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Wind Chill: Why wind energy will not fill the UK’s energy gap

Government’s rush to wind will not work, is expensive and unpopular

  • Government’s rush to wind is misguided, will not work and will be expensive (the Government has accepted that the cost of meeting the 2020 renewables target will be £4,000 per household, a figure which could rise substantially).
  • New polling shows only 15% people are either very willing or fairly willing to pay more for wind. In contrast, 61% are unwilling.
  • Government should focus on development of nuclear, clean coal and tidal energy.

The Government’s renewable energy consultation document, to be published on Thursday 26 June, is expected to call for a massive development of wind power. This is wrong, argues Tony Lodge in Wind Chill: why wind energy will not fill the UK’s energy gap, published today Wednesday 25 June by the Centre for Policy Studies.

Britain faces an energy gap of up 32 GW by 2015 as older coal and nuclear power stations are paid off.  At the same time, Britain has made a binding commitment to deliver 15% of all its energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020. But a rush to wind energy is not the answer to these problems.

The problems with wind are that:

  • It is unreliable. Wind energy must be backed up by other baseload sources.
  • It is expensive. The Royal Academy of Engineering has calculated that wind energy is two and a half times more expensive than other forms of (non-oil and gas) electricity generation in the UK. A Government-sponsored report has calculated that the cost of meeting the 2020 renewable energy target will be between £1,900 and £3,000 a household. The leaked strategy paper estimates the cost at £100 billion (or over £4,000 a household). Leading industry figures have estimated that it might be as much as £4,700 a household.
  • It is overambitious. The  Government proposals imply an increase in wind production of over 20 times (from 4,225 GWh in 2006 GWh to 87,000 GWh in 2020).
  • It is impractical. The UK does not have the capability to build the 3,000 new offshore wind farms that are proposed; nor can the national grid handle the enormous new strains that will be imposed on it.

This matters. The increase in consumers’ electricity prices, required to pay for and maintain expensive wind energy will contribute to the difficulties faced by the 6 million households facing fuel poverty.

It is also politically foolish. New polling conducted for this report shows that this policy is also deeply unpopular. Only 3% of people say that they are very willing to pay higher electricity bills if the extra money funds renewable power sources such as wind, with another 12% saying that they are willing. The figures for “very unwilling” and “fairly unwilling” are 37% and 24% respectively.

Lodge also shows that the experience of Denmark – often hailed for its pioneering development of wind farms – is that wind energy is expensive, inefficient and not even particularly “green”. There are also signs that other countries are losing some of their enthusiasm for wind power.

Lodge concludes that the UK must indeed now develop its nuclear, clean coal (including coal gasification) and other renewable supplies of energy (particularly tidal). But wind energy, in contrast, should only play a negligible role in plugging Britain’s looming energy gap.

NOTES

  1. Wind Chill: why wind energy will not fill the UK’s energy gap, published today Wednesday 25 June by the Centre for Policy StudiesPrice £7.50.
  2. Tony Lodge is a political and energy analyst who has regularly written and commentated on the energy crisis and on the energy choices facing Britain. He is a former Editor of The European Journal. His publications include Electrifying Britain – Forward with Coal, Gas or Nuclear? (Economic Research Council, 2005), Clean Coal – A Clean, Secure and Affordable Alternative (Centre for Policy Studies, 2007) and All Hot Air – Labour’s Failed Strategy on Fuel Poverty (The Bow Group, 2008).

TONY LODGE - Tuesday 1st July 2008

Tony Lodge is a political and energy analyst. He is a former Editor of the European Journal and a former Chief of Staff to the Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. He has written regularly in the national and international media and appeared on national TV and radio covering energy policy issues.