England is not windy enough to justify building any more onshore wind turbines, the chief executive of wind industry trade body has admitted.
Hugh McNeal, who joined RenewableUK two months ago from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, insisted the industry could make the case for more onshore turbines in some parts of the UK, despite the withdrawal of subsidies.
But he said this would “almost certainly” not be in England, as the wind speeds were not high enough to make the projects economically viable without subsidy.
Although the Government has implemented its manifesto pledge to end subsidies for new onshore wind farms, the industry believes it should be able to deploy more turbines onshore if it can show that this is the cheapest form of new power generation capacity.
Current wholesale electricity prices are too low to spur investment in any new form of power generation, so the Government has already had to make subsidies available to new gas plants.
If financial support required by onshore wind is less than that required by gas, the industry argues it should no longer be regarded as “subsidy”.
“We are now the cheapest form of new generation in Britain,” Mr McNeal said. “If plants can be built in places where people don’t object to them and if, as a result of that, over their whole lifetime the net impact on consumers against the alternatives is beneficial, I need to persuade people we should be doing that.”
But new wind farms in England were “very unlikely”, beyond those that have already secured subsidies and are awaiting construction, as they would not be cost-efficient enough to undercut gas power, he said.
“We are almost certainly not talking about the possibility of new plants in England. The project economics wouldn’t work; the wind speeds don’t allow for it.”
The admission calls into question why developers are still seeking planning consent for hundreds of new turbines onshore in England.
Analysis of Government databases by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a group critical of subsidies, suggests there is till 425 megawatts of capacity in England in the planning system – although this is about a tenth of the amount seeking permission in Scotland.
Keith Anderson, chief executive of ScottishPower Renewables, said he agreed with Mr McNeal that new onshore wind in England would be “incredibly challenging”.
However, he suggested the economics could potentially be better for projects that involved removing small old turbines and building bigger, more powerful replacements on the same site.
The idea of “subsidy free” financial support for onshore wind has proved highly controversial. Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, described it as a “con” after ministers confirmed earlier this year that they were considering the idea.
John Constable, REF director, said claims that wind power was the cheapest failed to take into account the wider cost impacts on the system.
“There has to be grid expansion to remove bottlenecks, short term response plant and or demand to cope with errors in the wind forecast, and the cost of operating a conventional fleet of almost unchanged size to guarantee security of supply,” he said.
While ministers have not ruled out “subsidy free” financial support for onshore wind, there are understood to be no current plans to offer it.
Ministers have also said they want ensure technologies have to “face their full costs”. A study on the true costs of different technologies is awaiting publication by the DECC.
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