Full of contradictions

2nd July 2015

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  • Mitigation ,
  • Renewable ,
  • Politics & Economics


Graham Wright

Once you've hit your target, should you stop there or go further?

It's a question that is worth asking after the government followed through on its election manifesto pledge to end subsidies for new onshore wind projects by closing the renewables obligation (RO) scheme one year earlier than planned.

Energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd justified the decision by saying that, when the projects with planning permission are factored in, the UK was on course to meet its 2020 renewable electricity objective.

"We expect around 12.3GW of onshore wind to be operating in the UK by 2020," she told MPs. This is above the middle of the deployment range set out in the 2013 EMR delivery plan, which was for onshore wind to provide between 11GW and 13GW of electricity by the end of the decade. "Without action we are very likely to deploy beyond this range," Rudd said.

However, the European commission has cast doubt on the UK's ability to meet its overall 2020 renewables target. The UK is one of five member states advised to review its policies and tools by the commission to ensure it meets its 15% target, which includes heating as well as electricity. The commission also said 19 countries are likely to exceed their 2020 target.

So why is the UK government unwilling to back deployment of more onshore wind and go beyond what is a fairly arbitary target? According to Rudd, continuing to provide financial support could result in the UK with more onshore wind projects than it can afford, causing energy costs to rise because the RO is funded through a levy on consumers' bills. She argues that the government needs to balance the interests of onshore developers with those of bill payers.

Yetmany believe the removal of subsidies for onshore wind will have the same impact that the government claims its policy will avert, and increase bills. Figures from ScottishPower, which were cited by Scotland's energy minister Fergus Ewing, forecast that UK consumers could pay up to £3 billion more. With onshore wind the cheapest form of low-carbon electricity generation, the policy also contradicts the government's ambition to reduce emissions at the lowest cost.

Removing financial support will mean about 7.1GW of planned onshore wind capacity - around 2,500 turbines - is unlikely to be built. That neither makes financial sense nor will be help efforts to decarbonise the UK power generation industry. Pulling the rug from under the feet of the domestic onshore wind sector is also not the best way for the UK to demonstrate leadership on tackling emissions in the run-up to the Paris climate summit.


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