Political instability threatens future of wind power
Although wind capacity has risen by 15% in the past year, the wind industry says that political instability and unwanted intervention is becoming 'increasingly prohibitive' and may damage future growth.
The 2014 State of the Industry Report from RenewableUK found that despite clear signs of progress, members of the wind industry have adopted a “position of steely eyed realism”, with confidence in government “continuing to fall”.
In 2013/14, only 155MW of onshore wind was consented in England, which is almost a third of the level consented last year and the lowest level for four years.
This was significantly impacted by “unprecedented action” from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
“In 2013/14, Eric Pickles intervened in 47 projects across England. Of projects he has decided on, 86% have been refused,” reads the report.
“Despite the low cost of onshore wind, despite the need for new capacity to keep the lights on and despite the continued need to decarbonise; onshore wind development sees its success and progress hampered by calls for it to be held back unnecessarily.”
The report states that future investment in offshore wind may also struggle, thanks to uncertainty over the government’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme – which guarantees a price for renewable electricity generators.
Changing eligibility requirements and a possible change of government means investors are leery of developing renewable projects.
“This [uncertainty] represents an increasing risk for the offshore industry. With projects also being withdrawn, the industry is facing increased likelihood of having to write off development expenditure at a time when it is under increasing pressure to reduce costs.”
Future concerns aside, over the last three years more wind energy has been connected to the UK grid than gas, meaning “wind is increasingly doing the heavy lifting in replacing older, dirtier plant, helping keep the lights on, while reducing fuel imports and tackling climate change”.
On one blustery Sunday in October alone, wind provided one quarter of all UK power.
Likewise, the large and medium-sized wind industry increased its work force by 8% to around 15,000 people. These new jobs are largely for skilled workers, across a range of professions, including development, manufacturing, construction and operation.
The uptick is representative of a wider trend which has seen the UKERC claim that green energy will soon generate ten times as many jobs as fossil fuels.
Tripping up on red tape
In associated wind news, Renewable UK yesterday released two reports detailing how ‘red tape bureaucracy’ has hampered the development of offshore wind.
Comparing the UK’s Round 1 and 2 offshore wind phases, the reports found that average consenting costs have gone up by 15% per megawatt, while the average time taken for planning has increased from 36 months to 73 months.
Commenting on the studies, director of offshore renewables Nick Medic said: “It is reasonable to expect that with the accumulation of experience, having built 1,183 turbines in UK waters, we should start seeing a more efficient consenting process with less red tape, resulting in savings of time and money.
“The trends highlighted in these reports need to be reversed, and to that effect they offer a number of timely recommendations. An adequately funded, efficient planning system is a winning proposition for the industry and Government. “.
The recommendations that Medic mentions include better resourcing for the consenting process and knowledge-sharing opportunities between regulators and developers.
The two Renewable UK studies can be found here, and the 2014 State of the Industry Report can be downloaded here.
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