Understanding government can be a complex business. The stated reason for a policy and the real reason for it are rarely the same. So it was this week when Amber Rudd, the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change came to make a statement to the House of Commons heralding the end of onshore wind. Why would any government that is serious about the environment and climate change say they did not want any more onshore turbines and decide to cut the subsidy to onshore wind a year earlier than they promised?
Perhaps it is unpopular with the public?
The government has talked of the need for the new localism to allow communities to decide whether they want wind turbines to be given planning permission. The trouble is that in a recent survey, 69% of the public actually said that they were in favour of onshore wind farms. Not only this; 70% of the wind farms are actually in Scotland where they create much needed jobs and economic growth. Yet the government is insisting that no more are built in Scotland in the teeth of opposition from local Scottish MPs who spoke up saying that their constituents wanted them.
Perhaps it's because onshore wind is too expensive?
Onshore wind is actually the cheapest form of new low carbon energy. In the first Contract For Difference (CFD) Auction in February this year the Department had budgeted to pay £95 per Megawatt/hour in fact they paid just £80. Solar PV was budgeted at £125 and also saw real reductions to almost £80. Offshore wind was budgeted at £155pMw/h and came in at £117pMw/h, whilst wave and tidal were almost double that price. So the government has actually chosen to stop subsidy to a technology that is not only the cheapest, but is actually costing £15pMw/h less than they themselves had budgeted.
Perhaps it's because we have enough renewable energy?
Onshore wind comprises about 5% of electricity generation. It amounts to 8.3 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity. Our onshore wind target for 2020 is to have between 11 and 13GW and the Secretary of State projected that we would have 12.3GW by then. So far so clear. But the 2020 target is not for onshore wind alone. It is for renewables as a whole. The figures here are less than comforting!
This is what National Grid's Outlook Manager had to say just last year about the new capacity required on the system: "Probably the most striking figure within this number-crunching is for electricity, which needs to rise from its current 13.9% renewable sources figure to 34.5% by the turn of the decade... Achieving the target through wind power alone would require an extra 50GW of offshore wind, in addition to our existing 10.5GW of capacity."
More than this, the government knows that everything does not stop in 2020; this date is not some sort of end point in the process of meeting our climate change targets and reducing our carbon emissions. The independent Committee on Climate Change notes that our electricity generation needs to be operating at between 50 - 100g of CO₂/Kwh by 2030 to stay below the threshold of dangerous climate change. As their website makes clear, "This would imply that most new generation through the 2020s would be low-carbon" . Far from declaring and end to onshore wind, there needs to be a commitment from government now, to set out for industry the standards and targets that will incentivise the long tail of investment required to meet our climate objectives in the future.
Not one of the backbench Conservative MPs who spoke in the House of Commons mentioned the need to have a mix of energy sources. Not one spoke of the need to meet our carbon budgets or to combat climate change by reducing our carbon emissions. They spoke of 'visual image', 'visual impact' 'visual intrusion' 'desecration' of the landscape. They revealed the nimbyism that wants to kill off onshore wind and the UK's ability to benefit from this cheapest form of low carbon energy generation?
So we come to the real reason for this environmental disaster. Government needs to sweeten this right wing grass roots of the Conservative party. These are the anti-Europeans and the Prime Minister knows he has a big fight on his hands to bind them in to support him at the referendum. But they are also the pro fossil fuel brigade who consider that climate change is all a socialist plot to undermine the economy. What better than to throw them some red meat by ending the subsidy for onshore wind turbines and declaring that it is all about localism and letting local people have their say. Then two days later came the killer question...
If government is so keen to let local people have a veto in stopping wind farms, why does it not allow local people to say no to fracking?