In parliament: In the blue and yellow corners

15th January 2015

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Adam Lawrence

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey warned late last year that, as he puts it, Conservative "ideological" opposition to onshore wind is "undermining new British jobs and driving up customer bills ... because wind is the cheapest clean energy".

You might think to yourself that this looks a bit like the necessary process of differentiation that is enveloping the coalition; Tories don’t like wind much, while Lib Dems do. But it is about much more than that.

Onshore wind is doing particularly well in the UK, with more than 4,500 turbines installed. In the first quarter of 2014, onshore wind generated 2.47 TW hours of electricity – about 2% of overall demand. But there’s a long way to go. Decc’s 2020 projections and pathways for achieving the 15% supply target from renewables show that onshore wind should be producing about four times the electricity that it is likely to have generated in 2014.

That means a lot more turbines. Onshore wind is well placed to compete with the supply price of conventional energy, particularly with gas-generated electricity, by 2020. So we are looking at reduced subsidies. It’s a good position to be in, providing new wind turbines can actually be erected.

And that is where the other half of the government enters, in the shape of communities secretary Eric Pickles, who has taken over decisions on a large number of planning appeals for onshore wind developments. Of the 50 proposals that he has recovered, only two have emerged partly or wholly approved, while 17 went into the bin. More than 30 await his attention.

If something is not done to reign Pickles in, then Davey is right: the development of the cheapest form of clean energy will be in jeopardy. The UK renewable targets will have to be met one way or another by 2020, so the demise of onshore wind means it is likely that less efficient or more expensive means will bridge the gap.

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