The Guardian


Photograph: Felix Clay

This weekends Guardian newspaper featured an interview with John Zamick and Bob Carnell of distgen  talking about the challenges for the UK on-shore wind industry in light of the anti-wind stance of the newly elected Conservative government.

Despite a few factual slip-ups the article paints an accurate picture of the current state of play in which everyone is waiting to see exactly what materialises from the anti-wind pre-election rhetoric.

The full article can be found here.

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.

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.

DECC – UK majority backs onshore wind

Newly published statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) shows that renewables and on-shore wind still maintain majority support among  the UK population.

The figures show that a whopping 64% of  the population either support or strongly support on-shore wind with only 12% voicing opposition, strong or otherwise.

Additionally 91% express concern over the effects of Climate Change with 82% thinking that this is mainly as a result of human activity.

When asked about the greatest challenges facing Britain today, 22% said climate change while 31% said security of energy supply.

Meanwhile only 29% of those questioned offered any support for the extraction of shale gas (aka fracking) showing once again that the Tories are out of touch with public opinion.

Tories – “Get ready for shale”

Today’s announcement by the Tories that they will do  everything in their power to stop any further  on-shore wind turbines has been labelled as “pandering to potential UKIP voters” by many. By announcing the future policy now, so far ahead of next years election they also hope to damage investor confidence which could in turn see bank lending for such projects dry up. A double whammy.. Go Dave!

But, look at what else you’ll be getting should a majority Tory government be elected. Energy minister Nigel Fallon has been doing his best to promote fracking saying:

“The message is: get ready for shale”

Mr Fallon is urging communities around the country to “get behind fracking” touting the 65,000 jobs it will create. No mention of the same number currently working in the wind industry that would loose theirs. In December 2013 Mr Fallon said he wants to see 2/3’rds of England opened up for fracking.

In January the government rushed through pro-fracking planning reforms despite massive opposition in the Lords with the aim of making it harder for local planning authorities to block future shale gas developments. In today’s announcement they plan to do exactly the opposite for wind energy development and make it much easier for plans to be blocked by local councils and the minority of vocal objectors.

Its clear that a majority Conservative government would be a disaster for UK plans to become self sufficient with renewable energy. Remember shale gas is not renewable and will continue to contribute towards climate change. On that very subject we forget at our peril the latest warnings from the IPCC:

“The impacts of global warming are likely to be severe, pervasive and irreversible”

Meanwhile energy experts the world over agree that on-shore wind energy is by far the cheapest and easiest large scale renewable technology. In trying to kill it in favour of shale gas the Tories are showing their true colours – and they ‘aint green.

Much more expert reaction to the news can be found here.

Pickles in hot water after refusal

Communities secretary Eric Pickles faces legal action after overruling HM Government planning inspectors to refuse a wind farm development by Ecotricity. The proposed four turbine wind farm near Highbridge in Somerset had  been supported by both local planning officers and the Inspectorate who agreed that despite significant impact on the immediate landscape, it would be able to accommodate the development which would, at larger distances still appear quite small.

Mr Pickles agreed with with these points but decided [and this is key] without actually visiting the site himself that the intermediate landscape would be affected to a level that was not offset by the environmental benefits of the scheme.

A spokesman for Ecotricity said: “Following a review of the secretary of state’s decision to dismiss our appeal for four wind turbines at West Huntspill, and in particular aspects of the decision-making process relating to landscape and topography at the site, we have decided to challenge the decision.

The result of this high court action will likely set a precedent for this and other similar cases where Mr Pickles has overruled planning inspectors which appears to Ecotricity, to represent political interference in the planning system as summed up by Dale Vince, CEO of Ecotricity, who said

Mr Pickles’ decision is a political intervention in the planning process – it’s anti-wind posturing as all his interventions in the planning process have been, and par for the course from this government.

We’ve worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry – only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject, and cares even less. What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?

If the recent floods have taught us anything it is that climate change is real and we need to do all that we can to abate the carbon emissions that cause it. Our government doesn’t seem to get that. It hasn’t just cut flood defence spending, it’s blocking the renewable energy schemes that can help tackle the cause of flooding.

