It’s been a tumultuous week for the wind power sector in the UK with reports and developments underscoring the industry’s benefits while a furor was breaking out over whether Energy Minister John Hayes had overstepped his position on the popular renewable technology.
By Thursday, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was wondering publicly if Hayes’s mis-directed anti-wind farm views allow the new Conservative energy minister to even have a future in Britain’s energy department.
Lucas, in a Guardian story, said Hayes’s comments “represent the latest intervention in a co-ordinated campaign by an anti-renewables lobby with vested interests in propping up the declining fossil fuel industries. They peddle a number of myths – on effectiveness, cost and public opinion – which must be challenged.”
She was reacting to a Guardian story on Wednesday which said that a heated row had broken out in the Department of Energy and Climate Change after Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey had “slapped down his new Conservative minister of state for claiming that no more onshore wind farms need be built in Britain.”
In an earlier article in the Daily Mail, Hayes said turbines had been “peppered around the country” with little or no regard for local opinion and that existing sites and those in the pipeline would be enough to meet green commitments with no need for more.
“Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target,” Hayes said. “I’m saying enough is enough.”
The Guardian story noted that Davey, in an official statement, said there had been no change to government policy on renewable energy, as collectively agreed by the coalition cabinet.
“We set out in the renewable energy roadmap in July 2011 how we expect to reach our target of getting 30% of all UK electricity from renewable sources by 2020,” Davey said, adding there are no targets – or caps – for individual renewable technologies such as onshore wind.
“What we’re currently consulting on are ways of making sure local communities feel the benefit of hosting wind farms, and whether our understanding of future costs is accurate,” he said. “Onshore wind is one of the cheapest renewables, which is why we’ve been able to cut the subsidy. It has an important role to play in our energy future.”
In yet a different Guardian article, the newspaper reported that investment in renewable power worth tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy, capable of creating thousands of new jobs, has been thrown into doubt by the coalition dispute over energy policy.
“This is all very damaging,” Penny Shepherd, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, was quoted as saying.
“Investors want predictability of policy, they want to see government support. Multinational investors will look around the globe and ask, ‘Who can we trust?’ [This is a] very negative signal.”
Among others shocked by Hayes’ comments was Maf Smith, the RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive.
A RenewableUK press release issued Wednesday called for urgent clarification “after negative comments on wind energy were made by the Energy Minister John Hayes in some of this morning’s papers.”
The press release noted Hayes’ comments came the morning after he addressed 400 industry delegates at the association’s annual conference and spoke in favour of renewables.
The release added Hayes spoke of the need for clarity and certainty in renewable energy policy to create the right framework for investment.
“It comes as some surprise that the new Minister has said one thing to us and another to the press,” Smith was quoted as saying.
“We are on the eve of the publication of the Energy Bill, a crucial time for energy policy, with huge investment decisions to be made that will lead to tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade,” Smith said. “If we are to see these jobs and investment realized, confidence must be retained and that means consistency.”
Smith also said the wind industry is already delivering jobs, growth and investment whilst de-carbonising the UK’s electricity sector.
Prior to Hayes’ comments, RenewableUK issued a different press release saying the wind industry is on track to power 1 in 10 homes by 2015, coming second only to natural gas as the largest single source of UK electricity by 2020.
The press release said the report, Wind Energy in the UK, notes that from June 2011 to September 2012, the UK’s wind energy capacity grew by a quarter (1,825MW).
“We have taken significant strides forward,” RenewableUK Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said, adding 2011-12 saw overall capital investment in the offshore wind industry rise by 60% to £1.5bn and a record amount of onshore wind capacity approved.
“These strong figures underline the importance of a secure trading climate to attract investment, especially in difficult times.”
In another plus for the UK wind sector, a story on the Clean Technology Business Review (CTBR) website noted that the London Array Offshore Wind Farm, located in the Thames Estuary, produced the first power on Monday, from 15 turbines installed on the site.
The CTBR story said work on the first phase, with 630 MW, of the 870-MW wind farm, owned by Dong Energy, E.ON and Masdar, is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
The story also quoted Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber as saying “the London Array development is an example of the true potential and commercial viability of renewable energy.”