Ministers must come clean to households about the higher energy bills they face if the UK continues to deter new onshore windfarms, the government’s top climate change adviser has said.
Lord Deben, the chair of the committee on climate change (CCC), said there was no logical argument against onshore wind turbines in the parts of the UK that want them.
The Conservative peer said the technology was the cheapest form of electricity generation and he hoped the government would rethink its opposition to subsidies to it.
The government ended subsidies for the windfarms in 2015 but the energy minister Claire Perry has recently said she is “looking carefully” at a U-turn for windfarms built in Wales and Scotland. Last week, the government gave its backing to windfarms on remote islands, such as the Isle of Lewis.
Deben told the Guardian: “There is no doubt, and I feel very strongly about it, that onshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity. If the Scots want to have it, on which basis should we say they shouldn’t have it?”
Advocates believe onshore windfarms could be built for subsidies guaranteeing prices as low as £50 per megawatt hour – below the average £62.14 awarded to the latest offshore windfarms and far lower than the £92.50 for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.
The payments are a top-up on the wholesale electricity price of around £45/MWh, with the difference paid by householders through their energy bills. Hinkley alone is expected to add £10-15 to annual bills by 2030.
“If you don’t build onshore wind, the government has to say how much of an extra cost this is to the public,” said Deben.
The CCC advises the government on how to meet its legally binding climate targets. Deben, who as the Conservative MP John Gummer was the environment secretary from 1993 and 1997, added that the government has to make “major changes” to meet its carbon targets for 2025 and 2030, implying that a shift on onshore wind could be one of those.
Big British, German and Spanish energy companies have been lobbying the government for a shift on onshore wind.
Keith Anderson, the chief executive of ScottishPower, said it was “completely bonkers” that the windfarms were ineligible for subsidies, given they were low cost and low carbon.
“2018 has to be the year we secure the future of onshore wind,” he told a recent industry event.
Millions of households have seen their energy bills rise in the past few weeks. All of the big six suppliers have increased their prices, blaming government policy costs such as the clean energy subsidies, along with rising wholesale costs.
Deben also issued a challenge to housebuilders to make new homes more efficient, saying they had to face up to the “social inequity” of future generations facing unnecessarily high energy bills.
“Energy efficiency is a social issue. No house should be built to condemn people in the future to having to pay a great deal for their energy,” he said.
He backed better enforcement of building regulations, saying local authorities did not have the resources to check new homes properly.
The peer also called on mortgage lenders to begin tying the energy efficiency of properties to the amount buyers can borrow, an idea being given a trial in Wales. His comments were echoed this week by the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, who tweeted that it was “daft that we don’t give greater priority to household energy efficiency”.
Deben still feels new nuclear power is needed as part of the UK’s efforts to cut carbon emissions. However, he said new technology and the falling costs of renewables meant the challenge of ensuring energy security was not as great as in the past.
“The government has got to recognise that keeping the lights on, which is its first worry, is much easier than thought because you can get a huge amount of energy from offshore wind, smart grids and short-term battery storage.”
A spokesperson at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “The government does not believe that new large-scale onshore wind power is right for England but it could be right for other areas, where local public support exists.”
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