Global Wind Day - Time To Focus On Our Own Energy ResourcesPublished by Tony Juniper on Sun, 15/06/2014 - 12:00am
Sunday June 15th is Global Wind Day – a moment to celebrate both the contribution and potential of wind power in meeting our energy needs cleanly and forever. In a world of political upheaval, risk and conflict, it is also a moment to reflect not only on the ways in which climate change will likely make all that worse, but on energy security, and the extent to which it appears increasingly prudent to have more energy supplies under our own control.
Considering the challenging global context we can increasingly see unfolding around us, wind power’s combination of attributes – low carbon, sustainable and secure – should make it a priority power source for the UK. Yet policy and practice is illogically taking us in a different direction.
Last year’s “import dependency” figures – the amount of energy used relative to the amount we imported – show that imports reached a record high, with net import dependency climbing to 47 per cent, its highest level since 1975 and the era before North Sea oil and gas. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-trends-march-2014
One indicator of how we depend on far flung regions for energy is the on-going import each year of about 20 million tonnes of Russian coal. The trend over recent years has been for that to increase, a frightening fact considering the urgent need to cut carbon dioxide emissions and to secure energy supplies that we can rely on. There is a bright side, however.
Despite the political attacks and continuing nonsense headlines carried by different media organisations, and while coal imports went up, the proportion of coal used in our power mix actually went down compared with the year before. The reason for that is because renewable power capacity went up, to reach 15 per cent.
That same Government report about the country’s energy supply said that “Provisional estimates show that carbon dioxide emissions fell between 2012 and 2013; the key factor driving the change was a switch in electricity generation away from fossil fuels”. The revolution has started, and now needs to go to scale, if we are to reap the security, jobs and environmental benefits that could come with it.
Fortunately for us in the UK the potential to do this is huge. We have fantastic natural renewable resources, both onshore and offshore. We also have the skills, for example those honed in the North Sea oil and gas industry that could be harnessed for offshore wind – which the UK is currently the world leader in.
Despite the potential, the UK Government is at best equivocal as to where it wants to take this industry. The Prime Minister himself has said if his party wins the next election then he’d cut off all financial support for new onshore wind farms, making them unviable. This is despite the Climate Change Committee – the Government’s official advisor on climate change – saying that onshore wind capacity needs to double between 2020 and 2030.
As far as I can see the hostility toward renewables has nothing to do with science or the viability of wind power, and all to do with how some don’t like the look of wind turbines, a point underlined by how Communities Minister Kris Hopkins has described wind turbines as a “blot on the landscape”.
Instead Ministers talk up and aggressively back shale gas. This fossil fuel has the benefit of being under our own control but will blast gaping holes in the UK’s carbon targets, which now also face uncertainty as the Government refuses to confirm the Climate Change Committee’s Fourth Carbon Budget.
No wonder investors in renewable energy see huge uncertainty in the UK. Who can blame them for not wanting to risk the huge sums it takes to get projects up and running when there’s little clarity over what future power sources the Government wants – other than lots of fracked gas.
In considering whether they have made the right choice I’d encourage David Cameron, Eric Pickles, George Osborne and other Conservative wind power sceptics to fly over shale gas fields in the United States. If they think wind power is unpopular (which poll after poll confirms it is not) then they might get some sense of what lies ahead for shale gas in terms of public opinion. A majority of citizens here are already against shale gas development in the UK, and that is without any actually having been developed!
When public opinion really swings against shale gas, including in the South of England, the chances are it won’t happen. Going slow on renewables and instead backing unpopular new gas will have at least three impacts. We’ll fail to create green jobs, losing our world lead in offshore wind and marine, our power sector won’t become decarbonised, with resulting climate impacts and we’ll end up importing more Russian coal and Qatari gas, making us ever more dependent on imported fossil fuels, and the price shocks they bring.
This is why the industry campaign I chair, Action for Renewables, has set up a petition to David Cameron, asking him to steer away from fossil energy, including imported supplies, and to back renewables instead. Global Wind Day is a perfect moment to launch this. I hope you’ll be willing to sign it – and back what is in the end the only “no regrets” option we have. http://chn.ge/1q7MkS1