UKIP worried “renewables running out”

Last week an article in the Independent shone a light on the ignorance of UKIP candidates about their own policy on renewable energy. Apparently UKIP candidate for Grimsby, Victoria Ayling, had caused chortles and sniggers during a local debate having asked “what happens when renewable energy runs out?”

Councillor Ayling has since become something of a celebrity on Twitter and other social media with thousands of quotes and re-tweets.

Subsequently Ayling has said what she meant to ask was “what happens when the subsidies for renewable energy run out?” which is probably not a great deal less silly given the UKIP policy to end subsidies for renewables.

Clearly the councillor has no idea what impact her own party’s policies would have.

Worse still is the focus on one particular subsidy among many thousands purely because of an ideological hatred of wind energy. Why not come clean and just say they hate wind turbines? Both UKIP and the Conservatives pick on subsidies because energy industry regulator OFGEM continues to support on-shore wind saying it is the cheapest form of renewable energy available – ie it does actually work and is cost effective.

Both UKIP and the Conservatives are pro-fracking and would most likely seek to bias the planning system in favour of the “strategic delivery” of fracked gas in the same (but inverse) way that Mr Pickles is currently refusing wind farm appeals.

Whatever the result, the outcome of the General Election will have a major impact on the ability of the UK to deliver on future (and much tougher) environmental targets.

Oi Pickles!… Hands off

The latest edition of Planning Resource has just dropped through the door and the cover story reads

Fifty onshore wind turbines derailed by Pickles interventions in 2014.

For those unaware of the turmoil in the planning system at the moment it goes something like this… once upon a time Mr Cameron was very much in favour of wind turbines and even tried to put one on his house.

Then he got into Government and found his shire MPs have a major dislike for wind turbines which rather de-railed his Greenest Government Ever mantra. Worse still, they were proving quite popular with the planning inspectorate who appeared to be overturning too many local council refusals. In 2014 Cameron was reported to have been heard to have thought about thinking on declaring a War on Wind – although you won’t actually find a quote from him anywhere.

Faced with not being able to tear up existing subsidies for onhore wind he did the next best thing and got his mate Mr Pickles to start interfering with planning application and appeals via a process called Recovery. Where any planning application decision has been refused and the applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, the decision of the inspector is normally final provided the loosing side doesn’t choose to fight it out in the High Court. Recovery allows Mr Pickles to over-rule the decisions of the inspectors.

Planning inspectors are highly skilled practitioners of local and national policy who visit the site, consider all the angles and make a reasoned judgement. Mr Pickles is a politician. Wonder knows more about planning?

The motivation is clear – to destroy investor confidence in UK on-shore wind. By turning the lottery of planning into a loaded card game where he has a sleeve full of aces.

Yana Bosseva, planning advisor to Renewable UK (the UK renewables industry group) said Pickles actions were sending a “shockwave through the industry” and with 80% of appeals being recovered it “wasn’t leaving much to planning professionals“.

Others in the industry have described Mr Pickles antics as “perverse“, “murky” and “dangerous“.

The truth is that the planning system for wind energy is now totally politicised. Planning policy barely enters into it. Now you could read this as wind turbine developers having a whinge and a whine about lack of success.. but consider this – Sooner or later a raft of planning applications for fracking will hit the appeal system.

We’ve seen how fond the Tories are of fracking and so it seems self evident that Mr Pickles will use his new super-planning-powers to ensure these developments go ahead.

Like many environmentalists and others in the renewables industry we are therefore hoping for a change in Government later this year.

24

24, not the TV series about tough-guy Jack Bauer battling against all odds to save the world from terrorists… but close – the one day UN climate summit in New York being held today.

