and other renewables.

Earlier this month, Ipsos-Mori asked a representative sample of just over 1,000 adults to what extent they favoured wind power.

Sixty-six per cent were either “strongly in favour of” or “tended to favour” the technology, against just 8% who were opposed.

Two-thirds also found turbines’ impact on the landscape acceptable.

‘2p per day’

Clean energy development is subsidised through the Renewables Obligation, which obliges electricity companies to buy a certain amount of their electricity from renewable sources.

The additional cost is passed onto the consumer.

According to the regulator Ofgem, the cost of this in 2010-11 amounted to £15.15 per household per year. Just over half – £7.74 – was accounted for by wind power.

Ipsos-Mori asked people “to what extent do you consider this good or poor value for UK energy consumers?”

RenewableUK has just released the responses to this question – 43% thought it was either “very good” or “fairly good” value, against 18% who found it “fairly poor” or “very poor”.

Asked why they approved of wind power, a majority of respondents said it helps curb greenhouse gas emissions, helps tackle climate change, and contributes to the UK’s energy security.

“The misleading refrain that wind energy is an expensive burden on the public was disproved by recent figures from Ofgem,” said Maria McCaffery, Renewable UK’s chief executive.

“In fact it adds just 2p per day per household to energy bills through the government’s Renewables Obligation. Wind energy is a fantastic investment that brings broad benefits and the public knows it.”

Scottish power

However, the price of building offshore wind farms is rising.

Companies are constructing ever bigger turbines, which should prove more economic in the long run despite their higher initial costs; and are moving into locations where construction is more difficult, for example in deeper water.

Ofgem calculations indicate that the £7.44 annual figure is likely to rise to £12.75 for 2012-13.

Further endorsement for renewables came in another poll, this time by YouGov, commissioned by Friends of the Earth.

The survey asked a representative sample of 2,884 UK adults which sources of energy they would most like to see providing more electricity in 10 years’ time.

Sixty-four per cent backed renewables – wind, wave, tidal and solar – while just two per cent wanted a gas-led supply.

Support was higher in Scotland, where 88% wanted a future based on renewables.

The Scottish government plans to generate all of its electricity from renewables by 2020; and with further capacity due to be added after that date, it is set to become a net exporter of electricity to England.

Recent moves by the UK government, however, suggest an expansion of gas-fuelled generation, with generating companies assured that new and existing gas plants will not face limits on CO2 emissions until 2045.

Details of Mr Cameron’s speech are being kept under wraps, though Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker has described it as “a major policy intervention”.

The government has revealed that the UK and US will sign a memorandum of understanding on the joint development of floating wind turbines.

A number of prototypes have been built and tested, with Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden among the countries involved.

In principle floating machines can access the higher wind speeds found further offshore, but many engineering issues remain to be resolved.

The coming week will also see the launch of several reports on clean energy in the UK and globally.