Remember how David Cameron’s government was going to end Nimbyism by having local communities vote for new housing developments on their doorsteps? That didn’t end so well. Last October, following a shock defeat in the Amersham by-election, the Prime Minister gave up on building more new homes in the shires in favour of reverting to the line of least political resistance: the old favourite of trying to solve the housing shortage by building more new homes on brownfield land in the North.
Why, then, does the government think it will be any more successful trying to persuade us to accept wind farms on our doorsteps? Last week’s Energy Security Strategy held out the prospect of more onshore wind farms – ending a moratorium introduced by the Cameron government. Not that people will have wind farms forced upon them, mind. According to the strategy paper we are all so keen, deep down, to have a wind farm on our doorsteps that we grasp at the opportunity. The paper stated:
“In the more densely populated England, the government recognises the range of views on onshore wind. Our plans will prioritise putting local communities in control. We will not introduce wholesale changes to current planning regulations for onshore wind but will consult this year on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, including lower energy bills.”
Maybe ministers feel emboldened by a recent Opinium poll which claimed that two thirds of people said they would be happy to have a wind farm near them, or by a couple of crowd-funded schemes in South Wales and North Yorkshire where locals have bought into crowd-funded schemes to build small wind farms which promise to offer them cheaper electricity. But, as with housing, it is likely to be a very different matter when hard plans for new onshore wind farms are unveiled and people are forced to confront the reality of life next to a wind farm: the low hum, their dominance of the landscape and potentially the danger of detached blades.
Moreover, you wonder what the government has to gain from trying to build more onshore wind farms. The whole point of last week’s review was supposed to be energy security. But wind farms on their own are not going to provide that. On the contrary, they promise insecurity unless we also construct the means to store massive amounts of energy for days when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. We already have, in theory, enough installed wind and solar capacity to meet Britain’s average energy consumption of 40 GW. Yet there are often times when wind and solar between them provide less than five percent of electricity used in Britain. At present we can absorb wind energy into the grid because we have gas plants which can be fired up or turned down to make up for a shortfall in energy. But what happens after 2035 – the date when the government has pledged to remove fossil fuels entirely from electricity generation?
The Energy Security Strategy provides no answer to this whatsoever. Nuclear plants do not have to flexibility to be turned up and down at short notice. Battery storage costs three times as much as generating wind energy in the first place. If we are going to try to satisfy all our energy needs by wind and solar power we have a long, long way to go: wind and solar between them accounted for just 4.2 percent of total energy consumption in 2020.
The government remains tied to its legally-binding commitment to end all net carbon emissions by 2050 – and yet still has no practical means of getting there. By putting its faith in yet more wind power it is setting itself up for failure – as well as a battle in the shires.
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