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Government under pressure over onshore wind

The government faces further pressure to relax its opposition to onshore wind farms following an announcement that its own infrastructure adviser is investigating barriers to their roll out.

The National Infrastructure Commission, which is chaired by the former Labour minister, Lord Adonis, published its interim National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) today (13 October 13)

It states that the NIC is examining “unnecessary barriers” to the deployment of onshore wind projects, highlighting how they do not benefit from subsidies like their offshore counterparts.

The commission has also potentially placed itself at loggerheads with Whitehall by publishing lower projections for future UK energy demand than the government.

The commission’s modelling projects that energy demand in the UK will fall by between 8-12 per cent by 2035 and 6-15 per cent by 2050.

By comparison, the government projects that energy demand that will increase by between 2-13 per cent by 2035.

Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the UK achieves its statutory climate change targets, the commission warns that the government will have to “accelerate” the roll out of low carbon infrastructure.

And it claims that the challenges facing the UK’s energy sector are “particularly acute”, given that a high proportion of generation capacity is reaching the end of its working life.

The assessment says there is “no prospect” of achieving the UK’s carbon reduction targets, enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, unless gas is phased out for heating and hot water.

But it warns that switching from gas to low carbon forms of heating, such as electricity or hydrogen, will be “disruptive” and the costs are “unclear”.

“A large-scale change in how the majority of buildings are heated in the UK will not happen without Government intervention,” it adds.

The commission also expresses concerns about the low level of public awareness regarding the drive to scrap gas boilers.

It says that how to deliver cost-effective decarbonisation of heating will be an “important part” of the commission’s work as it prepares its final NIA.

The commission will also be conducting a probe into the strategic cases for both nuclear power and carbon capture and storage with a view to making recommendations to ministers.

It warns that it is “unclear” if nuclear power plants will be built in future without some form of government backing and risk sharing following the collapse of Westinghouse.

The assessment says that carbon capture and storage (CCS) might provide a cheaper way of delivering low carbon energy than nuclear.

It highlights effective policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions from road vehicles as another gap in carbon reduction policy.

Amongst the targets that the commission set the government a trajectory for the future level of the “carbon price floor” in the autumn budget and a strategy and timetable for the UK’s Euratom replacement arrangements by the end of the year.

Responding to the interim NIA, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It is welcome the commission has recognised a mix of technologies will be needed to meet decarbonisation targets and that nuclear, both large scale and potentially small modular reactors, will have a role to play.”