The stakes could not be higher, according to UN president Ban Ki-moon:

“Climate change is a defining issue of our age, of our present. Our response will define our future. To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. That is why we are here today. We need a clear vision. The human, environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable. We have never faced such a challenge, nor such an opportunity…”

In his address to the summit, head of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri warned:

“Acting on climate change is not a choice between the economy and the environment. The path to change is clear. It leads to a global agreement next year in Paris. To those who have grown cynical about the process, I would remind you of the words of the great poet Wallace Stevens: after the final no, comes a yes. All we need is political will. But political will is a renewable resource.”

This summit is just to set the agenda for the next major round of climate talks in Paris next year. Where previous climate talks have largely done just that and only that, the next round must deliver. Earlier this week 40,000 people protested in central London alone, around the world it was millions while earlier this year the Conservative party vowed to end subsidies for the most cost effective source of renewable energy available  – wind. Going even further David Cameron (of the ‘greenest Government ever‘ – remember that?) said he wanted to “eradicate” existing wind farms and ensure no new ones are built. While at the same time his own Department for Energy and Climate Change issued this statement:

“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of large-scale renewable electricity and forms an important part of our energy mix – our ambition is to develop up to 13GW by 2020, which would power 7 million homes.”

When Leonardo DiCaprio addressed the world leaders at today’s summit he could very well have been talking straight to the climate-change-deniers in Cameron’s party:

“As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems.I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away.”

With a General Election looming next year the question is – which party will actually face up to the biggest challenge facing mankind today?

UK to miss 2025 CO2 target

The latest report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) on UK progress towards legally binding CO2 reduction targets has said that despite Mr Cameron claiming the UK was “on track” we are, in fact.. not.

Current policies will fall short of the 31% reduction (from 2013 to 2025) predicted by the Government by up to 10%.

Simon Bullock, senior climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The wettest winter on record should be a wake-up call that the impacts of climate change are already battering Britain, and without tougher action they will only get worse.”

Recent months have seen the Conservative party declare war against on-shore wind turbines while planning reforms to make fracking easier have been rushed through Parliament. At the same time DCLG, under the “guidance” of Eric Pickles, has been accused of “perverting” the planning system in an attempt to de-rail wind farm planning appeals and destroy investor confidence in such renewable projects.

Climate and Energy

Back in June this year Lord Stern (the world’s most authoritative climate economist) warned that the financial damage resulting from Climate Change will be much greater than predicted by current forecasts which have assumed increases in global temperatures will be limited to 3 degC.

In recent months the worldwide consensus has moved to a discussion about not IF the world will hit 3C, but by how much this will be exceeded. Newly published reports include temperature rises up to 6 degC above pre-industrial levels which result in “catastrophic outcomes”.

“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its … impacts on the economy. 

Models that assume catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science.” – Lord Stern

Additional research also predicts that severe financial impacts are likely to appear well before the actual physical effects cited above. By way of an example the state of California is now its third full year of drought and agriculture within the Central Valley, which produces almost 50% of US grown fruit and vegetables, is struggling to adapt. Economists predict the knock-on costs to every US household in increased food bills will top $500 annually.

Meanwhile the Independent newspaper reports this week that Britain continues to see an increasing risk of widespread electricity blackouts unless more is done to develop smarter solutions to save excess renewable energy at the point of generation.

CEBR – no negative impact on house prices

A newly published report by independent research firm CEBR finds no evidence of house prices being negatively impacted by wind farms within a 5km radius. The report  draws its conclusions from analysis of 82,000 transactions over the past 20 years.

RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffery said

“At last we have a detailed independent analysis into what actually happens to property prices before, during and after windfarms are constructed, over a period of nearly 20 years. This shows that claims that windfarms might have a negative effect on house prices are unfounded”

Previous reports from RICS said  there was no definitive evidence for negative impacts in the UK and minimal impacts in the US while the LSE claimed an average of 5-6% reduction for properties within 2km of a wind farm.

There still appears to be no evidence that a single community-scale turbine can cause a noticeable reduction and as ever prices will generally continue to move with more dominant issues of the economy and public confidence.

