In the renewables industry we have a perjorative, NIMBY which stands for Not In My Back Yard. It conjures the image of small minded, irrational opponents of renewables based solely on narrow, local objections.
A week or so ago, it was widely reported that 106 MPs (almost entirely tories) have written a letter criticising subsidies for wind power. I have reproduced this letter below (italics) with my own comments added.
“The Rt. Hon David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
LONDON, SW1A 2AA
30th January 2012
As Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, we have grown more and more concerned about the Government’s policy of support for on-shore wind energy production.
In these financially straightened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore wind turbines.
1. These are financially straightened times. Well observed. Consumers pay, not through taxpayer subsidy but through levies on energy tariffs. According to Ofgem’s breakdown of household bills, this currently amounts to 10% of electricity and 4% of gas bills (for all environmental subsidies of which wind energy is only a part).
2. Wind energy is inefficient and intermittent. Really, this old tosh hasn’t died yet?!
These MPs obviously haven’t been reading their POST Notes as #315 states that, over winter, wind has a load factor (defined as percentage of time at maximum capacity) of 70%. Over summer this is lower with figures for favourable onshore locations given as 25-30%. Geographical diversity will help to smooth out the variability of the UK wind supply. RenewableUK, the trade body for the wind industry claims that wind turbines are typically generating for between 70 and 85% of the time. The issue is that for much of this time they are not generating at full power so over a year they produce about 30% of what they would produce if they were operating at their maximum output all the time.
With large quantities of wind power we do need more electricity plant for when the wind output is lower but this does not mean we have large amounts of idling plant waiting for the wind to die down.
Electricity is bought and sold close enough to the time of generation that we have a pretty good idea of how much wind will be available. What this does to the economics of electricity generation is interesting because once the wind turbines are up, any generation is virtually free. We don’t need to provide fuel. What large amounts of wind generation do is reduce how much of the time we need gas power stations to run. This hurts their economics so electricity from gas becomes a bit more expensive per unit but electricity from wind costs virtually nothing once the turbines are up.
3. Efficiency is a concept that hardly matters when your fuel source is free and harmless. But for the record, wind energy is on the same order of electrical efficiency as a conventional gas power station.
In the on-going review of renewable energy subsidies, we ask the Government to dramatically cut the subsidy for on-shore wind and spread the savings made between other types of reliable renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures.
Damian Carrington made a really good point about this one better than I ever could. Wind is the cheapest form of renewable power generation in the UK. If we want X amount of renewable energy (and we do), getting it from anywhere else will cost more money.
What he didn’t say which deserves a mention is that wind energy is getting cheaper. The right level of subsidy is the lowest one that makes industry install the level of wind power that we want and that level is probably lower now than it was when we last decided how much subsidy each form of renewable power gets. A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance last November projected that onshore wind energy will be fully competitive with gas power by 2016. There will still need to be a subsidy at this point because everything being equal, energy companies want to build gas power stations. They are a technology they know and understand and they slot neatly into the electricity system as they think of it.
We also are worried that the new National Planning Policy Framework, in its current form, diminishes the chances of local people defeating unwanted on-shore wind farm proposals through the planning system. Thus we attach some subtle amendments to the existing wording that we believe will help rebalance the system.
Isn’t this the point of the national planning policy framework? To ensure that when a project is of strategic national interest (so major energy, transport etc projects) then it is less likely to be derailed by local issues. But rebalance away, good luck.
Finally, recent planning appeals have approved wind farm developments with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it is impossible to defeat applications through the planning system. We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account.
Perhaps, renewable energy targets are more important than planning considerations?
On a more conciliatory note, here’s a great promo from Ecotricity which shows what we stand to lose and to gain from switching more of our electricity supply over to renewable sources.
It’s not entirely correct as for each gigawatt of power station (say four cooling towers), you would need at least 50 wind turbines to replace them and this is the part which these MPs are really complaining about. It is the part they should be complaining about. It really is a difficult issue to discuss whether large proportions of the upland areas of our country should be covered with wind turbines and we need to consider the effect on the landscape. What annoys me is that they seem to think that this isn’t enough and that they need to offer a flawed economic argument against wind turbines.
CHRIS HEATON-HARRIS MP AND 105 OTHER MPs”
Update (27 Feb): Adair Turner says much the same as my last paragraph in the Guardian. Aesthetic concerns – Yes, Made-up bollocks about effectiveness – No.