The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Enabling rural communities to thrive: Powering the rural economy

6th July 2015

Britain, along with much of the rest of the world, is facing the infamous energy “trilemma” of rising energy costs, climate change and strains on security of supply. With about 20% of our population living in rural areas, it’s vital that we find clean, sustainable ways to address this trilemma within the rural economy.

Small and medium-scale, distributed renewables give anyone with a plot of land the opportunity to generate power, in turn offsetting rising bills, increasing clean energy consumption and helping to secure our domestic energy supply. To illustrate the scale of this opportunity, research by the Farm Power Coalition shows there is at least 10GW of untapped renewable resource across UK farms alone – equivalent to more than three times the installed capacity of the proposed new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C. Research by Farmers Weekly highlights that 73% of farmers think that on-farm renewable energy should play a major part in meeting future energy needs in the UK.

Small and medium wind turbines are designed to be privately owned by local people, communities or businesses, offsetting energy costs and generating new revenues that enable local businesses to thrive, rather than by energy companies seeking to make large returns. It is for this reason that turbines of this scale are known as “farm wind”, distinct from wind farms. Enabling farm wind to flourish is about empowering individuals and rural communities, not about lining the pockets of developers with tax payer money.

From a visual perspective too, farm wind is designed to mesh with the countryside. While larger onshore wind farms comprise turbines up to 150 metres tall[1], farm wind turbines are smaller than standard pylons, and less than a quarter of the height of wind farm turbines[2]. Not only can small and medium wind help to strengthen our rural economy, supporting farms, communities and rural businesses throughout the UK, but deployment of smaller wind turbines will also create green jobs and provide sustainable, renewable energy generation at a reasonable cost.

The truth is that the majority of people, irrespective of how they vote, want to see more onshore wind. A recent YouGov poll[3]  for The Sunday Times showed that 52% of Conservative voters felt the government should either encourage or allow the building of more onshore wind farms, contrasted with just 18% who felt that they should be banned. For the general public as a whole, the numbers rose to 61% in favour of more onshore wind with 14% calling for a moratorium.

To put these figures in context, just 30% of the polled public said they were in favour of fracking in a nearby town or village, compared to 47% who said they were opposed. Yet, under the confused guise of a lack of public support, the Government intends to curtail the development of onshore wind while pushing ahead with shale gas extraction.

The UK Government has already announced changes to planning laws and subsidies for large onshore wind farms, and has stated that DECC will be reviewing the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) regime for small scale renewables over the summer.

Government is right to challenge industry to deliver on price reductions, but it also needs to recognise that the sector has actually continually over-exceeded on cost cutting, and FiT payments have been reducing ahead of schedule accordingly. The FiT is doing all the things it was created to do – create volume to cut costs for consumers.

The Government has said it is committed to decarbonisation at the lowest cost. Small scale, distributed wind generation is already close to grid parity, generating power at lower cost than new nuclear. Premature curtailment of the FiT system would seem to directly undermine its own objectives, even without taking into account the wider responsibilities of government – to investors, to the maintenance of jobs, to fairness, and to proportionality. We need to remove the barriers preventing people from producing their own energy, not create more.

The Government’s approach to solar has already created a “perfect storm” of legal challenges, policy confusion and market changes. A halt to support for the growth of distributed onshore wind power would have similarly destructive implications, both immediate and long-term, personal and collective.

Wind turbines are a reflection of our reliance on electrification, just as windmills are a symbol of the industrial revolution. Not everyone wants a wind turbine on their property, but there are many people who do want to invest in farm wind. It is crucial for the UK energy system that the future of onshore wind in the UK comes down to more than just a matter of back bencher taste.

 

[1] http://www.gov.scot/resource/doc/212607/0114118.pdf

[2] http://www.endurancewindpower.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/E4660-UK-Brochure-Final-March-2015.pdf

[3] http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/gxvihxoixc/SundayTimesResults_150515_Website.pdf


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