Meanwhile, building society Nationwide’s latest house price index showed UK prices have increased by 10.9% in the past 12 months, to an average of £183,577. The monthly rate of growth picked up, with a rise of 1.2% following March’s 0.5% increase and the annual rate of inflation is now the biggest rise since June 2007

Tories turning against Solar? (UPDATED)

UPDATE

The Government announcements this week that subsidies for solar farms are to be cut drastically came as no surprise to many. Renewables of all types are under attack on multiple fronts from back-bencher sniping to DCLG interfering with the planning appeals system.

Meanwhile new tax breaks for tearing up the countryside with fracking sites were announced in the Autumn statement, together with a promise for thousands of new jobs and cheap(er) gas. Presumabley these are to replace the thousands that were shed last year when the solar industry almost imploded after cuts exceeding 50% or the thousands more that will be lost as onshore wind and solar developers simply give up on the UK.  Only quite recently Danish giant Vestas pulled out of  a major wind turbine assembly plant in Kent.

So just why is the Government so keen to break their ‘green promise’, destroy an industry and loose thousands of jobs in order to promote fracking as the only way forward? The cynical reader might suspect powerful lobbying by the oil and gas industry or perhaps even vested interests coming to the fore. Whichever, it is becoming clear that a change of government may be needed if the migration to a low carbon economy is to become a reality.

ORIGINAL

If attacking wind wasn’t enough it now looks like the Conservatives have turned their attention to Solar PV. Planning Resource highlights a recent appeal case for a solar farm in Suffolk where the Planning Inspector independently ruled the proposals could go ahead only to be overturned by DCLG minister Eric Pickles who said:

“The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the harm to the character and appearance of the area would not amount to significant adverse effects but, nevertheless, considers the effect on the character of the site, although limited, would be adverse.”

This decision beggars belief and has caused warning bells to ring within the renewables industry.

It would appear this is further evidence of the current “fracking or bust” policy.

Planning: Fracking vs Wind

In an article this week Guardian columnist George Monbiot points out the disparity between planning policy applying to fracking sites and wind farms:

“Or compare fracking to wind power. The government is introducing a special veto for local people to prevent the construction of wind turbines. Downing Street explains it as follows: “The prime minister feels that it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to windfarms and that is why new legislation will be brought forward, so that if people don’t want windfarms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”

Strangely, he does not feel it is important for their views on drilling rigs to be taken into account. The government’s new planning guidance makes these developments almost impossible to refuse. Planners judging fracking applications are forbidden to consider alternatives to oil and gas. There will be “no standard minimum separation distance”, which means that a fracking rig could be erected right next to your house. And they “should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy”. If local voters don’t like it, they can go to hell.

Make no mistake, this Government has decided we will have fracking – like it not.

 

Fracking “unlikely to work” say experts

A 9 month enquiry led by former energy minister Charles Hendry has found that fracking is “unlikely” to deliver cheap and plentiful gas for the UK. Conversely PM David Cameron is on record as saying:

“We should take part in fracking because this might be a revolution and if we ignored it completely we could be giving our economy much higher energy prices than would otherwise be necessary” 

Fracking releases the gas from the rocks by blasting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into them. It has been linked to earth tremors and water pollution and was temporarily banned in the UK after causing two earthquakes in the Blackpool area.

Full report courtesy of the Independent here.

Wind Turbine Syndrome – all in the mind?

A recent study by the University of Nottingham (reported in the Telegraph) found that the likelihood of suffering so-called “wind turbine syndrome” appears to be more to do with personality traits rather than anything else.

The study found while complaints were often genuinely made, there was actually no link between the amount of measured noise and levels of perceived nuisance or dis-comfort.

Dr Clare Lawrence who headed the study concluded:

“There is certainly no evidence that if you are living near a noise or can hear a noise that it is causing you ill health.”

This seems to agree with our experience that most people who fear turbine noise will affect them badly are generally predisposed against wind power. The power of the mind being as it is… if you decide something is going to be bad – it probably will be.