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John Hayes Is Wrong About Wind Farms

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I'm not sure what country Tory Energy Minister John Hayes thinks is "peppered" with wind turbines - it certainly doesn't reflect the nation that I've been crossing back and forth in recent weeks as Green Party leader. Britain after all, despite our rich wind resources, is only the world's eighth largest producer of electricity from wind - far behind China and the US, as well as Germany and France, despite our rich wind resources.

Mr Hayes hasn't spelled out his preferred alternatives - whether he'd want to see our "green and pleasant land" turned into one giant industrial site with fracking and coalbed methane extraction, or studded with nuclear power plants, producing immensely expensive power even before the fact that we haven't solved the fuel disposal problem is factored in.

There are many arguments against both of those options, but in fact you don't need to get beyond the economic one to rule them out.

Onshore wind has the advantage of being one of the most affordable renewable energy sources. Generating electricity from onshore wind turbines typically costs around 7-9p per kWh, which is around half the cost of offshore wind and a quarter of the costs of solar photovoltaic panels. And we don't have to worry about the fuel "price" rising - the wind is going to keep blowing.

Wind is competitive with new coal-fired power stations (not of course that we can afford the carbon emissions from those) and cheaper than new nuclear power.

If we are serious about meeting our carbon emissions targets then we need to get on with wind. The wind is a free and widely available fuel source; once the turbines are in place, there is no fuel or waste-related costs.

And if the Tory-Lib Dem government doesn't get it - the public does. As recently as 23 October a poll run by the ICM showed that nuclear power, coal and gas-burning were less popular with the population of the UK than wind farms. Some 67% of people said they would rather have wind turbines than a gas-fired power station near their home. Only 11% preferred the gas burning station. Nuclear power and coal-fired stations were even less popular.

No energy source functions 100% of the time - but still as Green Party leader I still get the truly clueless question from media sources that really should know better, variations of: "But the wind doesn't blow all of the time so wind power can't work, can it?" In fact, wind turbines produce electricity 70-85% of the time and last year generated enough electricity for more than 3.5 million homes.

But there's an even bigger concern behind the latest row. Whatever happened to David 'Hug a Husky' Cameron? Has he been replaced by a 'Frack the Countryside' lookalike?

Every personnel move that he's made lately has raised the role of fossil fuel advocates and climate doubters and move aside or down those prepared to act on evidence.

Take the rise of Owen Paterson, who once described wind power a "massive waste of money" and also promised to "fast-track" fracking, to secretary of state for environment, food and rural Affairs, and the appointment of Peter Lilley, vice-chairman and senior independent non-executive director of Tethys Petroleum Ltd, an oil and gas company, on to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

In the Department for Communities and Local Government, Nick Boles was appointed planning minister within days of the Policy Exchange thinktank - which he set up and ran until he joined the government - advocating that the way to solve a perceived UK building crisis was to allow firms to build on greenbelt land.

And environment secretary Caroline Spelman was replaced by Owen Paterson, a man who was not only the first member of the Cabinet to oppose gay marriage, but also described subsidies for renewable power as "Soviet" at this year's Tory conference.

No wonder the 'green economy' companies, and the CBI are worried about the government's direction, when they know that these industries, which hold huge potential to provide jobs and to secure Britain's economic future, need policy certainty and a clear direction.

Neither of these has been this government's strength in any area of administration, but on environmental issues we really cannot afford to have this clearly inadequate, inappropriate team in charge. Mr Cameron clearly should remove Mr Hayes from responsibility for renewable energy, and put people with a sensible track record of being prepared to listen to evidence, in these key posts.

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