 

 

PM tries to halt onshore wind

Today the Guardian newspaper reports that Nick Clegg has vetoed plans by David Cameron to put a cap on the number of wind turbines allowed on-shore. A Lib-Dem spokesperson said Tory claims to be green were now dead in the water.

It is unbelievable that in the same week as the latest IPCC report (which says impacts from global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible“) is published, the Tories are trying to kill off yet another renewable industry. You may remember that 50% cuts in the Feed-in-Tariff during 2012 saw thousands of workers in the solar industry loose their jobs.

This is yet further evidence, if any was needed, that should the Conservatives win a majority general election next year we will likely see a wholesale dismantling of the UKs renewable industries to be replaced with fracking or worse.

Let’s leave the last words to climate-stupid climate-sceptic MP and Environment Secretary Owen Patterson who appears to sum up Government thinking on the subject saying “we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries” and “the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years” and better still that global warming could actually be really quite nice adding that it “would also lead to longer growing seasons and you could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas“.

Sadly this is no April fools-day joke.

 

Met Office links floods to climate change

The chief scientist at the Met Office, Julia Slingo, has said that the extreme weather that has hit Britain over the winter of 2013/14 is linked to climate change.

“All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change.”

More than 130 severe flood warning were issued in December 2013 compared to just 9 during all of 2012. According to Met Office data 4 0f the 5 top wettest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

While its true and single extreme weather evens do not by themselves prove climate change is happening, the increasing incidence rate of such events is alarming. Many of the record highs, lows, droughts and floods have been set in the last 10 years.

  • 2014 and California is suffering the worst drought on record with severe flooding in the UK.
  • 2013 was the 7th warmest year on record. The warmest ever was in 2010
  • Autumn 2013 saw 13 major typhoons by November including Hiayan which killed over 6000 people
  • August 2013 and 250,000 Sudanese were evacuated due to severe flooding
  • June 2013 saw the hottest temperate ever recorded anywhere on Earth in Death Valley at 54 degC
  • Summer 2013 saw the worst droughts for 50 years in north Brasil
  • Jan 2013 was the hottest month ever recorded in south Australia
  • June 2012 was the wettest in the UK since records began
  • 1983 – 2012 was the warmest period in 1400 years
  • Atmospheric CO2 levels now 39% higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution

The IPCC has for years warned that the cost of climate change mitigation will rise steadily if we delay (or even postpone) carbon reduction measures. The £100M promised by PM David Cameron today for additional flood repairs will pretty soon look like a drop in the ocean. #NoPunIntended

Gov U-turn to add ££££’s on energy bills

According to a new report by the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) the average UK household could see annual energy bills rise by £8,000 if recent Government u-turns on CO2 reduction go ahead.

Key to the new findings are the decision by George Osbourne to delay new cuts in carbon emissions by 10 years – to 2030. The CCC estimate this will cost the UK economy an additional £100 billion because, as is well known, the earlier we tackle climate change the cheaper and vice versa.

If expected increases in fossil fuel prices occur the cost soars to £200 billion.

“This report shows the clear economic benefits of acting to cut emissions through the 2020s. This provides insurance against the increased costs and risks of climate-related damage and rising energy bills that would result from an alternative approach to reduce and delay action.” – Lord Debden, CCC chairman.

But, don’t just take  the CCC’s opinion (although they are the official body setup by the Government in response to the Climate Change Act 2008) as 100 major companies have also called upon Osbourne and Cameron to stick to the original plan. Signatories include Sainsbury, Asda, Ikea, O2, Nestle and Unilever.

Speaking for the group, Lord Adair Turner, a former director-general of the CBI, said:

“The majority of the business world is clear that ambitious and stable action to tackle climate change makes business sense. A stable policy environment is critical to attracting investment in the low-carbon sector.”

Instead, subsidies for renewables are being cut and tax breaks awarded to anyone wanting to invest in ‘fracking’. So the ‘cut’ of £50 off domestic energy bills announced last week should perhaps be viewed as nothing more than a pre-election ‘bribe’ because the warning from the CCC is clear..

Not acting fast enough to tackle climate change will cost each and every one of us dearly in the long run.